IMF Warns Of "Global Contagion" From Italy's Bank Crisis; Forecasts Two-Decade Long Recession
Piling on to Italy's growing mountain of worries, this evening the IMF itself warned that Europe's third largest economy would grow by less than 1% this year and only marginally faster in 2017, slashing its previous forecasts of 1.1% and 1.25% growth for the next two years, mostly as a result of the most convenient scapegoat available in Europe at the moment: Brexit (which has become to Europe as "cold weather" has been to the US for the past two years).
Christine Lagarde's organization said Italy was “recovering gradually from a deep and protracted recession”, but said the healing process was likely to be “prolonged and subject to risks”. It used its article IV consultation – an annual economic and financial health check – to stress that Italy was vulnerable to a cocktail of threats that could have knock-on effects for the rest of Europe and the world.
The IMF dour outlook may be overly generous. While economists have been racing to downgrade Italy's outlook since the British referendum, Italy's own employers' lobby Confindustria now sees growth of just 0.8% this year dropping further to 0.6% in 2017. Italy, long one of Europe's most sluggish economies, will struggle to close the gap with its peers even if recent reforms are fully implemented, the IMF report said.
The punchline: only by around 2025 will Italian output return to its 2008 peak before the global financial crisis, according to the IMF. In the same period, growth among Italy's euro zone partners is expected to rise by 20–25% above their pre-crisis levels. In other words, Italy is now in the middle of what will end up being a two-decade recession.
"The authorities thus face a monumental challenge. The recovery needs to be strengthened to reduce high unemployment faster and buffers need to be built, including by repairing strained bank balance sheets and decisively lowering the very high public debt," the report said.
“Downside risks arise from delays in addressing bank asset quality, intensified global financial market volatility – including from Brexit, the global trade slowdown weighing on exports, and the refugee influx and security threats that could further complicate policymaking,” said the IMF. “If downside risks were to materialise, regional and global spillovers could be significant, given Italy’s systemic weight.”
And speaking of Italy's weakest links, the banks, the IMF said that "risks are tilted to the downside," listing a raft of issues including the poor asset quality of Italy's banks, financial market volatility and the impact of a global trade slowdown on exports.
"If downside risks were to materialize, regional and global spillovers could be significant given Italy's systemic weight," it said.