2022 Global Economic Outlook: Covid-19, Structural Inflation, Monetary Tightening Challenge Global Outlook

Explainer video: Scope Ratings introduces its 2022 Global Sovereign Outlook

Download Scope’s 2022 Sovereign Outlook (report).

Entering 2022, new variants of Covid-19, elevated inflation, and withdrawal of fiscal and monetary support present risk for the robustness of recovery. GDP is seen, nevertheless, continuing to grow above trend over 2022 of 3.5% in the US, 4.4% in the euro area, 3.6% in Japan and 4.6% for the UK, even if, in most cases, normalising to a degree from elevated early-recovery growth of 2021. China is seen growing nearer trend of 5%.

Amid an uneven recovery, we see momentary slowdown over Q4 2021 and Q1 2022 across many economies, if not in some cases temporary output contraction, as countries of Europe reintroduce generally lighter restrictions on basis of renewed rise in Covid-19 cases, including those associated with a new Omicron variant. But we see economic rebound regathering traction by the spring of 2022.

As expected, full economic normalisation has remained vulnerable to renewed introduction of restrictions as transmissible virus variants challenge public-health systems, though we see severity of virus risk for economic recovery continuing to moderate with time as governments adopt more targeted responses, virus becomes more transmissible but less lethal, and businesses and people adapt ways of doing business. Nevertheless, risk to the 2022 outlook appears skewed on the downside.

More persistent inflation, even as it begins to moderate, supports increasing monetary policy divergence

Inflationary pressure is likely to remain more persistent than central bank projections, running above pre-crisis averages even after price changes begin to moderate by next year. This is likely to compel a continued divergence of monetary policy within the globe’s core economies, with associated risk of crystallisation of latent debt and financial-bubble risk as central banks pull back.

This is especially true as regards the UK and the US, where inflation might continue testing 2% mandates, although much less the case for Japan of course, with the euro area somewhere in between with inflation potentially remaining under 2% over the long run.

By end-2022, policy rates of leading central banks are expected to similarly diverge: remaining on hold with respect to the ECB and the Bank of Japan but with rate hikes next year from the Bank of England and Federal Reserve. The ECB is seen halting the Pandemic Emergency Purchase Programme (PEPP) next year but adapting PEPP and/or other asset-purchases facilities to retain room for manoeuvre and smoothen transition in markets.

Higher inflation holds both positive and negative implications for sovereign credit ratings

Higher and more persistent inflation holds both positive and negative credit implications as far as sovereign ratings are concerned. Somewhat higher trend inflation supports higher nominal economic growth, helping reduce public debt ratios via seigniorage, and curtails historical deflation risk of the euro area and Japan. However, rising interest rates push up debt-servicing costs especially for governments carrying heavy debt loads and running budget deficits. Emerging economies, with weakening currencies and subject to capital outflows, are particularly at risk.

Substantive accommodation from central banks has cushioned sovereign credit ratings over this crisis, so any scenario of much more persistent inflation limiting room for monetary-policy manoeuvre is a risk affecting credit outlooks. Bounds in central bank capacity to impede market sell-off due to high inflation compromising monetary space may expose latent risk associated with debt accrued in past years.

Monetary innovation during this crisis has supported credit outlooks

As many central banks tighten monetary policy amid policy divergence, peer central banks that might otherwise prefer looser financial conditions may see themselves compelled to likewise remove some accommodation, otherwise risking currency depreciation. At the same time, with governments dealing with record levels of debt and central banks owning large segments of this debt, “fiscal dominance” may coerce moderation in speed of policy normalisation.

Monetary innovation over this crisis such as flexibility made available in ECB asset purchases supports resilience of sovereign borrowers longer run, assuming such innovations were available for re-deployment in future crises.

Emerging market vulnerabilities entering 2022, while ESG risks becoming increasingly substantive

Emerging market vulnerabilities are a theme entering 2022, amid G4 central bank tapering, geopolitical risk, and a slowdown of China’s economy. Debate heats up furthermore during 2022 around adaptation of fiscal frameworks for a post-crisis age, with potentially far-reaching implications as far as sovereign risk. Environmental, social and governance (ESG) risks are becoming increasingly significant – presenting opportunities and challenges for ratings.

Sovereign borrowers with a Stable Outlook make up presently over 90% of Scope Ratings’ publicly rated sovereign issuers, indicating comparatively lesser likelihood of ratings changes next year as compared with during 2021, although economic risks could present upside and downside ratings risk. Only one country is currently on Negative Outlook: Turkey (rated a sub-investment-grade B).

For a look at all of today’s economic events, check out our economic calendar.

Giacomo Barisone is Managing Director of Sovereign and Public Sector ratings at Scope Ratings GmbH.