The first big question: Will the world experience another global recession? Believe it or not, it is possible -- maybe more so than you might think.
Ruchir Sharma of Morgan Stanley reminded us recently on NDTV
in India that in 2014, the world was perilously close to recession. Achieving less than 2 percent growth is a generally accepted benchmark for a global recession, he says -- and the world economy grew only 2.6%.
What's more, Sharma points out that global recessions happen pretty regularly. There was the recession in the early 1980s, two recessions in the early 1990s, the dotcom collapse recession in the early 2000s, and the great financial crisis recession, which began seven years ago. We're about due for another one.
The catalyst could be China, Sharma says -- which now contributes a larger share of growth to the global economy than any other country. In 1994, it represented only 8 percent of global growth, compared to the U.S. at 33 percent, and the European Union at 26 percent, according to Morgan Stanley. But in 2014, China contributed 38% of global growth, compared to 20% from the U.S., and just 13% from the European Union. Since China is already slowing down, this is not a happy thought.
And that leads to question number two: Which nations will be winners in 2015, and which will be the losers?
The U.S. is looking good -- one of the only bright spots among the world's big economies. PricewaterhouseCoopers predicts
faster economic growth compared to any year since 2005, at over 3 percent, thanks to a continuing fall in unemployment.
India also looks promising, thanks in part to its reform-minded prime minister, Narendra Modi. "2015 could be the year that India turns the corner," says PricewaterhouseCoopers, predicting a growth rate that could rival China.
Indonesia is also looking good. Like India, they have a big population of consumers, so even if slow economies in other parts of the world keep their export profits down, people will still buy things at home.
Then you've got the losers. Experts say Europe will continue to lag behind without needed reforms. Japan is still in a bind, despite Abenomics. The real losers of course are the big oil producers, especially those with large populations -- Venezuela, Iran, Nigeria, and Russia. Those countries need their oil profits to give subsidies to their people. And when you have over 140 million people, as Russia does, it gets expensive. Things could get ugly in some of these places if and when cash runs low.
That brings us to our last question, the big wild card: Will the price of oil continue to stay low? That could make a huge difference for everyone, potentially growing the global economy by nearly a full percentage point, according to the IMF
. Much will depend on whether OPEC decides to cut its production.
But persistent low oil prices can signal weak demand, says Sharma, and that could be a bad sign for everyone, perhaps a leading indicator of that next global recession.
So be careful what you wish for, we suppose.