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Study: 2009 Likely to See Weakest Global Economy in Half-Century

In Washington, the Institute of International Finance, an association of world financial institutions, has issued a grim economic forecast, saying that all of the major economies are weak or in recession.

The institute says global growth in 2009 will be negative for the first time since reliable statistics became available in 1960. Growth is projected to be minus four-tenths of one percent, compared to 2008 growth of nearly two percent.

Philip Suttle prepared the forecast.

"We have got the world economy contracting by just under a half percentage point, which really does not sound like very much," Suttle said. "But it is really, really important to recognize the world economy basically never contracts. Somewhere in the world economy there is always enough to offset recessions even in the major industrial countries."

Recession expected to continue in US, Japan, Western Europe

The current recession is projected to continue in the some of the world's biggest economies - the United States, Western Europe and Japan. Each of those areas is projected to experience economic decline of about 1.5 percent in 2009.

Growth is also decelerating sharply in emerging economies, with China's growth projected to slow to 6.5 percent and India 5 percent. Economist Suttle says his biggest worry is weakness feeding on itself.

"One of the things that is so alarming about the current situation is how quickly things have changed," Suttle noted. "Just three or four months ago, we were projecting slow growth, but not an outright recession. And we have seen a change in conditions, which has not just been evident in the United States, but across every significant economy in the world."

One indicator of just how quickly economic activity has slowed is the dramatic fall in the price of oil. Barely four months ago oil was trading at a record high level of $143 per barrel. But as demand plummeted so did the oil price, which is now down 75 percent to barely $35 per barrel.

How long will recession last?

Forecasters are divided about whether the global recession will be of long or short duration. Suttle applauds U.S. authorities for moving quickly with appropriate policies. He believes the Europeans are moving too slowly.

The Institute of International Finance, like other forecasters, is reluctant to make comparisons between the current downturn and the Great Depression of the 1930s, when U.S. unemployment reached 25 percent. Suttle says U.S. and European joblessness in the current downturn is likely to peak at no more than 8 percent.