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Economic outlook for 2014

I was interviewed this week by CNBC and BBC World News to discuss the economic outlook for 2014, drawing on the views of 3,500 senior executives in 45 economies we interview for our International Business Report (IBR). In an overwhelmingly positive message, the interesting thing for me was how global growth dynamics have shifted over the past 12 months.

The Q4 results show a remarkable turnaround from this time last year with many mature economies markedly more upbeat about growth prospects, while peers in emerging economies are somewhat less optimistic. Across the G7, business optimism for the year ahead has risen by 44 percentage points over the past 12 months; this compares to a drop-off of 17 percentage points in the BRIC economies.

There have been some significant improvements across the G7 over the past year: Germany, Japan, the UK and the US have seen steep rises in business confidence, and Canada has remained broadly level. All five economies are expected to grow much faster in 2014 than they did last year – Canada, the UK and US by around 2.5%; Germany and Japan by around 1.5%.

But this optimism contrasts sharply with the pessimism in France and Italy  where the business communities remain subdued. Both economies are struggling for growth – Italy has not grown in 10 quarters and France has barely grown in two years – and both are only expected to return to tepid growth in 2014. This is reflected in the optimism of their business leaders: France ranks last in the 45-economy survey; Italy ranks 40th. Unlike Greece, Ireland or Portugal, they have the economic weight to really damage the recovery so I will be monitoring developments in the eurozone closely.

Similarly, not all emerging economies are moving at the same pace. Optimism in China and India dropped to record lows in Q3 and Q2 of last year respectively, but is now back where it was at this time last year in both economies. However, confidence levels in Brazil and Russia have decreased dramatically – interesting considering they are set to host the two major global sporting events of 2014: the FIFA World Cup and the Winter Olympic Games respectively.

Forecast growth in China remains robust even as it rebalances its economy away from exports and investment towards consumption, but the other three BRIC economies face significant periods of adjustment. India’s growth rate has halved and all eyes will be on the elections this year to see if Narendra Modi displaces the Congress party, and if so whether he will be able to kickstart the economy. Brazil actually contracted in Q3 of last year with the central bank battling inflation and the government trying to mitigate public displeasure at the poor quality of public services. The Russian economy is at capacity and unemployment is low but long-term growth forecasts have been trimmed to below the global average and the key will be improving the business investment climate.

Elsewhere, presidential elections are also due in Indonesia; Mexico is expected to grow robustly having agreed a series of hard-hitting energy and education reforms last year; business leaders in Turkey will probably have to battle more currency volatility as the US Federal Reserve tapers asset purchases; and it remains to be seen whether the outpouring of emotion at the sad passing of Nelson Mandela will galvanise the South African economy.

The point I made in my interviews is that we are seeing a convergence in growth prospects. In the years following the financial crisis, emerging economies drove growth in global output but this dynamic has shifted in recent months. The Economist Intelligence Unit reports that growth in non-OECD economies will outstrip that of those in the OECD in 2014, but that the gap will be the smallest since 2008.

This is an important development: a more stable, balanced global economy is good for business growth prospects. I am therefore looking forward with optimism to 2014.

Ed Nusbaum is global CEO at Grant Thornton.