WASHINGTON (Reuters) - Soaring oil prices and inflation in emerging economies pose new risks to global recovery but are not yet strong enough to derail it, the International Monetary Fund said on Monday.
The global lender’s latest health-check of world economic prospects marked a departure from recent years when its focus was on the financial crisis and recession in rich nations.
The fastest growth in recent years has come from emerging markets like China, Brazil and India, which helped offset the deep downturns in the United States and other rich nations touched off by burst housing bubbles.
Now, the IMF warns those very economies risk asset bubbles akin to the ones that sparked the 2007-2009 financial crisis.
“The challenge for many emerging and some developing economies is to ensure that present boom-like conditions do not develop into overheating over the coming year,” the IMF said in its World Economic Outlook report.
IMF chief economist Olivier Blanchard said there was no overwhelming threat to the world economy, but there were trouble spots that need to be dealt with.
“There is not any major downside risk at this point,” he told reporters. But he cited a still-ailing financial sector in Europe and a high U.S. debt load as areas demanding attention.
Still, even the prospect of oil above $120 a barrel was seen as not enough to imperil the steady global expansion.
“Commodity prices have increased more than expected ... (but) we don’t think that this time these increases will derail the recovery,” Blanchard said.
The IMF’s central scenario remains one of slow-paced recovery. It kept its forecasts for global growth for both 2011 and 2012 at 4.4 percent and 4.5 percent, respectively.
However, it said emerging markets have become a particular worry spot. The Fund warned they faced the risk of inflation as they struggle to deal with hard-to-control capital inflows.
“We are warning emerging market countries that they are getting to the point where things may be too good,” Blanchard said.
The IMF highlighted the searing impact of rising food and commodity prices on poorer countries and warned that inflation will remain elevated for a while.
Soaring costs for basic staples stoked the social and economic tensions that have roiled the Arab world. Street protests have toppled dictatorships in Egypt and Tunisia, and left leaders in Yemen and Libya fighting to cling to power.
The Fund said inflation pressures were likely to build in developing countries as people pushed for higher wages in the face of pricier food and fuel.
Somewhat surprisingly, the IMF said it saw little lasting impact from Japan’s triple disaster — earthquake, tsunami and nuclear crisis — although it cautioned of great uncertainty.
It cut its 2011 forecast for Japanese growth only slightly and raised its projections for 2012.
Speaking of advanced economies collectively, the IMF said a recovery was continuing and risks of a “double-dip” recession had faded. But it said unemployment was still high and more had to be done to cut budget deficits in the U.S. and elsewhere.
Blanchard said other countries would need to become a greater source of global demand if the United States were to tighten its belt as much as needed.
The fastest growth was still in emerging economies, the IMF said. China was expected to lead the way with 9.6 percent growth this year, followed by India, at an 8.2 percent rate.
By contrast, the United States was forecast to grow a sub-par 2.8 percent this year and 2.9 percent in 2012.
In Europe, the IMF said recovery was gaining traction despite financial turbulence in Greece, Ireland and Portugal. The IMF revised up its euro zone outlook to 1.6 percent this year and 1.8 percent in 2012.
In advanced economies, strengthening the recovery will require keeping monetary policy accommodative as long as wage pressures are subdued, inflation expectations are under control and bank credit is sluggish, the Fund said.
In emerging economies, the IMF said, it would be a mistake for policymakers to delay additional policy tightening until rich nations start to raise their rates.
Additional reporting by Glenn Somerville, Lucia Mutikani and Doug Palmer; Editing by Neil Stempleman and Andrew Hay