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Are we entering a recession? World Bank chief can’t see how we avoid it

May 26, 2022, 9:03 AM UTC

The head of the World Bank sounded the alarm over an impending global recession on Wednesday, warning it was difficult to envision a future where a worldwide downturn could be avoided.

Speaking at an event hosted by the U.S. Chamber of Commerce (USCC), World Bank president David Malpass said the war in Ukraine—and its impact on food and energy costs—could spark a global recession.

“As we look at global GDP…it’s hard right now to see how we avoid a recession,” he said. “The idea of energy prices doubling is enough to trigger a recession by itself.”

Malpass did not elaborate to give a specific forecast on how deep a recession might be.

He is the latest high-profile figure in the finance sector to predict a looming recession.

Last week, Wells Fargo CEO and president Charlie Scharf said it was going to be hard for the U.S. to avoid “some kind of recession,” joining the ranks of Deutsche Bank and a top strategist at Morgan Stanley.

Meanwhile, 75% of Fortune 500 CEOs said this month that they were bracing for a recession.

A recession is typically categorized by a decline in GDP over two successive quarters.

The U.S. economy shrank by 1.4% in the first quarter of this year, despite steady consumer spending.

Economic slowdown

Malpass noted on Wednesday that large economies including Germany, the U.S., and China had already seen slowdowns in economic growth, while Ukraine and Russia were both expected to experience sharp GDP contractions as a consequence of the war.

China’s harsh COVID lockdowns were further reducing the growth outlook for the world’s second biggest economy, Malpass added.

Supply constraints of vital goods like fertilizer and food were also creating a difficult economic climate for developing economies, he said.  

“It’s a very difficult, challenging outlook for advanced economies but even worse for developing countries,” Malpass told USCC president and CEO Suzanne Clark.

A global energy crisis had already begun to take hold over the past year even before Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.

As economies emerged from COVID restrictions and demand increased, depleted inventories caused supply constraints that led to record-high natural gas prices in Europe.

Energy and food prices

The war in Ukraine has exacerbated the crisis, as Russian energy exports have become a focal point in Western sanctions against the Kremlin.

In the U.K., energy prices rose by a record 54% in April, and are expected to almost double again in October.

The World Bank had already warned of a global food crisis that could lead to “human catastrophe,” with supply disruptions stemming from Russia’s invasion of Ukraine predicted to push food prices up by as much as 37%.

Russia and Ukraine are two of the world’s biggest wheat producers, and with the war disrupting supply of the grain, other producers have limited exports and prices of the commodity have soared globally.

Since the beginning of the year, Chicago wheat futures have surged by more than 50%, sending the cost of everything from bread to cakes to noodles higher.

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