Respondents around the world are sanguine about the current state of the global economy and their economies at home, according to McKinsey’s newest survey on economic conditions.1 But as they look ahead, they are less likely to expect global improvements, and their views divide along regional lines. Respondents in developed economies report a much more guarded outlook on their own economies, the world economy as a whole, and their trade prospects, relative to their peers in emerging economies. In particular, those in North America are more likely than others to expect declining economic conditions and trade levels, as well as changes in trade policy.
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Overall, the results underline the central role that the United States plays in respondents’ thinking about growth prospects. When respondents were asked which countries will provide their companies with the biggest growth opportunities in the next year, they most often cite the United States, where interest rates—along with trade policy—have become outsize concerns. In every other region, executives also cite changes in trade policy as a risk to global growth. Since our previous survey, the share saying so has more than doubled, and the issue has also emerged as a growing risk to domestic growth and to the growth of respondents’ companies.
Increasing hopefulness in emerging economies, and waning expectations in developed ones
As we saw in the past two surveys, respondents’ views on current economic conditions remain decidedly upbeat. Fifty-eight percent of all respondents say conditions in their home economies are better now than they were six months ago—with those in India and Latin America reporting the rosiest views. Furthermore, 54 percent of respondents say global conditions are better now than they were six months ago. But their outlooks on future economic conditions diverge by region (Exhibit 1). When asked about their home economies six months from now, the shares expecting improvements range from less than 40 percent in developed Asia and North America to upward of 70 percent in India.
And while overall expectations for country-level growth are high—61 percent of all respondents expect their countries’ growth rate will increase—respondents in North America are the most likely to expect a decline. Fully one-third of respondents in the region (compared with 15 percent of all other respondents) expect their home economies will contract in the next six months, up from 23 percent who said so in December.
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The results also indicate a growing divide between emerging- and developed-economy expectations, at both the country and global levels. Since the last survey, the percentage-point difference between the two groups’ expectations for improving domestic conditions has doubled. Even more striking, the gap between the percentages predicting domestic growth (as opposed to contraction or no change) has tripled. In both cases, the emerging-economy respondents are more likely to be hopeful. Sixty percent in emerging economies believe that domestic conditions will improve, for example, compared with only 40 percent of their developed-economy peers. And while overall positivity on the global economy has declined since December,2 respondents in emerging economies are more likely than their peers elsewhere to predict improvements and increasing growth rates in the global economy (Exhibit 2); three months ago, responses from the two groups were roughly aligned.
Trade, too, is an area where emerging-economy respondents are increasingly buoyant while those in developed economies are increasingly downbeat. Overall, a growing share of respondents say the level of trade between their home countries and the rest of the world has increased in the past year: 53 percent now say so, up from 48 percent in December and 36 percent one year ago. Respondents in emerging economies say so more often than their peers elsewhere, in contrast to six months ago, when these groups were nearly even in their views, and one year ago, when developed-economy respondents were notably more positive (Exhibit 3).
Looking ahead, respondents in developed economies—especially in North America—report more cautious expectations for trade than they did throughout 2017 (Exhibit 4). Nearly six in ten respondents in North America now expect trade levels will decrease, compared with one-quarter of all other respondents, and with 37 percent in North America in the previous survey. Among developed economies, respondents in Europe are the most likely to believe trade levels will increase.
New risks ahead
In the latest survey, trade issues have also emerged as a threat to growth globally, domestically, and at the company level. Changes in trade policy are cited most often on average and in every region as a risk to the global economy’s growth in the next year. Further, the share saying so has more than doubled since December (Exhibit 5). As a risk to domestic growth, changes in trade policy are identified second most often (32 percent select it, up from 21 percent three months ago). And as a risk to their companies’ growth in the year ahead, respondents are twice as likely as in December (26 percent, up from 13 percent) to cite changes in the trade environment.
At the same time, interest-rate concerns have risen in the ranks. A rise in interest rates is cited as a global risk by 28 percent of respondents, up from 14 percent in the last survey, and is now a top five risk to growth in respondents’ home countries. As a risk to domestic growth, interest rates are cited nearly twice as often by respondents in developed economies, compared with respondents elsewhere—and most often by respondents in North America, who are about twice as likely as everyone else to select rising interest rates and trade-policy changes as top risks in their home countries (Exhibit 6).
When we asked outright about interest rates in respondents’ home countries, 60 percent of all respondents predict that rates will increase in the next six months, up from 50 percent who said so in the past three surveys. Again, those in North America are outliers—the most likely across regions to expect rising rates. However, this has been true since December 2016, when we began asking the question. Since the previous survey, the biggest change is in Europe, where 59 percent now (up from 39 percent three months ago) believe their countries’ interest rates will rise.
Beyond the United States and China, the best company-level opportunities are regional
Even in the midst of trade-related threats, respondents remain enthusiastic about their companies’ prospects. Two-thirds predict their profits will increase in the next six months, as we saw in December, and 58 percent expect demand will increase over that same time. Also consistent with earlier surveys are respondents’ views on the best opportunities for growth. Respondents are most likely, as they have been in the past six surveys, to cite growth in existing markets (38 percent say so) as the biggest opportunity for their companies in the year ahead.
Accordingly, when asked which countries will provide their companies with the biggest growth opportunities, the responses vary by region—though the United States is cited most often, followed by China. By and large, the most common responses are either respondents’ own countries or nearby markets. In developed Asia, for example, respondents most often cite China and Japan, followed by the United States and Australia. In Latin America, Brazil is most common (46 percent name it, compared with 8 percent of the global average).
In Europe, Germany is cited most often, followed by the United States, China, and the United Kingdom. Interestingly, though, respondents in Europe are about as likely to cite the United Kingdom as those in North America and in India.