What is with the International Monetary Fund? Its star is ascendent since the Group of 20 nations tripled its resources earlier this month. Yet the IMF refuses to shine a hopeful light on the world. The more politicians talk up hopes of a recovery, the gloomier the IMF becomes. On Monday, it raised its estimate of aggregate financial writedowns to $4,100bn, just as the US Treasury secretary was saying banks were well capitalised. Now the IMF has released growth forecasts that will have even bears running scared.

The fund expects US output to contract by a whopping 2.8 per cent this year. Unlike most economists predicting a recovery in the second half, the IMF sees no improvement until mid-2010. Even then it reckons growth will only be an anaemic 1.5 per cent. The Congressional Budget Office, by contrast, forecasts 4 per cent growth in 2010. Quite a gap.

Nor is the IMF’s pessimism restricted to the US. What will the European Central Bank – which has pencilled in a 1.7 per cent contraction this year – make of the IMF’s estimate that eurozone output will plunge 4.2 per cent, with Germany down 5.6 per cent? Long-suffering Japan is forecast to slow even more. In all, the IMF reckons aggregate gross domestic product across the advanced world will fall 3.8 per cent in 2009, with no growth next year. Stick that in your stress tests.

Meanwhile, emerging nations have got off no lighter. Growth in emerging Asia will halve to just over 3 per cent and forecasts for parts of eastern Europe are better left unwritten. Even so, the developing world actually looks to be the sole source of dynamism for the next couple of years, led by Latin America, the Middle East and parts of Asia and central Europe. Decoupling may be back – although no one had hoped it would look like this.

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