World Economic Forum warns of further economic crises ahead

Government debt levels and slowdown in China are highlighted as major threats by WEF

* Kathryn Hopkins
*, Thursday 14 January 2010 16.22 GMT

A fully-fledged sovereign debt crisis, an asset price collapse and a slowdown in Chinese economic growth are among some of the biggest threats facing the world this year and beyond, the World Economic Forum (WEF) warned today.

In its annual report on global risks, the WEF cautioned that the financial crisis and the ensuing recession have created a more vulnerable environment.

The report, which will be submitted to the forum's annual meeting in Davos, Switzerland, this month, said: "Many countries are at risk of overextending unsustainable levels of debt, which in turn will extend strong upwards pressures on real interest rates. In the final instance, unsustainable debt levels could lead to a full-fledged sovereign debt crises."

Daniel Hofmann, group chief economist at Zurich Financial Services, a contributor to the report, said: "Government debt levels of 100% of GDP – which is where the United States and the UK are heading – and higher are clearly not sustainable. There is an inherent risk that investors may take fright, they may question the sustainability of these debt levels. The result would be sovereign debt crises and defaults. Clearly Dubai and Greece were early warnings that should be heeded."

The WEF was also particularly concerned about China, saying that the country's economy is on a "very unbalanced growth trajectory". Hoffman said despite the fact that China appears to have navigated the financial crisis and global recession, much of the domestic impulses derive from high credit growth, which entails an increased risk of misallocation of capital and renewed bubbles in financial asset prices and real estate.

"These can always carry the risk of a sharp and potentially recessionary correction," he said. "A loss in China's growth momentum could adversely affect global capital markets. The Chinese government needs to increase domestic demand to counter the loss in exports and maintain a stable renminbi given China's vast accumulation of foreign reserves."

He said that if China's annual growth rate falls below 6%, it could hit employment, fuel social unrest and hurt exports through the region and beyond: "The implications of a fall in China's growth would be particularly acute for its trading partners if it should happen before the global economy is on a more resilient path."

Other risks facing the world include chronic diseases such as Alzheimer's and diabetes driving up health costs and reducing growth in both developed and developing countries and under-investment in energy and agriculture.

The WEF also said there were numerous risks connected to Afghanistan and its instability cannot be separated from rising concerns over the situation in Pakistan.

"The border between the two countries has become a hotspot. The instability in the region is already a source of suffering for the local population," the report said. "Their plight is compounded by the stress that rapid population growth and the impact of climate change are placing on resources, in particular water...The social and economic consequences of this should be as much a focus for the international community as the geopolitical implications." ... es-warning