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IMF slashes global growth forecast

The International Monetary Fund (IMF) has slashed its forecasts for global growth as figures from China showed its relentless expansion had slowed to the weakest pace in more than two decades.

Latest estimates from the IMF also found that the performance of most major economies had fallen short of expectations - including the UK, which it said grew by 2.6% last year rather than the previously-predicted 3.2%.

The latest World Economic Outlook update cut world growth forecasts for this year and next by 0.3%, to 3.5% for 2015 and 3.7% for 2016, saying that weakness in developed countries would offset the advantages of lower oil prices.

It came as China reported gross domestic product (GDP) expansion of 7.4% in 2014, its slowest since 1990 - though the figure was no worse than expected.

The slowing pace of growth in the world's second biggest economy from its previous double-digit pace was one of the reasons cited by the IMF for its downward revisions.

It has cut forecasts for China by 0.3 percentage points to 6.8% for this year and by 0.5 percentage points to 6.3% for 2016.

The IMF said its gloomier world outlook also reflected prospects in Russia, the eurozone and Japan. Only the US has performed ahead of expectations.

Chief economist Olivier Blanchard said: "New factors supporting growth - lower oil prices, but also depreciation of the euro and yen - are more than offset by persistent negative forces, including the lingering legacies of the crisis and lower potential growth in many countries."

Worsening expectations for many economies were discouraging investment, which was in turn undermining future growth, the report said.

Mr Blanchard added: "The most obvious risks involve stagnation in the eurozone, or Japan, or both."

He said the plunge in oil price - down by more than half since September - had created a "complicated mosaic" of implications with some countries gaining from energy savings and others facing smaller tax and export revenues.

The report said: "The boost from lower oil prices is expected to be more than offset by an adjustment to lower medium-term growth in most major economies other than the United States."

In the UK, a new forecast by the EY ITEM Club predicts that the lower oil price will provide a "shot in the spending arm" of consumers, helping the economy to a major growth spurt this year.

Bank of England governor Mark Carney has said the fall in the oil price is a net positive for growth in the UK but that it will represent a "negative shock" to the Scottish economy which relies on North Sea reserves.

Oil giant BP has already announced hundreds of job cuts.

The IMF's report today maintains its forecast for UK growth this year at 2.7% though it has been cut by 0.1 percentage points to 2.4% for 2016.

Britain's growth of 2.6% in 2014, though lower than previously forecast, is still expected to lead the pack of advanced economies, though the report suggests it will be outpaced by the US this year with growth of 3.6%, and next year at 3.3%.

Chancellor George Osborne said: "Today's IMF forecasts show Britain is pulling ahead, while global growth is being downgraded.

"There's confirmation that we grew faster than any other major economy last year, and we're set to grow faster this year.

"But there are risks out there in the global economy. It's a timely reminder of that and we've got to go on working through our long-term economic plan if we want to stay ahead."

Figures on the UK's growth in 2014 will be published next week by the Office for National Statistics.

Laith Khalaf, senior analyst at Hargreaves Lansdown stockbrokers, said on the IMF report: "Economic forecasts of this nature are more like a dowsing rod than a GPS tracking system.

"But they do confirm what market behaviour suggests - that uncertainty has increased in recent months.

"The falling oil price is, of course, a major source of instability though, as the IMF notes, this should be a boost to global economic activity, albeit with winners and losers."

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