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Hoping, as usual, that next year will be better

Christmas decoration is placed around the logo of Swiss bank Credit Suisse beside the entrance to its headquarters in Zurich November 21, 20
Christmas decoration is placed around the logo of Swiss bank Credit Suisse beside the entrance to its headquarters in Zurich November 21, 20

By Alan Wheatley

LONDON (Reuters) - Like winemakers consoling themselves after a poor vintage, economists are putting a disappointing 12 months behind them and hoping that 2014 will be a better year for global growth.

A lively debate over whether developed economies face a 'permanent slump' has sprung up since former U.S. Treasury Secretary Larry Summers argued recently that deeply negative inflation-adjusted interest rates may be needed in a world facing 'secular stagnation'.

But someone forgot to pass on the gloomy prognosis to the research departments of big banks, which are busy bombarding clients with their investment outlooks for the year ahead.

With fiscal drag fading, monetary policy ultra-loose and credit conditions gradually easing, many of them reckon rich countries will outpace emerging economies in 2014.

Credit Suisse expects global growth to improve to 3.7 percent from 2.9 percent this year, which is down on the 2012 rate of 3.1 percent.

"We think that pick-up will be more concentrated in developed market economies, especially Europe and also somewhat in the U.S.," said Neil Soss, the Swiss bank's chief economist in New York.

He expects rich countries to almost double their growth rate to 2.1 percent. Emerging market growth should quicken to 5.3 percent from 4.7 percent, but the growth gap between the two will be the narrowest since 2002, Credit Suisse believes.

FORECASTING AS A PACK

Deutsche Bank is also penciling in a pick-up in global growth to 3.7 percent in 2014 and is particularly optimistic that planned reforms in China will have a profound and long-lasting impact on the country's economic performance.

And Goldman Sachs is projecting an acceleration in global output to 3.6 percent, powered by a doubling in developed market growth to 2.2 percent. It sees the United States leading the way with above-trend expansion of 2.9 percent.

Nick Kounis with Dutch bank ABN Amro expects Britain to join the United States in outperforming the euro zone and Japan in 2014.

"We are very positive on the health of U.S. private sector balance sheets, while both U.S. and UK demand is being supported by improving credit conditions and strengthening labour and housing markets," Kounis said.

His bank is yet another that expects global growth of 3.7 percent next year, ticking up to 3.8 percent in 2015.

MORE EURO ZONE GLOOM

Figures from the euro zone this week are likely to show why most economists expect the single currency area, its debt crisis far from over, to underperform yet again in 2014.

Bank lending to the private sector probably shrank further in October, with unemployment stuck at a record high of 12.2 percent, according to economists polled by Reuters.

And while inflation this month is likely to have ticked up to 0.8 percent from 0.7 percent, it remains well short of the European Central Bank's target of just below 2 percent.

The threat of outright deflation prompted the ECB to halve its main policy rate to 0.25 percent on November 7, and some of the bank's policy makers have said it stands ready to provide further stimulus if necessary.

"I don't think they will ease again, but it's pretty clear where the risk is. If we get another downside surprise on either growth or inflation, then they'll move again," said Darren Williams, an economist with fund manager AllianceBernstein in London.

Williams said he expected a stronger year for the euro zone economy in 2014, after a contraction in 2013, but still not a strong one. Governments are squeezing their budgets less fiercely, while the ECB's easy monetary policy should gradually filter through to the real economy.

"Unless there's another shock, we're clearly past the worst," he said.

In the United States a raft of housing reports will be the highlight of a week shortened by the Thanksgiving Day holiday.

Housing starts are 19 percent higher than a year ago and housing under construction is at its highest level in more than four years, according to Wells Fargo economists.

But they said evidence to date for the fourth quarter suggests the economy is losing momentum heading into the year-end and, with price pressures firmly contained, most market participants now expect the Federal Reserve will wait until March to start reducing its bond buying,

"Lower inflation appears to be a rising concern for Fed policymakers and may come to rival the unemployment rate as a guidepost for policy changes," they said in a report.

(Editing by Greg Mahlich)

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