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IMF cuts US outlook, calls Trump's growth target unrealistic

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The International Monetary Fund cut its outlook for the American economy and said the US probably won't meet President Donald Trump's target of 3 per cent annual growth.

[WASHINGTON] The International Monetary Fund cut its outlook for the American economy and said the US probably won't meet President Donald Trump's target of 3 per cent annual growth.

The IMF reduced its forecast for US growth this year to 2.1 per cent, from 2.3 per cent in the fund's April update to its world economic outlook. The Washington-based fund also cut its projection for US growth next year to 2.1 per cent, from 2.5 per cent in April. The world's biggest economy is being held back by problems ranging from an aging population to low productivity growth, the fund said in its annual assessment of the US economy released Tuesday.

The IMF's assessment casts doubt over a more optimistic forecast in the White House budget proposal, which projects growth will accelerate to 3 per cent by 2020 and keep up that pace for seven more years. The Trump administration is counting on planned tax cuts, increased infrastructure spending and regulatory relief to boost expansion while balancing the budget.

Even with an "ideal constellation of pro-growth policies, the potential growth dividend is likely to be less than that projected in the budget and will take longer to materialise," the IMF said in a statement Tuesday.

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"The US is effectively at full employment," said the fund. "For policy changes to be successful in achieving sustained, higher growth they would need to raise the US potential growth path."

Growth surges on the scale Mr Trump is predicting have been rare in the US and abroad, according to the IMF, which says there are only a few cases of such leaps among advanced economies since the 1980s. Those episodes mostly took place in the mid- to late-1990s, when global demand was strong, and many of the cases came when economies were recovering from recessions, the IMF said. The only time the US economy accelerated at such a pace came in the early 1980s, when it was recovering from a deep recession.

The IMF notes the US is enjoying its third-longest expansion since 1850, with "persistently strong" job growth. Growth will slip to 1.9 per cent in 2019 and 1.8 per cent in 2020, according to the fund's forecasts.

IMF officials said the details of the Trump administration's economic policies appear undecided. As a result, the fund didn't include in its projections the effects of any tax reforms, which the administration has said is a priority, or Mr Trump's proposed budget cuts.

The economy's midterm outlook is clouded by imbalances, including rising public debt and a currency that is "moderately" overvalued between 10 per cent to 20 per cent, said the fund.

"The US economic model is not working as well as it could in generating broadly shared income growth," the IMF said. "Most critically, relative to historical performance, post-crisis growth has been too low and too unequal." The US is having trouble adapting to trends such as changes to the job market from technology, low productivity growth and an aging population, the IMF said, noting that household incomes are stagnating for a large share of the population.

The IMF again suggested the Federal Reserve should be ready to let price growth modestly overshoot its inflation goal, a move that would "provide valuable insurance against the risks of disinflation and having to bring the federal funds rate back to zero."

To raise revenue, the US government should consider a "broad-based" federal consumption tax, a higher federal gas tax and put in place a carbon tax on greenhouse-gas emissions, the IMF said - proposals that may be far-fetched under Republican control of Washington.

The IMF report also weighed in on the health-care debate consuming Washington, where Republican lawmakers are developing plans to repeal legislation brought in under former president Barack Obama.

Changes to Obamacare "ought to be undertaken carefully to avoid compromising the pooling of risks - an essential foundation for a well-functioning health insurance system - or excluding those with limited incomes from the healthcare system," the IMF said.

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