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IMF: Oil prices key risk to solid global recovery

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WASHINGTON – The global economy is firmly on the mend in 2011 but faces rising headwinds, particularly from higher oil prices, the International Monetary Fund said Monday.

The IMF said its latest world economic forecasts were little changed from a January update: 4.4 percent global growth in 2011, ticking down from 5.0 percent in 2010.

A two-speed recovery from the 2009 global recession was expected to continue apace, with emerging-market and developing economies expanding at a 6.5 percent clip, and the advanced economies mustering only 2.4 percent growth.

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“The recovery has solidified, but unemployment remains high,” the IMF said in its twice-yearly World Economic Outlook report.

The United States, the world’s largest economy, was projected to grow a modest 2.8 percent, while number-two China topped the growth chart at 9.6 percent.

“The key downside risk to growth relates to the potential for oil prices to surprise further on the upside because of supply disruptions,” the IMF warned.

The Washington-based institution’s growth forecasts assumed an average oil price of $107 a barrel in 2011, after $79 in 2010.

“New downside risks are building on account of commodity prices, notably for oil, and, relatedly, geopolitical uncertainty, as well as overheating and booming asset markets in emerging market economies,” it said.

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Surging oil prices have sparked fears of a return to the record levels above $147 seen in 2008, when high food and commodity prices sparked political unrest in some countries.

Olivier Blanchard, the IMF’s chief economist, stressed that the recent oil price rise was not expected to have “major effects” on either growth or inflation.

“My own view is that there is not any major downside risk at this point in the world economy, in the way there was a year or two ago, but there are reasons to worry,” Blanchard said at a news conference.

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The report’s authors, however, underlined the difficulty in forecasting a market that has been under the sway of revolts in the Middle East and North Africa region since the beginning of the year.

“The outlook for oil markets remains quite uncertain, as perceptions of geopolitical supply risks can be volatile,” they said.

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China and other emerging-market powerhouses such as India and Brazil were driving the strong demand for commodities.

But the IMF also pointed to a “sluggish” production response by the Organization of the Petroleum Exporting Countries when prices moved above the $70-80 range, which the cartel previously had called a “fair” range.

The lack of response by the cartel that produces about 40 percent of the world’s oil supply “has led to some uncertainty in markets about OPEC producers’ implicit price targets.”

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Surging food price rises, by contrast, were mainly due to weather-related supply shocks, such as drought and wildfires in Russia and Ukraine that slashed wheat crops.

The IMF economists expressed concern about high unemployment, noting that 205 million people worldwide were looking for jobs, up by about 30 million since 2007.

“Growth is insufficiently strong to make a major dent in high unemployment rates” and “the high and increasing burden of unemployment on young people poses risks to social cohesion,” it warned.

The WEO was released ahead of three days of spring meetings of IMF and World Bank officials that get underway Thursday in Washington.

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The 187-nation Fund highlighted that tensions remain entrenched in the financial sector, particularly in the sovereign debt markets of Europe.

“Significant fiscal and financial vulnerabilities still lurk behind recent benign market developments, especially in the euro area,” the IMF said.

Emerging-market economies, meanwhile, needed to guard against overheating and credit booms.

“We’re warning emerging-market countries that they’re getting to the point where things may be too good,” Blanchard told reporters. “And I think there is a long history of countries waiting too long to do something about it.”

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In the short term, the most pressing problem for a growing number of emerging and developing economies are “large food price increases, which present other social challenges.”


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US indicts ‘Evil Corp’ hackers with alleged Russian intelligence ties

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A Lamborghini-driving Moscow hacker who called his operation Evil Corp and has ties to the FSB Russian intelligence service was indicted by US authorities Thursday for the cybertheft of tens of millions of dollars.

An indictment unsealed in Pittsburgh named Maksim Yakubets and his Evil Corp partner Igor Turashev as the main figures in a group which inserted malware on computers in dozens of countries to steal more than $100 million from companies and local authorities.

The indictment was accompanied by sanctions from the US Treasury on the two men, as well as the announcement of a $5 million reward toward Yakubets' arrest and conviction -- the highest reward ever offered for a cybercriminal.

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US urges countries to suspend digital taxes, supports OECD talks: Mnuchin

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US Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin is urging countries like France to suspend taxes on global computing giants such as Google and Amazon and wait for a negotiated agreement on international taxation, according to a letter released Wednesday.

As the United States is poised to impose tariffs of up to 100 percent on $2.4 billion in French products over that country's digital services tax, Mnuchin said talks in the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development are key to resolving the issue.

"We believe that it is very important that these talks reach agreement in order to prevent the proliferation of unilateral measures, like digital services taxes, which threaten the longstanding multilateral consensus on international taxation," Mnuchin said in a letter to OECD chief Jose Angel Gurria.

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A quantum computing future is unlikely, due to random hardware errors

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Google announced this fall to much fanfare that it had demonstrated “quantum supremacy” – that is, it performed a specific quantum computation far faster than the best classical computers could achieve. IBM promptly critiqued the claim, saying that its own classical supercomputer could perform the computation at nearly the same speed with far greater fidelity and, therefore, the Google announcement should be taken “with a large dose of skepticism.”

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