After two years of sustained economic growth--which in the U.S. elicited pre-recession levels of business confidence--the global economy is starting to slow.

That's according to a new report from the International Monetary Fund, which slashed its forecast for world economic growth in 2019 to 3.5 percent, down from its two previous forecasts of 3.7 in October and 3.9 percent in July. Speaking at a news conference in Davos, Switzerland, where the World Economic Forum is currently meeting, Christine Lagarde, the IMF's managing director, was quick to bat away global recession concerns. She cautioned that global expansion has weakened, and that "the risk of a sharper decline in global growth has certainly increased," The Wall Street Journal reports.

That bleak view is mirrored by Seth A. Klarman, who runs the $27 billion Boston-based hedge fund Baupost Group. A letter he wrote to investors, offering an even chillier warning, has been widely circulated among business leaders at the international gathering. In the 22-page letter, Klarman warns about the rising ratio in government debt compared with gross domestic product and mounting social conflict.

"It can't be business as usual amid constant protests, riots, shutdowns, and escalating social tensions," he wrote, wondering when investors will take "more notice of this." He added: "Social cohesion is essential for those who have capital to invest."

The pessimistic outlook is taking root among global CEOs, according to a recent survey by PricewaterhouseCoopers. Nearly 30 percent of more than 1,300 CEOs around the world believe global growth will decline in the next 12 months, which is roughly six times higher than last year, according to CNBC.

There is, however, a silver lining. Much of the risk posed by the IMF, Klarman, and the CEO survey has a political backdrop. Brexit, the partial government shutdown in the U.S., and its trade war with China are among the factors cited that could reduce global growth in 2019, for example. Reopening the U.S. government, a truce between the U.S. and China, or even settling a Brexit deal could help soften the blow to the world's economy.

Business owners should proceed with caution, Klarman suggests in his letter, writing "since the worst does not frequently happen, you cannot let the fear of a monster storm completely paralyze you."

Published on: Jan 22, 2019