By Andy Bruce
LONDON (Reuters) - This year now looks unlikely to deliver much improvement in the world economy's growth rate, with a weaker outlook for Europe and the United States tempering the cautious optimism that was evident in January.
Still, Reuters polls of roughly 400 economists worldwide, published on Thursday, suggested some of the threats to the health of the world economy are looking muted compared with a year ago.
The survey showed the world economy is expected to expand around 3.2 percent this year - the same rate the International Monetary Fund says it grew at in 2012.
Behind that headline number, just slightly down on January's poll forecast of 3.3 percent, there are some major differences between this year and last.
China is finally showing clear signs of economic vigor, which should help push global growth even as the U.S. economy looks set to slow, with sickly European economies acting as the major drag.
The outlook for Japan, fresh from its announcement of a $1.4 trillion monetary barrage, was little changed compared with a month ago.
While that means global growth has little scope to pick up significantly this year, at least some of the things that threatened to derail the world economy last year look a little less threatening now.
"If we went back a year ago, the three big worries were Europe, a hard landing in China and the U.S. fiscal cliff, and for those I think the worst-case scenario looks less likely now," said Craig Wright, chief economist at RBC in Toronto.
"The recovery is taking hold, but it's going to be an uneven, uncertain and underwhelming recovery."
Wright expects global growth of around 3.5 percent in 2013, and that things should improve next year too - when the overall polling forecast is for a 3.8 percent expansion.
Overall, the poll tallied with Wednesday's comments from IMF Managing Director Christine Lagarde, who said global growth was likely to remain tepid this year and central banks should keep their easy monetary policies in place.
After a strong start to the year, the U.S. economy is set to slow as some of the effects of government spending cuts take hold, likely leaving the central bank's extraordinary stimulus in place into at least 2014.
Economists in a Reuters poll ratcheted up their forecasts for first quarter growth to an annualized 3 percent from the 2 percent forecast last month. But that pace is not expected to last, slowing to 1.6 percent in the second quarter.
"We are expecting growth to slow but I wouldn't throw this into the category of another 'spring slowdown'," said Michael Gapen, senior U.S. economist at Barclays Capital.
Even the tepid growth expected for the United States would be a dream scenario for many European economies, after analysts cut their outlook for the euro zone.
Economists now see a 0.4 percent contraction for this year in the single currency bloc compared with a 0.1 percent decline predicted just three months ago.
Worse for the euro zone is that what growth it has is being helped by Germany, which is expected to pick up modestly. The other big economies - France and Italy - are in a slump.
"The lack of growth and record unemployment, combined with deeper spending cuts and a credit crunch as peripheral banks deleverage, present a real risk to the euro zone's future," said Lena Komileva, chief economist at G+ Economics in London.
Britain's economy will do scarcely better, although most expect it narrowly missed a third recession in five years in the first three months of this year.
Reuters will publish its economy poll for China, the world's second largest economy, next week. Thursday's survey showed a subdued recovery is in store for its biggest emerging Asian rival, India.
The Bank of Japan, led by new Governor Haruhiko Kuroda, last Thursday delivered a massive dose of shock therapy to break the deflationary phase by promising to inject about $1.4 trillion in less than two years.
Despite that, analysts still projected that the economy will grow by only 2.2 percent this fiscal year, which began this month, and 0.4 percent next year, unchanged from a poll taken last month.
"The BOJ will probably ease again if there is any event, such as a negative impact from overseas, that dampens Japan's economy and makes it even more difficult to achieve its inflation goal," Takeshi Minami, chief economist at Norinchukin Research Institute, said.
(Additional polling and reporting by Viviana Venturi and Gavin Jones in Rome, Sarah Marsh and Cirsten Pahlke in Berlin, Leigh Thomas in Paris, Leah Schnurr in New York, Kaori Kaneko in Tokyo, Yati Himatsingka in Bangalore; editing by Stephen Nisbet)