By John S. McClenahen Merrill Lynch & Co. leaves no doubt about the global economic outlook. There will be "no global recession" in 2001, declares the New York-based securities firm. Its assertion is based on the belief that the U.S. economy will avoid recession. And the central banks of the U.S., Canada, and England do seem determined to head off recession by cutting key short-term interest rates. The U.S. Federal Open Market Committee, for example, is expected to drop the highly influential federal funds rate another 50 basis points, to 5%, at its Mar. 20 meeting -- if not before. Bruce Steinberg, Merrill Lynch's chief economist, expects the federal funds rate to be at 4.75% by May. Yet some folks, including economists, have a gnawing sense that a global "no recession" forecast is too bullish. Japan, for example, seems unable to get its economy growing. Europe -- at least the 15-nation European Union -- looks less vibrant for 2001 than it did only a couple of months ago. And in the U.S., new orders -- especially for non-tech goods -- could be slower to increase and inventories could well take longer than expected to be worked down.