Sudden Financial Arrest and Much More: IMF’s Annual Research Conference Gets Under Way


By Olivier J. Blanchard 

With the global economic crisis as a backdrop, some of the world’s leading economists will soon join us here in Washington, D.C. for two days of intense, scholarly debate. Not surprisingly, the papers submitted for the IMF’s Jacques Polak Annual Research Conference are colored by the events of the past two years.

To give you an idea, Ricardo Caballero of MIT, our keynote speaker this year, plans to tell us about the striking and terrifying similarities between a sudden cardiac arrest and a financial crisis.

The IMF’s research conference, slated to take place on November 5–6, will be celebrating its 10th anniversary this year. Since it was first launched, the conference has become one of the main international venues for researchers and policymakers to exchange ideas. The theme of this year’s conference is “Financial Frictions and Macroeconomic Adjustment.”

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Latin America and the Caribbean: Finding Space for Countercyclical Fiscal Policy


By Nicolás Eyzaguirre

(Version en español)

In this year of global recession, fiscal policy has been able to play a supportive role in some countries of the Latin America and Caribbean (LAC) region.  Even as the downturn caused fiscal revenues to fall, many governments were able to avoid cutting expenditure, and some were able to provide a sizable positive fiscal impulse, actively raising expenditure to provide a boost to domestic demand and GDP.   

This is especially clear among the group we call “commodity exporting, financially integrated countries” (see Figure). Fiscal policy is also playing a countercyclical role in a number of other countries in 2009.  In contrast, some of the region’s other commodity exporting countries—which in general had implemented a procyclical fiscal policy during the previous years of expansion—continue to do so in 2009, with negative fiscal impulses.

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The Commodity Connection: Rising Commodity Prices and the Outlook for Latin America and the Caribbean


By Nicolás Eyzaguirre

(Version en español)

As the world economy emerges from recession, it’s worth thinking about how the composition of this recovery, in terms of which countries expand faster, will affect commodity prices—and how those prices influence the outlook for economies of the Latin American and Caribbean (LAC) region.

Commodity prices usually follow a pattern of sizable declines in episodes of world recession, followed by some degree of recovery—and the current episode is no exception (Figure 1).

But within that pattern, what is notable is that this time the recovery of global activity is uneven, with emerging Asian countries already taking the lead, while the most advanced economies are recovering more slowly. Because the former countries consume relatively more commodities, this uneven composition of global growth is a key reason for the recovery recently seen in commodity prices, and for thinking that this will continue.

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This pattern of commodity prices’ being sensitive to the condition of Asian economies is not new: the crisis in East Asia in the late 1990s sent commodity prices down, even while the advanced economies maintained growth. And in the early 1990s, when advanced economies had a downturn that was not shared by other countries, commodity prices avoided a big decline.

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Why Did Latin America Do Better in This Crisis? The Benefits of Being Prepared


By Nicolás Eyzaguirre

(Version en español)

Although this time the external shocks were very strong in this year of global crisis, the Latin American and Caribbean (LAC) region has performed notably better than in the past, and also better than many other emerging market countries.

This improvement can be attributed to the fact that the region faced the crisis equipped with economic policy frameworks that were more solid and credible than in the past, and with smaller financial, external, and fiscal vulnerabilities. This allowed a number of countries of the region to implement countercyclical monetary and fiscal policies.

Figure 1 shows a measure of the benefits that this better preparation has brought. It compares the fall in average growth of GDP actually observed in Brazil, Chile, Colombia, Mexico, and Peru (solid line) with our best estimate of the decline that would have occurred if their policy frameworks and vulnerabilities had not been changed (dashed line). The estimates here suggest that these countries were able to “save” about 4 percentage points of GDP during the crisis, thanks to their better preparations for confronting external shocks.

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Figure 2 shows that various countries of the region had the room or “space” to apply countercyclical fiscal and monetary policies during this crisis. The figure depicts changes in interest rates (vertical axis) and in fiscal deficits (horizontal axis) for each country of the LAC region, where the colors group countries according to certain general characteristics and the diameter of the circles represent the relative size of each economy.

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Latin America and the Caribbean During the Global Crisis: Better than the Past, Better than Other Regions


By Nicolás Eyzaguirre

(Version en español)

In contrast to what happened in past episodes of world recession, this time the fall in growth of the Latin American and Caribbean (LAC) region has not exceeded that of the world economy. In fact, the performance of the region has been as good as, or better than, many other emerging market economies.

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Unlocking Central Asia’s Huge Potential


By Masood Ahmed

The IMF has just finished its Annual Meetings in Istanbul, the traditional start of the old silk road and the gateway to Central Asia. 

Strategically located between East Asia and Europe, and South Asia and Russia, Central Asia is rich in resources and faces tremendous opportunities—yet to be made the most of. Since the outset of their transition to a market economy, the countries of the region have made visible progress toward decentralizing their economies, creating market institutions, expanding international links, and intensifying efforts to diversify and increase production and trade. 

As a result—and owing also to sound macroeconomic management, high commodity prices, and strong foreign inflows—this landlocked region, the size of the European Union and home to 60 million people, enjoyed near double-digit growth on average during 2001–07. 

Oil wells in Baku, Azerbaijan: With global energy demand increasing again, Central Asia's energy exporters should see growth rates increase in 2010 (photo: David Mdzinarishvili /Reuters)

Oil wells in Baku, Azerbaijan: With global energy demand increasing again, Central Asia's energy exporters should see growth rates increase in 2010 (photo: David Mdzinarishvili /Reuters)

But, as elsewhere in the world, the global economic crisis has taken a toll on Central Asia, with average growth for the region as a whole sinking from 5.7 percent in 2008 to 1.2 percent in 2009. Nevertheless, this average masks important differences across countries. 

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Did Islamic Banks in the Gulf Do Better Than Conventional Ones in the Crisis?


By Masood Ahmed

The IMF’s latest regional economic outlook for the Middle East compares the performance of Islamic banks in the countries of the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) with conventional ones during the global financial crisis.

Islamic banks were less affected during the initial phase of the crisis, reflecting a stronger first-round impact on conventional banks through mark-to-market valuations on securities in 2008. But, in 2009, data for the first half of the year indicate somewhat larger declines in profitability for Islamic banks, revealing the second-round effect of the crisis on the real economy, especially real estate.  

Going forward, Islamic banks overall are better poised to withstand additional stress, according to the IMF analysis.

Portfolio risk

Islamic banks have grown substantially in recent years, with their assets currently estimated at close to $850 billion. Overall, the risk profile of Islamic banks is similar to conventional banks in that the risk profile of Shariah-compliant contracts is largely similar to that in conventional contracts, and credit risk is the main risk for both types of banks.

Islamic banks are not permitted to have any direct exposure to financial derivatives or conventional financial institutions’ securities—which were hit most during the global crisis (photo: Karim Sahib/AFP/Getty Images)

Islamic banks are not permitted to have any direct exposure to financial derivatives or conventional financial institutions’ securities—which were hit most during the global crisis (photo: Karim Sahib/AFP/Getty Images)

Unlike conventional banks, however, Islamic banks are not permitted to have any direct exposure to financial derivatives or conventional financial institutions’ securities—which were hit most during the global crisis.

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