Mideast Oil Exporters Face the Crisis Head On


By Masood Ahmed

Middle East oil exporters are squarely facing the worst financial crisis since the Great Depression head on. Despite the sharp drop in oil prices last year, the oil exporters rightly decided to maintain spending by drawing upon reserves amassed during the boom years.

High public spending and exceptional anticrisis financial measures have not only cushioned oil exporters’ own economies but are also contributing to sustaining global demand. They have also helped the interlinked economies of neighboring oil importers. 

Facing this boom-bust cycle 

Between 2004 and 2008, Middle East oil-exporting countries grew by about 6 percent a year and accumulated $1.3 trillion in foreign assets. With the striking drop in oil prices—from a peak of $147 per barrel in mid-2008 to around $30 per barrel at the beginning of 2009—the countries of the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) have been hardest hit. Iraq and Saudi Arabia are expected to see the most pronounced drops in oil GDP growth—8 and 15 percentage points, respectively—this year.

Despite sharp drop in oil prices last year, oil exporters rightly decided to maintain spending by drawing on reserves amassed during boom years (photo: Wathiq Khuzaie/Getty Images)

Despite sharp drop in oil prices last year, oil exporters rightly decided to maintain spending by drawing on reserves amassed during boom years (photo: Wathiq Khuzaie/Getty Images)

During the precrisis boom years, banks had lent substantial amounts for real estate and equity purchases and made large profits. With the onset of the crisis, asset values fell sharply and the global deleveraging led to a severe tightening of credit conditions, especially in the GCC. Banks’ balance sheets have come under pressure credit growth has slowed sharply—up to 40 percentage points in Qatar.

 

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Life after the Crisis: A Perspective from Emerging Europe and Central Asia


By Caroline Atkinson

The Program of Seminars takes place outside the formal framework of the Annual Meetings. But to many people, they were the main reason for making the trip to Istanbul.

The program’s October 4 offering included a first-hand perspective of how three emerging market countries—Turkey, Slovakia, and Ukraine—have weathered the crisis. We also got a glimpse of the methodology the IMF is using to become better at sounding the alarm if it sees new vulnerabilities building up in the world economy.

More Europe, not less

Ukraine was running a high fiscal deficit at the outset of the crisis, which made it vulnerable when the global economy came unstuck, Vice Prime Minister Hryhoriy Nemyria said. The lack of progress on structural reforms had reinforced the external shock, and had brought home just how dependent the country was on just one sector, steel, which accounts for 40 percent of all export earnings. Continue reading

Farewell from Istanbul


The bags are packed, the shuttle buses are waiting, and the conference center here in Istanbul is slowly emptying. More than 15,000 people have come and gone. Now is the time to take stock and figure out how to move forward on the big decisions coming out of Istanbul.

The IMF’s Managing Director, Dominique Strauss-Kahn, called them exactly that in his final speech at the plenary on October 6: “The Istanbul Decisions.” So what are they? The IMF’s policy steering committee, the International Monetary and Financial Committee (IMFC), asked the IMF to move forward in four areas:

  • Updating the IMF’s mandate in light of the big changes in the global economy witnessed during the past decade
  • Reviewing the IMF’s financing role, possibly beefing up its role as a lender of last resort
  • Rethinking multilateral surveillance, with the idea of introducing peer review of economic policies
  • Giving more voice and representation to dynamic emerging market and developing countries
These Istanbul Decisions, Strauss-Kahn said, will be a focal point for the IMF’s work in the coming year.

On the Road to IMF Governance Reform


By Caroline Atkinson

There has been talk for years of the need for IMF governance reform by critics of the IMF.  Now it is on the official agenda–and some of the civil society organizations (CSOs) who have been most interested and vocal on the subject have been participating in the debate with the IMF. Managing Director Dominique Strauss-Kahn held a small meeting with civil society representatives from around the world–the final step of the so-called Fourth Pillar process.

The name, the Fourth Pillar, had a reason. Strauss-Kahn invited the CSOs to supplement the other three “pillars” who were submitting reports to the IMF on its governance–the IMF’s Independent Evaluation Office, the Executive Board Working Group on IMF Corporate governance, and an independent panel chaired by then South African Finance Minister Trevor Manuel.

The gathering on October 1 in Istanbul, ahead of the IMF’s Annual Meetings, was the culmination of a five-month consultation with civil society organizations. The Fourth Pillar representatives, chaired by Jo Marie Griesgraber of the Washington-based New Rules for Global Finance coalition, presented their final report to the Managing Director–which they had earlier discussed with the IMF Executive Board.

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Debating the IMF with Students


By Caroline Atkinson

In town for the Annual Meetings, Dominique Strauss-Kahn, our Managing Director, paid a visit to Bilgi University in the heart of Istanbul. He spoke to a gathering of students about the role of the IMF in the current crisis, and took some of their questions. 

The Managing Director likened the IMF to an “economic Red Cross” because its goal is to help solve a country’s economic problems while avoiding social unrest and war. He noted that the relationship between peace and economic stability was well understood by the people who founded the IMF in 1944, in the aftermath of the Great Depression and the second world war. 

Continuing with the medical analogy, he pointed out that countries only need IMF resources when they are “sick”—when they face serious balance of payments problems requiring policy adjustment. If you go to the doctor with a liver problem, he mused, the doctor will treat you, yes, but will also insist that you stop drinking. So policy conditions are necessary. Still, the Managing Director admitted, the medicine had sometimes been too bitter in the past. The IMF had developed a “harsh image”—not paying enough attention to local circumstances, political realities, or social consequences. It was seen as more of a policeman than a doctor. 

Strauss-Kahn at Bilgi University: IMF is like an “economic Red Cross” because its goal is to help solve a country’s economic problems while avoiding social unrest and war (photo: Stephen Jaffe/IMF)

Strauss-Kahn at Bilgi University: IMF is like an “economic Red Cross” because its goal is to help solve a country’s economic problems while avoiding social unrest and war (photo: Stephen Jaffe/IMF)

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A Generous Host—Twice


By Caroline Atkinson

Many of the world’s policymakers are now on their way to Turkey to attend the Annual Meetings of the IMF and the World Bank, where they are expected to make further progress toward addressing the global financial crisis. 

And, equally importantly, the Meetings are a chance for Turkey to showcase its role as an important player in the global economy. 

At a packed press conference on September 30, Turkey’s Deputy Prime Minister and Economy Minister Ali Babacan said that Turkey’s hosting of “such strategically important meetings is a very important event…It is a new occasion to enhance the visibility of not only Turkey but also Istanbul.”   

Turkey's Deputy Prime Minister and Economy Minister Ali Babacan: "A new occasion to enhance the visibility of not only Turkey but also Istanbul” (photo: Stephen Jaffe/IMF)

Turkey's Deputy Prime Minister and Economy Minister Ali Babacan: "A new occasion to enhance the visibility of not only Turkey but also Istanbul” (photo: Stephen Jaffe/IMF)

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IMF Annual Meetings – Key reports out


The IMF has just published its latest forecast for the global economy, the World Economic Outlook. After a deep recession, global economic growth has turned positive, driven by wide-ranging, coordinated public intervention that has supported demand and reduced uncertainty and systemic risk in financial markets, according to the report.

“The recovery has started. Financial markets are healing,” says IMF Chief Economist Olivier Blanchard. But he warned the recovery will be slow. “The current numbers shuld not fool governments into thinking that the crisis is over,” he said.

The Fund also published its Global Financial Stability Report.  It also sees a recovery, but much more needs to be done to heal the international financial  system, including repairing bank balance sheets. Read the IMF Survey story.

 

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