A Tale of Titans: The Too Important to Fail Conundrum


By Aditya Narain and İnci Ötker-Robe

Folklore is riddled with tales of a lone actor undoing a titan: David and Goliath; Heracles and Atlas; Jack and the Beanstalk, to name a few.

Financial institutions seen as too important to fail have become even larger and more complex since the global crisis. We need look no further than the example of investment bank Lehman Brothers to understand how one financial institution’s failure can threaten the global financial system and create devastating effects to economies around the world. Continue reading

Capital Flows to the Final Frontier


By Antoinette M. Sayeh

(Version in Français)

Sub-Saharan Africa’s “frontier markets”—the likes of Ghana, Kenya, Mauritius, and Zambia—were seemingly the destination of choice for an increasing amount of capital flows before the global financial crisis. Improving economic prospects in these countries was a big factor, but frankly, so too was a global economy awash with liquidity.

Then the crisis hit. And capital—particularly in the form of portfolio flows—was quick to flee these countries as was the case for so many other economies.

Fast forward to 2011. Capital flows are coming back to the frontier, but in dribs and drabs. Continue reading

The MENA Jobs and Growth Challenge: How Can Finance Help?


By Masood Ahmed

Most policymakers in the Middle East and North Africa agree that stronger economic growth is a crucial component of any strategy to address the region’s persistently high levels of unemployment and raise its living standards. One question that arises is: What role can the financial sector play?

It is well known that a dynamic and vibrant financial sector will improve economic outcomes for a country, leading to faster and more equitable economic growth. The key to answering this question, therefore, is to look to the past and examine how the financial sector has contributed historically to growth in the region. Continue reading

Keeping Asia from Overheating


By Anoop Singh

Asia’s vigorous pace of growth has seen the region play a leading role in the global recovery. But, there are also now growing signs of price pressure across the region’s goods and asset markets.

Headline inflation in Asia has accelerated since October 2010, mainly owing to higher commodity prices. There are, of course, variations in how much this has affected inflation across Asia, partly reflecting differences in the shares of food and energy items in expenditures.

But there are signs that higher commodity prices are spilling over to a more generalized increase in inflation. Continue reading

To Owe or Be Owned—Depends on How You Tax It


By Ruud de Mooij

In February, President Obama said “Companies are taxed heavily for making investments with equity; yet the tax code actually pays companies to invest using leverage”. And he is right: the corporate tax code in the United States creates a significant bias toward debt finance over equity.

Of course, the U.S. is not unique. In most of Europe, Asia and elsewhere in the world, the tax advantages of debt finance are even bigger than in the U.S.

The crux of the issue is that interest paid on borrowing can be deducted from the corporate tax bill, while returns paid on equity—dividends and capital gains—cannot.

The debt distortion is not new. What is new, however, is that we have come to realize that excessive debt (or leverage) is much more costly than we have always thought. Continue reading

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