Debt Hangover: Nonperforming Loans in Europe’s Emerging Economies


By Christoph Rosenberg and Christoph Klingen

Some hangovers take more than a good night’s sleep to get over. It’s been three years since the global economic crisis put an abrupt end to emerging Europe’s credit boom, but neither lenders nor borrowers are in much of a party mood. One key reason: many of the loans so readily dished out before the crisis have now gone sour.

Festering bad loans are a problem on many fronts:  banks, credit supply, economic growth, and people all suffer. Take Japan’s lost decade. There too, a credit boom ended in tears, new lending subsequently went from too much to too little, and a vicious cycle of credit squeeze, declining asset and collateral values, and economic paralysis followed.

In emerging Europe, the share of loans classified as nonperforming—many of them household mortgages—have exploded from 3 percent before the crisis to 13 percent at the peak. As can be seen in the chart below, levels in some parts of the Baltics and Balkans are already at par with previous financial crises elsewhere.

Tackling bad loans

Nobody wants this dire script to replay in emerging Europe. Policymakers, bankers, and international financial institutions therefore got together under the Vienna Initiative to identify ways to tackle nonperforming loans. A working group co-chaired by the IMF and World Bank just presented a report that analyzes the problem and offers a way out.

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Disappearing Deficits


By Tim Irwin

Suppose a government must reduce its budget deficit. Perhaps it made a commitment to do so; perhaps investors are beginning to doubt its ability to repay debt. It could cut spending or raise taxes, but that is painful and unpopular. What can it do?

In our work at the IMF, we sometimes discover that governments choose to employ accounting devices that make the deficit smaller without actually causing any pain, and without actually improving public finances.

In ideal accounting, this would not be possible. In real accounting, it sometimes is.

How the devices work

Some governments, for example, have been able to reduce their reported deficits by taking over companies’ pensions schemes. The government’s obligation to make future pension payments has a real cost, but it doesn’t count as a liability in the accounting. So when the government receives a pension scheme’s assets from the company, it can treat the receipt of those assets as revenue that reduces its deficit.

Many other governments have been able to defer spending, without significantly reducing it in the long run, by entering into public-private partnerships. Under these contracts, a private company builds and maintains an asset like a road or a hospital. In return, the government agrees to pay the company for its costs over 20 or 30 years. In a sense, the government has bought the asset on an installment plan, but government accounting seldom counts this obligation as a liability.

In each of the above cases—and in others analyzed in my note, Accounting Devices and Fiscal Illusions—the government’s deficit is lower at first, but only at the expense of bigger future deficits.

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“Macro…, what?!” The New Buzz on Financial Stability


José Viñals (l) and Nicolás Eyzaguirre

By José Viñals and Nicolás Eyzaguirre

(Version in Español)

Just a few years ago, “Macro…, what?!” would have been a typical reaction to hearing the technical term that today is the talk of the town among financial regulators.

But in the aftermath of the global financial crisis, macroprudential policy—which seeks to contain systemic risks in the financial system—has indeed come to be an important part of the overall policy toolkit to preserve economic stability and sustain growth.

For example, a number of countries, especially emerging markets, have been relying on macroprudential policies (such as loan-to-value or debt-to-income ratios, or countercyclical loan loss provisions) to rein in rapid credit growth, which—if unchecked—could destabilize the financial system and, ultimately, bring about a recession and drive up unemployment.

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Latin America: Making the Good Times Last


By Nicolás Eyzaguirre

(Version in Español)

Last week I attended the Annual Meeting of the Inter-American Development Bank in Montevideo, Uruguay where I gave a preview for growth in the region.

If I had to summarize the global backdrop for Latin America in four words, I would say “favorable, but still risky.” The global setting is favorable for two reasons:

  • First, some of the recent data has come in a bit stronger than expected, particularly figures on U.S. economic activity and employment. In the emerging markets sphere, growth remains fairly solid. Notably, China continues to put in a good performance, even though growth is easing and its exports are down somewhat. Good growth in Asia supports demand for Latin America’s key commodity exports, keeping terms of trade favorable.
  • Second, major countries have taken some important policy steps to underpin global growth and stability. In Europe, the European Central Bank’s Long Term Refinancing Operation has eased liquidity pressures for European banks and sovereigns and headed off a large deleveraging that would have crimped growth. Also, stronger fiscal adjustment programs and progress in resolving Greece’s stresses have supported confidence. In the United States, the Federal Reserve’s lengthening into 2014 of its commitment to maintain ultra-low interest rates, along with the extension of payroll tax relief and unemployment benefits, are bolstering demand and employment.

Overall, conditions and the outlook remain relatively favorable for the region. Commodity prices continue to ride high, despite some recent setbacks, thanks to buoyant emerging-market demand. Accommodative monetary policies in the major countries, and ample liquidity, maintain easy financing conditions for the more creditworthy countries. Indeed, the reemergence of strong capital inflows is again putting unwelcome upward pressure on exchange rates in some financially-open countries.

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The Logic and Fairness of Greece’s Program


By Olivier Blanchard

(Version in ελληνικά عربي)

To get back to health, Greece needs two things. First, a lower debt burden. Second, improved economic competitiveness. The new program addresses both.

Bringing down the debt

Some countries have been able to work down heavy public debt burdens. Those that were successful did it through sustained high growth. But in Greece’s case, it had become clear that high growth—let alone sustained high growth—was not going to come soon enough. Debt had to be restructured.

The process was long and messy. After all, bargaining between creditors and debtors is rarely a love affair. In the process, foreign creditors were often vilified in Greece as bad guys—rich banks, who could and should be willing to take a hit. But in the end, banks belong to people, many of them saving for retirement, who saw the value of their bank shares go down in value.

All said, the PSI (private sector involvement) dealthe largest ever negotiated write-down of public debt—has reduced the debt burden of every man, woman, and child in Greece by close to €10,000 on average, a sizable contribution on the part of foreign savers.

Greece now has to do its part―with sustained political commitment to implement the difficult but necessary set of fiscal, financial, and structural reforms that have been agreed as part of the program supported by Greece’s partners in the eurozone and the IMF. It is a huge challenge, no doubt. But it is also an opportunity–to take advantage of the economic space opened up by private and official creditors. Will Greece seize it?

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Avoiding a Lost Generation


By Nemat Shafik (Version in  عربي)

Young people were innocent bystanders in the global financial crisis, but they may well end up paying the heaviest price for the policy mistakes that have led us to where we are today.

Young people will have to pay the taxes to service the debts accumulated in recent years.

Moreover, the global economy is threatened by continued strains in the euro area, and unemployment is still climbing in several countries, in particular in Europe. Young people (those aged 15 to 24) are the most affected, and youth unemployment has reached record levels in a number of countries.

If the right policies are not put into place, there is a risk not only of a lost decade in terms of growth but also of a lost generation.

Consider this. In Spain and Greece, nearly half of all young people cannot find jobs. In the Middle East, young people account for 40 percent or more of all unemployed people in Jordan, Lebanon, Morocco, and Tunisia and nearly 60 percent in Syria and Egypt. And in the United States, which traditionally has had a strong job creation record, more than 18 percent of all young job seekers cannot find employment.

Legacy of loss

Youth unemployment has long-term consequences for economic growth because of the loss or degradation of human capital. But it also has many other consequences, both for the individuals affected and for society as a whole.

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Lagarde on Women in Leadership


At the Women in the World Summit in New York on March 8, International Monetary Fund Managing Director Christine Lagarde spoke to historian Niall Ferguson about the role of women in leadership around the world, saying it might be a safer place if more women were in charge. Men were bigger risk takers than women.

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