Closer, Ever Closer


By Anoop Singh

(Version in 中文)

Here’s the good news: thanks to relatively strong fundamentals and good policies,  Asian economies have coped well with the global market turbulence of recent years. Now the bad: a major financial shock—say, of type ignited by the bankruptcy of U.S. investment bank Lehman Brothers in 2008—is likely to have a substantial impact on Asia.  The reason: Asia’s increasing financial interconnectedness.

Over the past two decades—in line with the region’s growing role in the global economy—Asia’s equity markets have become increasingly sensitive to global financial developments.   More specifically, we have discovered that equity returns in Asia generally now move in tandem with those in systemic economies.  (By systemic economies, we are talking here about those countries—such as the United States and the United Kingdom which are home to major, global, financial centers such as Wall Street and the City of London.)

How do we measure that degree of financial interconnectedness?  Or put another way, how do we measure the relationship—if any—between those Asian equity returns and the performance of systemic economies?

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Escaping the Resource Curse


By Mauricio Villafuerte

(Version in عربي)

It reads like a script for a Hollywood movie—a poor protagonist happens upon an opportunity that has the potential of bestowing riches, but an evil curse threatens to spoil it all.

Unfortunately, it’s not a movie script. The scenario plays out repeatedly in many parts of the real world all the time. For many developing countries, managing natural resources and the increased revenues they bring is a tough haul.

Cue the extensive literature on the “resource curse” and the lack of consensus on how to run fiscal policy and manage budgets in resource-rich countries.

In some respects, this is like the “all-too-similar” sequel, because the tribulations associated with how to best manage natural resources, such as oil, minerals, and gas, seem to endure so that resource-rich developing countries are never quite free of them.

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Africa and the Great Recession: Changing Times


By Antoinette Sayeh

(Version in Français)

In previous global downturns, sub-Saharan Africa has usually been badly affected—but not this time around.

The world economy has experienced much dislocation since the onset of the global financial crisis in 2008. Output levels in many advanced economies still remain below pre-crisis levels, while unemployment levels have surged; growth in emerging market economies has slowed, but remains quite high.

But in sub-Saharan Africa, growth for the region as a whole has remained reasonably strong (around 5 percent), except for 2009 – where the decline in world output and associated shrinking of world trade pushed Africa’s growth down to below 3 percent.

Some better than others

Of course, sub-Saharan Africa is a diverse region, and not all economies have fared equally well. The more advanced economies in the region (notably South Africa) have close links to export markets in the advanced economies, and have experienced a sharper slowdown, and weaker recovery, than did the bulk of the region’s low-income economies.  Countries affected by civil strife (such as Cote d’Ivoire, and now Mali) and by drought have also fared less well than other economies in the region.

So why has most of sub-Saharan Africa continued to record solid growth against the backdrop of such a weak global economy?  And can we expect this solid growth performance to continue in the next few years?

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Making Sure Middle East Growth Is Inclusive


By Nemat Shafik

(Version in عربي)

The uprisings that spread across the Middle East and North Africa in 2011 taught us that even rapid economic growth cannot be maintained unless it is inclusive, creates enough jobs for the growing labor force, and is accompanied by policies that protect the most vulnerable. And the absence of transparent and fair rules of the game will inevitably undermine the development process.

Hopes after the revolutions are high and so are people’s expectations. Hence, there is a need to pay more attention to socioeconomic issues in making policy decisions. In my speech today at the Arab Economic Forum in Beirut, I argued that we need an “Economic Spring” to complement what has become known as the “Arab Spring.”

Gloomy picture needs attention

At over 25 percent, the youth unemployment rate in the region’s oil-importing countries exceeds that of any other region in the world—a rate that reaches up to 30 percent in Tunisia and 32 percent in Morocco. Ironically, education in the region is not a guarantee against unemployment. In fact, unemployment tends to increase with schooling, exceeding 15 percent for those with tertiary education in Egypt, Jordan, and Tunisia.

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Latin America: Vulnerabilities Under Construction?


By Luis Cubeddu, Camilo E. Tovar, and Evridiki Tsounta

(Version in Español)

Housing construction projects are sprouting up across much of Latin America and mortgage credit is also growing very fast. Does this sound familiar? It should!

Easy external financing conditions and high commodity prices have led to important improvements in living standards and credit deepening in many countries of the region over the past decade. The credit expansion has been particularly impressive in the mortgage sector, where legal reforms and government subsidies have also played a role.

Although mortgage credit in Latin American countries is relatively low by international standards —at just 7 percent of GDP versus over 20 percent in emerging Asia and over 65 percent in the United States—it has grown at an impressive annual average real rate of 14 percent since 2003, with Brazil leading the pack. Home prices have also risen sharply over this period, particularly in countries where mortgage credit has expanded the fastest (for more details see Chapter 5 in our latest Western Hemisphere Regional Economic Outlook).

So, are housing vulnerabilities emerging?

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Fiscal Consolidation: Striking the Right Balance


By David Lipton

(Version in Español, in عربي)

The debate on austerity vs. growth has gained in intensity, as countries in Europe and elsewhere struggle with low growth, high debt, and rising unemployment. In essence, policymakers are being asked to tackle a continuation of the worst crisis since the Great Depression.

This would be no easy task under any circumstances. But it is made considerably harder by the fact that a number of countries need to engage in fiscal consolidation simultaneously. Complicating the picture further is the fact that monetary policy in most advanced economies is approaching the limits of what it technically can do to stimulate activity, while global growth remains weak.

There is no getting around the need to reduce debt levels. High debt leaves countries exposed to interest rate shocks, limits their capacity to respond to future shocks, and reduces long-term growth potential.

At the same time, we all know that fiscal consolidation―reducing deficits by cutting spending or raising revenues―can and usually does stifle growth. With more than 200 million people out of work worldwide, and with growth in advanced countries forecast at a mere 1½ percent for 2012, getting the pace of consolidation right is therefore of paramount importance. So how do policymakers strike the right balance?

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How to Get the Balance Right: Fiscal Policy At a Time of Crisis


By Anders Borg and Christine Lagarde

Last autumn was a turbulent time for Europe. The debt crisis deepened and financial markets became embroiled in turmoil, driven by fears of widespread restructuring of public debt. The crisis has harmed growth, increased unemployment, and left a large number of people less protected.

We are now seeing some signs of stabilization. Most countries are reducing their deficits and even if debt ratios are still rising, the return back to fiscal health has begun.

The International Monetary Fund and the Swedish Ministry of Finance are hosting an international conference in Stockholm on May 7-8, with the purpose of sharing knowledge and providing guidance on the best way to achieve fiscal consolidation, and on the role that effective fiscal policy frameworks and institutions can play in this endeavor.

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