Flash Crashes and Swiss Francs: Market Liquidity Takes a Holiday


GFSR

By José Viñals

Financial market liquidity can be fleeting. The ability to trade in assets of any size, at any time and to find a ready buyer is not a given.  As discussed in some detail last fall in this blog, a number of factors, including the evolving structure of financial markets and some regulations appear to have pushed liquidity into a new realm: markets look susceptible to episodes of high price volatility where liquidity suddenly vanishes.

In our April 2015 Global Financial Stability Report we identify a new aspect to the problem:  asset price correlations have risen sharply in the last five years across all major asset classes (see figure). Continue reading

Act Local, Solve Global: The $5.3 Trillion Energy Subsidy Problem


By Benedict Clements and Vitor Gaspar

(Versions in 中文, Français日本語Русский and Español)

US$5.3 trillion; 6½ percent of global GDP—that is our latest reckoning of the cost of energy subsidies in 2015. These estimates are shocking. The figure likely exceeds government health spending across the world, estimated by the World Health Organization at 6 percent of global GDP, but for the different year of 2013. They correspond to one of the largest negative externality ever estimated. They have global relevance. And that’s not all: earlier work by the IMF also shows that these subsidies have adverse effects on economic efficiency, growth, and inequality.

What are energy subsidies

We define energy subsidies as the difference between what consumers pay for energy and its “true costs,” plus a country’s normal value added or sales  tax rate. These “true costs” of energy consumption include its supply costs and the damage that energy consumption inflicts on people and the environment. These damages, in turn, come from carbon emissions and hence global warming; the health effects of air pollution; and the effects on traffic congestion, traffic accidents, and road damage. Most of these externalities are borne by local populations, with the global warming component of energy subsidies  only a fourth of the total (Chart 1).

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Global Energy Subsidies Are Big—About US$5 Trillion Big


By Sanjeev Gupta and Michael Keen

(Versions in 中文, Français, 日本語Русский and Español)

In their blog, Ben Clements and Vitor Gaspar make the points that global energy subsidies are still very substantial, that there is a strong need for reform in many countries, and that now is a great time to do it. This blog sets out what we mean by “energy subsidies,” provides details on their estimation, and explains how they continue to be high despite the recent drop in international energy prices (Chart 1).

Slide1

Our latest update of global energy subsidies shows that “pre-tax” subsidies—which occur when people and businesses pay less than it costs to supply the energy—are smaller than a few years back. But “post-tax” subsidies—which add to pre-tax subsidies an amount that reflects the environmental, health and other damage that energy use causes and the benefit from favorable VAT or sales tax treatment—remain extremely high, and indeed are now well above our previous estimates.

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Commodity Blues: Corporate Investment in Latin America


Nicolas MagudBy Nicolás Magud

(Versions in Español and Português)

Private investment has been decelerating throughout emerging markets since mid-2011, and Latin America has been no exception (see Chart 1). This trend has raised concerns not only because weaker investment has played an important role in the broader regional slowdown, but also because Latin America’s investment rates were lower than in most other regions even before the slowdown began.

Slide1

This blog looks at the drivers of corporate investment and highlights the extent to which falling commodity export prices have contributed to lower capital spending. Given the poor outlook for commodity prices and what our analysis suggests, this does not bode well for countries in the region going forward unless they can tackle some of the long-standing obstacles to increase investment.

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Securitization: Restore Credit Flow to Revive Europe’s Small Businesses


By Shekhar Aiyar, Bergljot Barkbu, and Andreas (Andy) Jobst

If financing is the lifeblood of European small businesses, then the effect of the financial crisis was similar to a cardiac arrest. The flow of affordable credit from banks was choked off and small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs) were hit hardest. Today, with bank lending still recovering from that shock, smart policy actions could open up securitization as a source of financing to help small businesses start up, flourish and grow.

SMEs are vital to the European economy. They account for 99 out of every 100 businesses, two in every three employees, and 58 cents of each euro of value added of the business sector in Europe. Improving access to finance would therefore not only revive small businesses, but also support a strong and lasting recovery for Europe as a whole.

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Latin America and the Fiscal Stimulus: A Mild Hangover, Not Yet an Addiction


Alexander KlemmBy Alexander Klemm

(Versions in Español and Português)

Latin America is heading for tougher times. Regional growth is expected to dip below 1 percent in 2015, partly as a result of the drop in global commodity prices. How well placed is the region for the coming lean times?

Countries face this slowdown from much weaker fiscal positions than when the global financial crisis hit. Then, Latin America responded strongly with expansionary fiscal policies, including explicit fiscal stimulus programs in many countries. But, as growth has recovered, this increase in spending has proved difficult to reverse.

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European Life Insurers: Unsustainable Business Model


By Reinout De Bock, Andrea Maechler, and Nobuyasu Sugimoto

(Versions in Français and deutsch)

Low interest rates in the euro area pose substantial challenges to the life insurance industry. Insurers—particularly in Germany and Sweden—offer their clients long-term policies, sometimes more than 30 years, without holding assets of a correspondingly long duration. Moreover, many policies contain generous return guarantees, which are unsustainable in today’s low interest rate environment.

In 2014, stress tests showed European life insurers are vulnerable to a “Japanese-like” scenario.

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