Socrates & the Pope: Overheard at the IMF’s Spring Meetings


By IMFdirect editors

Socrates’ famous method to develop his students’ intellect was to question them relentlessly in an unending search for contradictions and the truth—or at the very least, a great quote.

The method was alive and well among the moderators, panelists and audiences of the IMF’s Spring Meetings seminars that took place alongside official discussions, where boosting high-quality growth, with a focus on the medium term, was at the top of the agenda.  Our editors fanned out and found a couple of big themes kept coming up.  Here are some of the highlights.

Monetary policy 

Lots of people are talking about what happens when the flood of easy money into emerging markets thanks to low interest rates in advanced economies like the United States slows even more than it has in the past year.

At a seminar on fiscal policy the discussion focused on the challenges facing policymakers as central banks slowly exit from unconventional monetary policy and interest rates begin rising.

A live poll of the audience found 63 percent said the global economy remains weak and unconventional monetary policies should remain in place.

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Emerging Markets Need To Do More To Remain Engines of Global Growth


Min ZhuBy Min Zhu

(Version in FrançaisРусский日本語Portuguêsعربي 中文, and Español)

We had a big debate on emerging markets’ growth prospects at our Annual Meetings in October 2013. We lowered our 2013 growth forecast for emerging markets and developing economies by a whopping 0.5 percentage points compared to our earlier forecast. Some argued that we were too pessimistic. Others said that we should have stuck with the lower-growth scenario we had devised at the onset of the global financial crisis.

Fast forward to today. Indeed, most recent figures indicate that the engines of global growth—emerging markets and developing economies—have slowed significantly. Their growth rate dropped about 3 percentage points in 2013 from 2010 levels, with more than two thirds of countries seeing a decline— Brazil, China, and India lead the pack. This is important for the global economy, since these economies generate half of today’s global economic activity.

In my more recent travels around the world—five regions on three continents—I received the same questions everywhere: what is happening with the emerging markets? Is the slowdown permanent? Can emerging markets boost their growth? What are the downside risks?

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Advanced Economies Strengthening, Emerging Market Economies Weakening


WEOBy Olivier Blanchard

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

The issue probably foremost on everyone’s mind, is the fiscal situation in the United States, and its potential implications.

While the focus is on the shutdown and the debt ceiling,  we should not forget the sequester, which is leading to a fiscal consolidation this year which is both too large and too arbitrary. The shutdown is yet another bad outcome, although one which, if it does not last very long, has limited economic consequences.  

Failure to lift the debt ceiling would, however, be a game changer.  Prolonged failure would lead to an extreme fiscal consolidation, and surely derail the U.S. recovery. But the effects of any failure to repay the debt would be felt right away, leading to potentially major disruptions in financial markets, both in the U.S. and abroad.   We see this as a tail risk, with low probability, but, were it to happen, it would have major consequences.

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Debt in a Time of Protests


by Nemat Shafik

As the world economy continues to struggle, people are taking to the streets by the thousands to protest painful cuts in public spending designed to reduce government debt and deficits. This fiscal fury is understandable.

People want to regain the confidence they once had about the future when the economy was booming and more of us had jobs.

But after a protracted economic crisis, this will take planning, fair burden-sharing, and time itself.

If history is any guide, there is no silver bullet to debt reduction. Experience shows that it takes time to reduce government debt and deficits. Sustained efforts over many years will ultimately lead to success.

Most countries have made significant headway in rolling back fiscal deficits. By the end of next year in more than half of the world’s advanced economies, and about the same share of emerging markets, we expect deficits —adjusted for the economic cycle—to be at the same level or lower than before the global economic crisis hit in 2008.

But with a sluggish recovery, efforts at controlling debt stocks are taking longer to yield results, particularly in advanced economies. Gross public debt is nearing 80 percent of GDP on average for advanced economies—over 100 percent in several of them—and we do not expect it to stabilize before 2014-15.

So what can governments do to ease the pain and pave the way for successful debt reduction?

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Tharman Sees “Greater Global Policy Resolve”


“Although the economic environment has weakened, the policy resolve has strengthened.” This is how Tharman Shanmugaratnam, Singapore’s Deputy Prime Minister and Minister for Finance , who is Chair of the IMF’s policy-setting committee, described the outcome of the IMF-World Bank annual meetings in Tokyo.

Growth is slower than anyone expected,” he admitted in a video interview.  “It is slower in Europe, it is not as fast as it should be in the United States, not as fast as it should be to bring unemployment down, and it is slowing in Asia to a greater extent than was expected. Tharman is chair of the 24-member IMFC.

“But we are now in a much better situation than six months ago when it comes to policy solutions.” He said there had been major steps forward in Europe “despite some disagreement on individual pieces.”  But underlying problems in the Eurozone, budget problems in the United States, and structural problems in global economy are longer term problems and “cannot be fixed quickly.”

For a quick brief on the outcomes from the meetings in Tokyo, take a look at:

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Sendai: A Tale of Natural Disaster, Resilience, and Recovery


in SendaiBy Christine Lagarde

Japan was struck, in the mid-afternoon of Friday, March 11, 2011,  by the country’s largest ever recorded earthquake. Within an hour, parts of Japan’s northeast coast were hit by a wall of water that swept away cars, boats, trains, buildings, roads—and thousands of lives.

It was with humility and respect, then, that I visited parts of the affected area more than 18 months on, in a special event this week in and around Sendai—the Japanese city most affected by the disaster, a couple of hours by train north of Tokyo. This “Sendai Dialogue,” cohosted by the Government of Japan and the World Bank, was part of the overall IMF/World Bank Annual Meetings being held in Tokyo this week.

Disaster turned to success

I went to two areas around Sendai—the first was the Arahama Elementary School, site of a successful evacuation during the disaster. The school is still in its wrecked state—just as it was straight after the tsunami struck. Debris is strewn all over the grounds–a mangled mass of vehicles resembling more a scrap yard than a school. The corridors and classrooms inside are also in ruins.

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Time Not On Our Side: Tough Decisions Needed to Strengthen Financial Stability


By José Viñals

(Versions in  عربي中文EspañolFrançaisРусский日本語)

Recent policy actions in Europe, the United States, in emerging markets, and here in Japan, where I’m attending the IMF-World Bank annual meetings, have improved investor sentiment and helped markets rebound in recent months.

Yet our latest assessment is that confidence is still very fragile and risks have increased, when compared to the IMF’s last report in April. Policymakers need to do more to gain lasting stability.

The principal risk remains the euro area. The forces of financial and economic fragmentation have widened the divide between countries at the core and the “periphery” of the euro zone. Faltering confidence and policy uncertainty have led to a pullback of cross-border private capital flows from the periphery—quite an extraordinary phenomenon within a currency union.

This has driven up funding costs to governments and banks, as well as for companies and households, and, in turn, threatening a vicious downward economic spiral.

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