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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Public Finances Are on the Mend, but No Clean Bill of Health


By Sanjeev Gupta and Martine Guerguil

(Version in Español FrançaisРусский中文, and 日本語)

We’ve had a spate of good news on the economic front recently. Does this mean that we are finally out of the fiscal woods? According to our most recent Fiscal Monitor report, not yet, as public debt remains high and the recovery uneven.

First, the good news. The average deficit in advanced economies has halved since the 2009 peak. The average debt ratio is stabilizing. Growth is strengthening in the United States and making a comeback in the euro area, and should benefit from the slower pace of consolidation this year. Emerging markets and developing countries have maintained their resilience, in part thanks to the policy buffers accumulated in the pre-crisis period. Talks of tapering in the United States have left a few of them shaken, but not (quite) stirred.

But there is still some way to go. The average debt ratio in advanced economies, although edging down, sits at historic peaks, and we project it will still remain above 100 percent of GDP by 2019 (Chart 1). The recovery is still vulnerable to several downside risks, including those stemming from the lack of clear policy plans in some major economies. The recent bouts of financial turmoil have raised concerns that the anticipated tightening of global liquidity could expose emerging markets and low-income countries to shifts in investor sentiment and more demanding debt dynamics.

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Global Financial Stability: Beginning To Turn The Corner


GFSRBy José Viñals

(Version in  EspañolFrançaisРусский中文 and 日本語)

 

Global financial stability is improving—we have begun to turn the corner.

But it is too early to declare victory as there is a need to move beyond liquidity dependence—the central theme of our report—to overcome the remaining challenges to global stability.

Progress

We have made substantial strides over the past few years, and this is now paying dividends.  As Olivier Blanchard discussed at yesterday’s press conference of the World Economic Outlook, the U.S. economy is gaining strength, setting the stage for the normalization of monetary policy.

In Europe, better policies have led to substantial improvements in market confidence in both sovereigns and banks.

In Japan, Abenomics has made a good start as deflationary pressures are abating and confidence for the future is rising. And emerging market economies, having gone through several recent bouts of turmoil, are adjusting policies in the right direction.

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As Demand Improves, Time to Focus More on Supply


2010 WEO BLANCHARD By Olivier Blanchard

(Version in  FrançaisEspañol, Русский, عربي中文  and 日本語)

The dynamics that were emerging at the time of the October 2013 World Economic Outlook are becoming more visible. Put simply, the recovery is strengthening.

In our recent World Economic Outlook, we forecast world growth to be 3.6 percent this year and 3.9 percent next year, up from 3.0 percent last year.

In advanced economies, we forecast growth to reach 2.2 percent in 2014, up from 1.3 percent in 2013.

The recovery which was starting to take hold in October is becoming not only stronger, but also broader.  The various brakes that hampered growth are being slowly loosened.   Fiscal consolidation is slowing, and investors are less worried about debt sustainability. Banks are gradually becoming stronger. Although we are far short of a full recovery, the normalization of monetary policy—both conventional and unconventional—is now on the agenda.

Brakes are loosened at different paces however, and the recovery remains uneven.

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Are Emerging Markets Still On the Receiving End?


By Aseel Almansour, Aqib Aslam, John Bluedorn and Rupa Duttagupta

(Version in  FrançaisРусский中文 and 日本語)

The recent slowdown in emerging market growth is fueling a growing mania across markets and policy circles. Some worry that a large part of their stellar pace of growth over the 2000s (Figure 1) was due to a favorable external environment—cheap credit and high commodity prices. And, therefore, as advanced economies gather momentum now and begin to normalize their interest rates, and commodity price gains begin to reverse, emerging market growth could slip further.

Others instead contend that internal or domestic factors have played a role, with improved standards of governance and genuine structural reforms and robust policies, driving a fundamental transformation in the sources of emerging market growth towards a lower yet more sustainable trajectory.

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Are Emerging Markets Adjusting to a New Normal?


By Aseel Almansour, Aqib Aslam, John Bluedorn and Rupa Duttagupta 

Emerging markets have grown at a remarkable pace through most of the 2000s. They even rebounded strongly from the Great Recession, notwithstanding the sluggishness in advanced economies. Easy global financial conditions, rising commodity prices and beneficial terms of trade potentially compensated for weak external demand from the advanced economies.

But now, emerging market growth, while still strong, has begun to slow. This oddly coincides with an outlook for advanced economies that is improving, even if gradually. So what’s behind this dichotomy?

Emerging markets are adjusting to changes in the external environment. On the one hand, the incipient recovery in advanced economies is helping emerging markets, including through higher exports. On the other hand, the favourable external financing conditions are now beginning to reverse, implying a tougher financial environment for emerging markets. Then you have domestic factors, which appear to have pulled down growth in some emerging markets (see also IMF blog post on January 22, 2014, and December 18, 2013).

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China: Size Matters


By Steven Barnett

(Version in  中文 and  Español)

Mongolia’s economy grew nearly 12 percent last year, the United States around 2 percent. So Mongolia grew around 6 times faster than the United States, yet of course the United States contributed more to GDP growth—over 150 times more. Why, because size matters.

Let’s apply this logic to China. A bigger but somewhat slower growing China of the future will contribute about as much to global demand as the smaller but faster growing China of before. This is arithmetic: An economy that is twice as big can grow by ½ as much and contribute the same to global demand. By the way, China today is more than twice as big as it was a decade ago.

So, the good news is, even with slower growth, China will continue to be an engine of global output. Indeed, an even bigger engine than before.

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India’s Investment Slowdown: The High Cost of Economic Policy Uncertainty


By Rahul Anand and Volodymyr Tulin

India, after witnessing spectacular growth averaging above 9 percent over the past decade, has started to slow in the last few years. The slump in infrastructure and corporate investment has been the single biggest contributor to India’s recent growth slowdown.

India’s investment growth, averaging above 12 percent during the last decade fell to less than one percent in the last two years. What is especially worrisome is that more and more investment projects are getting delayed and shelved, while the pipeline of new projects has become exceptionally thin.

This slowdown has sparked an intense public debate about its causes. Some commentators, including representatives of the business community, argue that high interest rates, which raise financing costs, are the major culprit, dampening investment.  Others maintain that interest rates are only partly responsible for the current weak levels of investment, suggesting that a host of other factors, particularly on the supply side, are at play.

Our new Working Paper seeks to shed some light on the reasons behind this investment malaise. Using a novel index of economic policy uncertainty—an innovation in our analysis—we find that heightened uncertainty regarding the future course of broader economic policies and deteriorating business confidence have played a significant role in the recent investment slowdown. 

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Abenomics—Time for a Push from Higher Wages


By Dennis Botman and Zoltan Jakab 

(Version in  日本語)

Japan’s economic progress over the past year has been impressive, with strong growth, and inflation, investment, and credit growth all heading in the right direction. But that progress is largely the result of last year’s sizable fiscal and monetary stimulus—the first two arrows of “Abenomics”. Now, the economy needs to transition to more sustainable, private-sector led growth. A hike in wages could be just the push needed to propel that shift.

As the ongoing annual wage-bargaining round draws to a close, total earnings are set to increase this year for employees at some well-known car manufacturers.  But, in the past, these increases have not trickled down to higher basic wages at small and medium-sized enterprises and to non-regular workers. This is problematic as higher inflation without higher incomes can hardly be characterized as a successful reform.

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If China Sneezes, Africa Can Now Catch a Cold


By Paulo Drummond and Estelle Xue Liu

(Version in  中文)

Growing links with China have supported economic growth in sub-Saharan Africa. But the burgeoning commercial and financial ties between the developing subcontinent and the world’s second-biggest economy carry risks as well. These links also expose sub-Saharan African countries to potentially negative spillovers from China if the Asian giant’s growth slows or the composition of its demand changes.

The old aphorism “If America sneezes, the world catches a cold” referred to the U.S. economy’s role as a locomotive for the global economy, but it can now apply to any symbiotic relationship between a dominant economy and its clients. China has become a major development partner of sub-Saharan Africa. It is now the subcontinent’s largest single trading partner and a key investor and provider of aid.

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