A Watershed Moment for Latin America: Nine Takeaways from our High-Level Conference


Alejandro WernerBy Alejandro Werner

(Versions in Español and Português)

Latin America has reached a critical moment. So much better off than two decades ago, and still facing deep-seated problems that get in the way of sustained strong growth and economic development. To better understand these problems from countries’ perspectives, and explore ways the IMF and others can help address them, we brought together experts from the region and beyond—central bankers, finance ministers, and academics—for a high-level conference in Washington, D.C. earlier this week.

Under the theme of “Rising Challenges to Growth and Stability,” participants engaged in lively debates about the current difficulties facing Latin America and the policy priorities for now and the future.

Here are my main takeaways from the event:

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U.S. Economy Returning to Growth, but With Pockets of Vulnerability


2014MDNEW_04By Christine Lagarde 

IMF staff have just concluded their annual health check of the U.S. economy, and released their concluding statement.

This year we have also undertaken a Financial Sector Assessment Program with the United States. We conduct these once every 5 years for systemically important countries and it is a comprehensive exercise looking at the whole U.S. financial system.

Given this important work, we have focused our review of the U.S. economy on financial stability risks and the appropriate policies to mitigate them, as well as looking at recent movements in the U.S. dollar and the timing, form, and impact of interest rate normalization by the Fed.

A more detailed report on the U.S. economy and on the financial sector will be available on July 8.

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When Is Repaying Public Debt Not Of The Essence?


By Jonathan D. Ostry and Atish R. Ghosh

Financial bailouts, stimulus spending, and lower revenues during the Great Recession have resulted in some of the highest public debt ratios seen in advanced economies in the past forty years. Recent debates have centered on the pace at which to pay down this debt, with few questions being asked about whether the debt needs to be paid down in the first place.

A radical solution for high debt is to do nothing at all—just live with it. Indeed, from a welfare economics perspective—abstracting from real world problems such as rollover risk—this would be optimal. We explore this issue in our recent work. While there are some countries where clearly debt needs to be brought down, there are others that are in a more comfortable position to fund themselves at exceptionally low interest rates, and that could indeed simply live with their debt (allowing their debt ratio to decline through growth or windfall revenues).

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Reigniting Strong and Inclusive Growth in Brazil


2014MDNEW_04By Christine Lagarde 

(Versions in Español and Português)

Brazil has made remarkable social gains over the past decade and a half. Millions of families have been lifted from extreme poverty, and access to education and health has improved thanks to a series of well-targeted social interventions, such as Bolsa Familia, the conditional cash transfer program. I was privileged to see some of this tangible progress during my visit to Brazil last week.

I met with Tereza Campello, Brazil’s Minister for Social Development, who explained the network of social programs in the country, and guided us on a visit to Complexo do Alemão—a neighborhood and a group of favelas in the North Zone of Rio de Janeiro. We got there after a ride on the recently built cable car, which links several neighborhoods on the hills to the North Zone. This is a great example of infrastructure that has contributed immensely to improving the economic opportunities of people, who now have a quick way to move around and connect to the larger city. The stations themselves are also focal points of the efforts aimed at improving the daily lives of the people of Rio de Janeiro, since they house important services such as the youth center, a social assistance center, a public library, a training center for micro-entrepreneurs, and even a small branch of the bank that distributes the Bolsa Familia monthly grants.

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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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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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Ten Take Aways from the “Rethinking Macro Policy: Progress or Confusion?”


blanchBy Olivier Blanchard

On April 15-16, the IMF organized the third conference on “Rethinking Macro Policy.

Here are my personal take aways.

1. What will be the “new normal”?  

I had asked the panelists to concentrate not on current policy challenges, but on challenges in the “new normal.” I had implicitly assumed that this new normal would be very much like the old normal, one of decent growth and positive equilibrium interest rates. The assumption was challenged at the conference.

On the one hand, Ken Rogoff argued that what we were in the adjustment phase of the “debt supercycle.” Such financial cycles, he argued, end up with debt overhang, which in turn slows down the recovery and requires low interest rates for some time to maintain sufficient demand.  Under that view, while it may take a while for the overhang to go away, more so in the Euro zone than in the United States, we should eventually return to something like the old normal.

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