Too Much At Stake: Moving Ahead with Energy Price Reforms


Ian ParryBy Ian Parry

(Versions in Español中文Français, and Русский)

Energy plays a critical role in the functioning of modern economies. At the same time, it’s at the heart of many of today’s pressing environmental concerns—from global warming (predicted to reach around 3–4 degrees Celsius by the end of the century) and outdoor air pollution (causing over three million premature deaths a year) to traffic gridlock in urban centers. In a new IMF book, we look at precisely how policymakers can strike the right balance between the substantial economic benefits of energy use and its harmful environmental side effects.

These environmental impacts have macroeconomic implications, and with its expertise in tax design and administration, the IMF can offer sound advice on how energy tax systems can be designed to ensure energy prices fully reflect adverse environmental impacts.

We do this by developing a sensible and reasonably simple way to quantify environmental damages and applying it, in over 150 countries, to show what these environmental damages are likely to imply for efficient taxes on coal, natural gas, gasoline, and road diesel. For example, the human health damages from air pollution are calculated by estimating how many people are exposed to power plant and vehicle emissions in different countries and how this exposure increases the risk of various (e.g., heart and lung) diseases. Although there are some inescapable controversies in this approach (e.g., concerning the valuation of global warming damages or how people in different countries value health risks), the methodology is flexible enough to easily accommodate alternative viewpoints—it is a starting point for debate, not a final point of arrival.

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Should We Worry About Higher Interest Rates?


Hamid FaruqeeBy Hamid Faruqee

Global interest rates will eventually move higher. We do not know precisely when,  how fast, or how far, but we do know the direction. After a long period of very low interest rates following the global financial crisis, some central banks (mainly, the U.S. Federal Reserve and the Bank of England) are planning to “normalize”—that is, to gradually tighten their easy monetary policies as their economies improve. And when U.S. and U.K benchmark interest rates go up, interest rates tend to go up elsewhere, too.

So should we worry if and when global financial conditions tighten?

The 2014 IMF Spillover Report prepared by IMF staff looks into this important issue—what to watch out for and who to watch out for as interest rates begin to normalize. The answer depends on two sets of factors. First, what is going on in the originating source countries in terms of the underlying drivers behind higher yields—for example, whether or not stronger growth, say in the U.S. and U.K., is the main force behind higher interest rates.  Second, what is going on in the receiving countries—that is, how vulnerable they might be to higher borrowing costs.  Both these factors matter for spillovers as highlighted in the report.

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Managing Housing Market Risks in the United Kingdom


Ruy LamaBy Ruy Lama

House prices are rising rapidly in the UK at an annual rate of 10.5 percent. House price inflation is particularly high in London (20 percent per year), and it is gradually accelerating in the rest of the country. The recent increases in house prices have been getting a lot of attention, and understandably have raised questions about living standards and whether another “boom-bust” cycle has begun.

House Prices

The current UK housing cycle raises two important questions. What is driving the rise in house prices? And how should macroeconomic policies respond?

Macroeconomic policies should tackle two crucial issues in the housing market: (i) mitigating systemic financial risks during upswings in house prices and leverage; and (ii) encouraging an adequate supply of housing in order to safeguard affordability. In this blog, we discuss how the UK authorities are addressing these two issues and what additional policies may be necessary to manage risks from the housing market.

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The Slow Recovery Continues


WEO

By Olivier Blanchard

(Versions in Español中文,  日本語Русский )

The recovery continues, but it remains weak, indeed a bit weaker than we forecast in April.

We have revised our forecast for world growth in 2014 from 3.7 percent in April to 3.4 percent today. This headline number makes things look worse than they really are. To a large extent, it reflects something that has already happened, namely the large negative US growth rate in the first quarter. But it is not all due to that. It also reflects a number of small downward revisions, both in advanced and in emerging economies.

The overall story remains largely the same as before:

Advanced economies are still confronted with high levels of public and private debt, which act as brakes on the recovery. These brakes are coming off, but at different rates across countries.

Emerging markets are slowing down from pre-crisis growth rates. They have to address some of their underlying structural problems, and take on structural reforms. At the same time, they have to deal with the implications of monetary policy normalization in the US.

Let me take you on the usual tour of the world.

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Fiscal Policy’s Evolving Role


Fiscal policy makers have faced an extraordinarily challenging environment over the last few years. At the outset of the global financial crisis, the IMF for the first time advocated a fiscal expansion across all countries able to afford it, a seeming departure from the long-held consensus among economists that monetary policy rather than fiscal policy was the appropriate response to fluctuations in economic activity. Since then, the IMF has emphasized that the speed of fiscal adjustment should be determined by the specific circumstances in each country. Its recommendation that in general deficit reduction proceed steadily, but gradually, positions the IMF between the fiscal doves (who argue for postponing fiscal adjustment altogether) and the fiscal hawks (who argue for a front-loaded adjustment).

All this is highlighted in a  recently released book Post-Crisis Fiscal Policy, edited by Carlo Cottarelli, Philip Gerson and Abdelhak Senhadji,  that brings together the analysis underpinning the IMF’s position on the evolving role of fiscal policy.  The book underscores how the global financial crisis has reshaped our understanding of the role of fiscal policy with topics that include a historical view of debt accumulation; the timing, size, and composition of fiscal stimulus packages in advanced and emerging economies; the heated debate surrounding the size of fiscal multipliers and the effectiveness of fiscal policy as a countercyclical tool and more.

Check out this book, which is written for a wide audience, and watch the webcast of the book launch hosted by the Peterson Institute for International Economics on July 14 .

Euro Area – Q&A on QE


By Reza Moghadam and Ranjit Teja 

As inflation has sunk in the euro area, talk of quantitative easing (QE)—and misgivings about it—have soared. Some think QE is not needed; others that it would not work; and yet others that it only creates asset bubbles and may even be “illegal.” In its latest report on the euro area, the IMF assesses recent policy action positively but adds that “… if inflation remains too low, the ECB should consider a substantial balance sheet expansion, including through asset purchases.” Given all the reservations, would the juice be worth the squeeze?

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Slowdown in Emerging Markets: Not Just a Hiccup


By Evridiki Tsounta and Kalpana Kochhar 

(Versions in Español)

Emerging market economies have been experiencing strong growth, with annual growth for the period 2000-12 averaging 4¾ percent per year—a full percentage point higher than in the previous two decades. In the last two to three years, however, growth in most emerging markets has been cooling off, in some cases quite rapidly.

Is the recent slowdown just a hiccup or a sign of a more chronic condition? To answer this question, we first looked at the factors behind this strong growth performance.

Our new study finds that increases in employment and the accumulation of capital, such as buildings and machinery, continue to be the main drivers of growth in emerging markets. Together they explain 3 percentage points of annual GDP growth in 2000–12, while improvements in the efficiency of the inputs of production—which economists call “total factor productivity”—explain 1 ¾ percentage points (Figure 1).

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Fixing International Corporate Taxation—Not Just a Problem for Advanced Economies


Mick KeenBy Michael Keen

It’s hard to pick up a newspaper these days (or, more likely for readers of blogs, to skim one online) without finding another story about some multinational corporation managing, as if by magic, to pay little corporate tax. What lets them do this, of course, are the tax rules that countries themselves set. A new paper takes a closer look at this issue, which is at the heart of the IMF’s mandate: the way tax rules spill over national boundaries, and what this means for macroeconomic performance and economic development. These effects, the paper argues, are pretty powerful and need to be discussed on a global level.

Follow the money

Take, for instance, international capital movements. Though tax is not the only explanation, the foreign direct investment (FDI) positions shown in Table 1 are hard to understand without also knowing that  tax arrangements in several of these countries make them attractive conduits through which to route investments. In its share of the world’s FDI, for example, the Netherlands leads the world; and tiny Mauritius is home to FDI 25 times the size of its economy.

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What a Drag: The Burden of Nonperforming Loans on Credit in the Euro Area


By Will Kerry, Jean Portier, Luigi Ruggerone and Constant Verkoren 

High and rising levels of nonperforming loans in the euro area have burdened bank balance sheets and acted as a drag on bank profits. Banks, striving to maintain provisions to cover bad loans, have had fewer earnings to build-up their capital buffers. This combination of weak profits and a decline in the quality of bank assets, resulting in tighter lending standards, has created challenging conditions when it comes to new lending.

We took a closer look at this relationship and the policies to help fix the problem in our latest Global Financial Stability Report because credit is the grease that helps the economy function.

The stock of nonperforming loans has doubled since the start of 2009 and now stands at more than €800 billion for the euro area as whole (see chart). Around 60 percent of these nonperforming loans stem from the corporate loan book.

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Emerging Market Corporate Sector Debt: A Stitch in Time Could Save Billions


By Julian Chow and Shamir Tanna

(Versions in Español)

Much has been said lately about growing private sector debt in emerging market economies. In our recent analysis, we examined the corporate sector in a number of countries and found their rising levels of debt could make them vulnerable.

Low global interest rates in the aftermath of the global financial crisis and ample amounts of money pouring in from foreign investors have enabled nonfinancial corporations to raise record levels of debt.

figure 1

Credit was readily available in the aftermath of the crisis, and economic expansion enabled earnings to grow healthily, thus helping to prevent leverage from rising too far and too fast.  Recently though, slowing growth prospects are beginning to put pressure on firms’ profitability. Moreover, higher debt loads have led to growing interest expense, despite low interest rates. As a result, the ability of firms to service their debt has weakened (Figure 1).

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