The Slow Recovery Continues


WEOBy Olivier Blanchard

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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Managing the revenue from natural resources—what’s a Finance Minister to do?


By Sanjeev Gupta and Enrique Flores

The Finance Minister answers her mobile. On the line is the Minister of Energy, who informs her that the country has struck oil and that he expects revenues from its sale to start flowing into the budget in the coming four years. While excited by the prospects of higher revenues—indeed the average resource-rich country gets more than 15 percent of GDP in resource revenues—she starts to ponder how to use these revenues for her country’s development. She is aware that only in rare cases have natural resources served as a catalyst for development; too often they have led to economic instability, corruption, and conflict or what has been termed as “the resource curse.”

SDN on Resource Wealth.Chart1

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Banking on the Government


By Jesus Gonzalez-Garcia and Francesco Grigoli

(Version in Español)

Government ownership of banks is still common around the world, despite the large number of privatizations that took place over the past four decades as governments reduced their role in the economy. On average, state-owned banks hold 21 percent of the assets of the banking system worldwide. In Latin American and Caribbean countries, the public banks’ share is about 15 percent, with some of them showing very large shares, for instance, Argentina, Brazil, Uruguay, and Costa Rica are all over 40 percent (see Figure 1).

State-owned banks play an important role in the financial system. They fulfill functions that are not performed by private banks, provide financing for projects that benefit the rest of the economy, and provide countercyclical lending (lending more when the economy is weak). But public banks usually respond to the needs of governments owing to the state’s obvious involvement in their administration. As a result, government’s participation in the banking system may weaken fiscal discipline by allowing the public sector to access financing that they would not obtain from other sources.

In our recent study, we use a panel dataset for 123 countries to test whether a larger presence of state-owned banks in the banking system is associated with more credit to the public sector, larger fiscal deficits, higher public debt ratios, and the crowding out of credit to the private sector. 

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How Low-Income Countries Can Diversify and Grow


By Chris Papageorgiou, Lisa Kolovich, and Sean Nolan 

(Version in Español)

Low-income countries have spent a lot of time thinking about how they can achieve faster growth, and we have done some research to help them. We found that pursuing export diversification is a gateway to higher growth for these economies. Using a newly constructed diversification toolkit, our empirical analysis shows that both the range and quality of the goods a country produces has a direct impact on growth 

Country trends 

Low-income countries have historically depended on a narrow range of primary products and few export markets for the bulk of their export earnings.

But export diversification is associated with higher per capita incomes, lower output volatility, and higher economic stability—relationships that can be tracked using our new publically available  dataset, which gives researchers and policymakers access to measures of export diversification and product quality for 178 countries from 1962-2010.

We have looked at two measures of export diversification and their impact on economic growth.  One measure captures diversification into new product lines, the other development of a more balanced mix of existing products.  Analysis using these measures shows that export diversification in low-income countries is indeed among the most effective drivers of economic growth.

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