U.S. Interest Rates: The Potential Shock Heard Around the World


By Serkan Arslanalp and Yingyuan Chen

As the financial market turbulence of May 2013 demonstrated, the timing and management of the U.S. Fed exit from unconventional monetary policy is critical. Our analysis in the latest Global Financial Stability Report  suggests that if the U.S. exit is bumpy (Figure 1), although this is a tail risk and not our prediction, the result could lead to a faster rise in U.S long-term Treasury rates that impacts other bond markets. This could have implications not only for emerging markets, as widely discussed, but, also for other advanced economies.

figure 1

Indeed, historical episodes show that sharp rises in US treasury rates lead to increases in government bond yields across other major advanced economies.

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Are Banks Too Large? Maybe, Maybe Not


By Luc Laeven, Lev Ratnovski, and Hui Tong

Large banks were at the center of the recent financial crisis. The public dismay at costly but necessary bailouts of “too-big-to-fail” banks has triggered an active debate on the optimal size and range of activities of banks.

But this debate remains inconclusive, in part because the economics of an “optimal” bank size is far from clear. Our recent study tries to fill this gap by summarizing what we know about large banks using data for a large cross-section of banking firms in 52 countries.

We find that while large banks are riskier, and create most of the systemic risk in the financial system, it is difficult to determine an “optimal” bank size. In this setting, we find that the best policy option may not be outright restrictions on bank size, but capital—requiring  large banks to hold more capital—and better bank resolution and governance.

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From Rabat to Amman


2014MDNEW_04

By Christine Lagarde

(Version in عربي  and Français)

Earlier this week, the first stop on my Middle East and North Africa trip was Morocco, which displayed its legendary hospitality and kindness. Located at the crossroads of Africa, Europe, and the Middle East, the country holds so much promise as a dynamic hub for the region.

Morocco has remained a model of stability despite a challenging environment—the economic crisis in Europe, political transition in Arab countries, and more. Throughout all this, the economy has proved resilient, and serious reforms are under way. Continue reading

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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The Evolution of Monetary Policy: More Art and Less Science


By Giovanni Dell’Ariccia and Karl Habermeier

(Versions in Español)

The global financial crisis shook monetary policy in advanced economies out of the almost complacent routine into which it had settled since Paul Volcker’s Fed beat inflation in the United States in the early 1980s.

Simply keep inflation low and stable, target a short-term interest rate, and regulate and supervise financial institutions, the mantra went, and all will be well.

Of course many scholars and policymakers, especially in emerging markets, were skeptical of this simple creed. But they did not make much headway against a doctrine seemingly well-buttressed by sophisticated theoretical models, voluminous empirical research, and over 20 years of “Great Moderation” —low inflation and output volatility. All of that has changed since the crisis, and ideas that were once marginal have now moved to center stage.

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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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Are Jobs and Growth Still Linked?


Prakash LounganiBy Prakash Loungani 

(Version in Español)

Over 200 million people are unemployed around the globe today, over a fifth of them in advanced economies. Unemployment rates in these economies shot up at the onset of the Great Recession and, five years later, remain very high. Some argue that this is to be expected given that the economy remains well below trend and press for greater easing of macroeconomic policies (e.g. Krugman, 2011, Kocherlakota (2014)). Others suggest that the job losses, particularly in countries like Spain and Ireland, have been too large to be explained by developments in output, and may largely reflect structural problems in their labor markets. Even in the United States, where unemployment rates have fallen over the past year, there is concern that increasing numbers of people are dropping out of the labor force, thus decoupling jobs and growth.

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Less Red Tape, More Credit: How the Private Sector Can Flourish in the Middle East


Min ZhuBy Min Zhu

(Versions in عربي)

To almost all economists it is clear that the private sector is critically important in creating jobs and achieving strong growth. The public sector is already overburdened in most countries. But what is not clear is how to support the private sector for it to play this important role.

To shed some light on how to facilitate strong job creation and growth by the private sector in the Middle East and North Africa, we held a conference in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia, in December 2013, jointly with the Council of Saudi Chambers and the International Finance Corporation.

As the date of the conference approached, registrations kept increasing, and by the time we opened the conference, the registration numbers had skyrocketed to more than 800! I can think of no better sign of the importance of this topic for the people in this region.

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Pakistan: The Realities of Economic Reform


Jeffrey FranksBy Jeffrey Franks

(Version in اردو)

Following my most recent visit to Pakistan I noticed there seem to be many different and contradictory views about the government’s reform agenda supported by the IMF program. This piece addresses some of the key concerns on people’s minds.

1. The IMF dictated the content of the program.

The government mostly produced the policies supported in this program, which respond to key challenges facing Pakistan today.

The economic section of the PML-N party manifesto shows that most of the policies agreed with the IMF were actually those proposed by Prime Minister Sharif and his team before the elections, such as: fiscal consolidation, tax reform, measures to tackle the energy crisis, restructuring and privatizations of public sector enterprises, trade policy reforms, and steps to boost the investment climate.

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