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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The Secret Weapon for Fiscal Strength—Strong Budget Institutions


Holger van EdenBy Holger van Eden 

Most economists would agree that institutions in general are incredibly important in helping to shape countries’ overall economic and fiscal outcomes. But which institutions really matter, and to what extent, is less clear.

A team of staff at the IMF recently completed a study, along with detailed country evaluations, that explores the G-20 countries’ efforts to strengthen their budget institutions in the wake of the global financial crisis, and evaluates their impact on fiscal policy. We ask whether strong budget institutions helped these countries to cope with the substantial fiscal consolidation needs that arose after the Great Recession. The evidence suggests that these institutions have indeed been important.

Budget institutions matter

In the study we identify 12 institutions (see figure1) that are commonly viewed as important for the effectiveness of fiscal policy. To be clear, the term “institution” is used in a broad sense—it encompasses processes, procedures, systems, legal frameworks, and organizational entities which contribute to the budget process.

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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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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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