Time Not On Our Side: Tough Decisions Needed to Strengthen Financial Stability


By José Viñals

(Versions in  عربي中文EspañolFrançaisРусский日本語)

Recent policy actions in Europe, the United States, in emerging markets, and here in Japan, where I’m attending the IMF-World Bank annual meetings, have improved investor sentiment and helped markets rebound in recent months.

Yet our latest assessment is that confidence is still very fragile and risks have increased, when compared to the IMF’s last report in April. Policymakers need to do more to gain lasting stability.

The principal risk remains the euro area. The forces of financial and economic fragmentation have widened the divide between countries at the core and the “periphery” of the euro zone. Faltering confidence and policy uncertainty have led to a pullback of cross-border private capital flows from the periphery—quite an extraordinary phenomenon within a currency union.

This has driven up funding costs to governments and banks, as well as for companies and households, and, in turn, threatening a vicious downward economic spiral.

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Not Making the Grade: Report Card on Global Financial Reform


by Laura Kodres

Despite a host of reforms in the right direction, the financial structures that were in place before the global crisis have not actually changed that much, and they need to if the global financial system is to become a safer place.

Although the intentions of policymakers are clear and positive, the system remains precarious.

Our new study presents an interim report card on progress toward a safer financial system. Overall, there is still a long way to go.

How we measure progress

In our study, we first tried to pay attention to those features of financial systems related to the crisis—the large dominant, highly interconnected institutions, the heavy role of nonbanks, and the development of complex financial products for instance—features that need to be addressed in some way.

To do this we needed to construct measures of these features in a way that would allow us to gauge how well the reforms are working toward changing them. We looked at a lot of data, but we focus on three types of features.

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The Long-term Price of Financial Reform


by André Oliveira Santos and Douglas J. Elliott

In response to the global crisis, policymakers around the world are instituting the broadest reform of financial regulation since the Great Depression.

Some in the financial industry claim the long-run economic costs of these global reforms outweigh the benefits. But our new research strongly suggests the opposite—the reforms are well worth the money.

Granted, just as adding fenders, safety belts, airbags, and crash avoidance features can make cars slower, we know that additional safety measures can slow down the economy in years when there is no crisis. The payoff comes from averting or minimizing a disaster.

Five years after the onset of the current crisis, we sadly know all too well the cost in terms of economic growth, so the potential gains in avoiding future crises are very large.

Our study finds that the likely long-term increase in credit costs for borrowers is about one quarter of a percentage point in the United States and lower elsewhere. This is roughly the size of one small move by the Federal Reserve or other central banks. A move of that size rarely has much effect on a national economy, suggesting relatively small economic costs from these reforms.

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Top 20 — iMFdirect’s Top 20 list


Three years after the launch of iMFdirect as a forum for discussing economic issues around the world, we look back at some of our most popular posts.

The IMF blog has helped stimulate considerable debate about economic policy in the current crisis, on events in Europe and around the world in Asia, Africa, Latin America, and the Middle East, on fiscal adjustment, on regulating the financial sector, and the future of macroeconomics–as economists learn lessons from the Great Recession.

As readers struggled to understand the implications of the crisis, our most popular post by far was IMF Chief Economist Olivier Blanchard’s Four Hard Truths, a look back at 2011 and the economic lessons for the future.

Here’s our Top 20 list of our most popular posts by subject (from more than 300 posts):

1.  Global Crisis: Four Hard Truths; Driving With the Brakes On

2.  Financial Stability: What’s Still to Be Done?

3.  Fiscal Policy:  Ten Commandments ; Striking the Right Balance

4.  Macroeconomic Policy: Rewriting the Playbook;  Nine Tentative Conclusions ; Future Study

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Latin America: Vulnerabilities Under Construction?


By Luis Cubeddu, Camilo E. Tovar, and Evridiki Tsounta

(Version in Español)

Housing construction projects are sprouting up across much of Latin America and mortgage credit is also growing very fast. Does this sound familiar? It should!

Easy external financing conditions and high commodity prices have led to important improvements in living standards and credit deepening in many countries of the region over the past decade. The credit expansion has been particularly impressive in the mortgage sector, where legal reforms and government subsidies have also played a role.

Although mortgage credit in Latin American countries is relatively low by international standards —at just 7 percent of GDP versus over 20 percent in emerging Asia and over 65 percent in the United States—it has grown at an impressive annual average real rate of 14 percent since 2003, with Brazil leading the pack. Home prices have also risen sharply over this period, particularly in countries where mortgage credit has expanded the fastest (for more details see Chapter 5 in our latest Western Hemisphere Regional Economic Outlook).

So, are housing vulnerabilities emerging?

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Arab Countries in Transition Under the Spotlight


By Masood Ahmed

(Version in عربي)

Historic transitions in several Arab countries are coming under increasing strain. Domestic uncertainty over the countries’ future course, compounded by the global slowdown and rising oil prices, took a toll on growth in 2011, and the current year will be equally challenging.

A joint and sustained effort is needed to help these countries navigate through this challenging period and set out an economic vision that is fair and inclusive.

Clear risks require strong resolve

The difficulties and challenges facing these countries were very much a focus of discussion during the recent 2012 IMF-World Bank Spring Meetings in Washington. The meetings brought together ministers and top officials from all over the world, with Middle East issues high on the agenda.

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Global Financial Stability: What’s Still To Be Done?


By José Viñals

(Versions in Español, عربي)

The quest for lasting financial stability is still fraught with risks. The latest Global Financial Stability Report has two key messages: policy actions have brought gains to global financial stability since our September report; but current policy efforts are not enough to achieve lasting stability, both in Europe and some other advanced economies, in particular the United States and Japan.

Much has been done

In recent months, important and unprecedented policy steps have been taken to quell the crisis in the euro area. At the national level, stronger policies are being put in place in Italy and Spain; a new agreement has been reached on Greece; and Ireland and Portugal are making good progress in implementing their respective programs. Importantly, the European Central Bank’s decisive actions have supported bank liquidity and eased funding strains, while banks are reinforcing their capital positions under the guidance of the European Banking Authority. Finally, steps have been taken to enhance economic governance, promote fiscal discipline, and buttress the “firewall” at the euro area level.

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Debt Hangover: Nonperforming Loans in Europe’s Emerging Economies


By Christoph Rosenberg and Christoph Klingen

Some hangovers take more than a good night’s sleep to get over. It’s been three years since the global economic crisis put an abrupt end to emerging Europe’s credit boom, but neither lenders nor borrowers are in much of a party mood. One key reason: many of the loans so readily dished out before the crisis have now gone sour.

Festering bad loans are a problem on many fronts:  banks, credit supply, economic growth, and people all suffer. Take Japan’s lost decade. There too, a credit boom ended in tears, new lending subsequently went from too much to too little, and a vicious cycle of credit squeeze, declining asset and collateral values, and economic paralysis followed.

In emerging Europe, the share of loans classified as nonperforming—many of them household mortgages—have exploded from 3 percent before the crisis to 13 percent at the peak. As can be seen in the chart below, levels in some parts of the Baltics and Balkans are already at par with previous financial crises elsewhere.

Tackling bad loans

Nobody wants this dire script to replay in emerging Europe. Policymakers, bankers, and international financial institutions therefore got together under the Vienna Initiative to identify ways to tackle nonperforming loans. A working group co-chaired by the IMF and World Bank just presented a report that analyzes the problem and offers a way out.

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“Macro…, what?!” The New Buzz on Financial Stability


José Viñals (l) and Nicolás Eyzaguirre

By José Viñals and Nicolás Eyzaguirre

(Version in Español)

Just a few years ago, “Macro…, what?!” would have been a typical reaction to hearing the technical term that today is the talk of the town among financial regulators.

But in the aftermath of the global financial crisis, macroprudential policy—which seeks to contain systemic risks in the financial system—has indeed come to be an important part of the overall policy toolkit to preserve economic stability and sustain growth.

For example, a number of countries, especially emerging markets, have been relying on macroprudential policies (such as loan-to-value or debt-to-income ratios, or countercyclical loan loss provisions) to rein in rapid credit growth, which—if unchecked—could destabilize the financial system and, ultimately, bring about a recession and drive up unemployment.

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The Case for a Managed Float under Inflation Targeting


By Jonathan D. Ostry

(Version in Español)

The global financial crisis has reminded emerging market economies, if they needed reminding, that capital flows can be highly volatile and that crises need not be home grown.

Emerging markets have been affected in a variety of ways, not least by the sharp ups and downs in exchange rates that volatile capital flows engender.

These ups and downs may be less benign in emerging markets than they might be in advanced economies for a number of reasons.

  • First, emerging markets may have more fragile balance sheets—essentially they are less well hedged against currency risk—so depreciations may engender financial distress and even bankruptcies and adverse effects on economic activity.
  • Second, they may be less flexible, so that when the exchange rate strengthens and the traded goods sector loses competitiveness, this may have permanent effects on the economy even if the exchange rate later reverts to its initial level.

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