Euro Area: An Unbalanced Rebalancing?


By John Bluedorn and Shengzu Wang

Since the financial crisis, the euro area current account, made up mostly of the trade balances of the individual countries, has moved from rough balance into a clear surplus. But the underlying rebalancing across economies within the euro area has been highly asymmetric, with some debtors, like Greece, Ireland, and Spain, seeing large current account improvements (sometimes into surplus), while creditors, like Germany and the Netherlands, have basically maintained their surpluses (Chart 1). A set of new staff papers look at the drivers of the improvements in debtor current accounts and the persistence of creditor current accounts, and whether these developments are a cause for concern.

Euro Area Current Account.Chart1

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Asia’s Seismic Shift: How Can the Financial Sector Serve Better?


Min ZhuBy Min Zhu

(Versions in  中文Español)

Asia is set to be the powerhouse for growth in the next decade, just as it was in the last one. The size of its economy is expected to expand more rapidly than the other regions of the world, and its share in the world output is expected to rise from 30 percent to more than 40 percent in the coming decade. The structure of the economy is expected to continue to transform from a narrower manufacturing hub to a group of vibrant, diverse and large markets with a rising middle-class population.

The role of the financial sector is critical in the success of this seismic transformation. Let me explain by focusing on three areas:

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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 .

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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Era of Benign Neglect of House Price Booms is Over


Min ZhuBy Min Zhu

(Versions in  عربيEspañol, 日本語中文, Français, and Русский)

House prices are inching up.  But is this a cause for much cheer?  Or are we watching the same movie again? Recall how after a decade-long boom, house prices started to fall in 2006, first in the United States and then elsewhere, contributing to the 2008-9 global financial crisis. In fact, our research indicates that boom-bust patterns in house prices preceded more than two-thirds of the recent 50 systemic banking crises. Real Estate Boom.Chart1

While a recovery in the housing market (Figure 1) is surely a welcome development, we need to guard against another unsustainable boom. Housing is an essential sector of every country’s economy and has systemic implications, which is why we at the IMF are focusing on it not only in individual countries but on a cross-country basis.

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