Tharman Sees “Greater Global Policy Resolve”


“Although the economic environment has weakened, the policy resolve has strengthened.” This is how Tharman Shanmugaratnam, Singapore’s Deputy Prime Minister and Minister for Finance , who is Chair of the IMF’s policy-setting committee, described the outcome of the IMF-World Bank annual meetings in Tokyo.

Growth is slower than anyone expected,” he admitted in a video interview.  “It is slower in Europe, it is not as fast as it should be in the United States, not as fast as it should be to bring unemployment down, and it is slowing in Asia to a greater extent than was expected. Tharman is chair of the 24-member IMFC.

“But we are now in a much better situation than six months ago when it comes to policy solutions.” He said there had been major steps forward in Europe “despite some disagreement on individual pieces.”  But underlying problems in the Eurozone, budget problems in the United States, and structural problems in global economy are longer term problems and “cannot be fixed quickly.”

For a quick brief on the outcomes from the meetings in Tokyo, take a look at:

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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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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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Growing Institutions? Grow the People!


By Sharmini Coorey

(Version in Español)

“When you speak about institutions, in fact, you are speaking about the people.” These words, by Kosovo’s central bank governor Gani Gergüri at a recent conference in Vienna, capture an important truth that is often overlooked when we economists discuss amongst ourselves: without sound institutions, it’s very hard to achieve sustainable economic growth.

And the quality of those institutions hinges on the quality of the people running them―their educational background and training, and the prevailing business culture and approach to policymaking.

The work of Douglass North and the school of thought known as the new institutional economics has taught us that differences in deep institutions—defined as the formal and informal rules of economic, political and social interactions—are responsible for sustained differences in economic performance. This is also the central thesis in Acemoglu and Robinson’s fascinating new book, Why Nations Fail.

Inclusive (as opposed to extractive) economic and political institutions are central in nations’ efforts to avoid stagnation and ensure sustained prosperity. This is because sustained prosperity is a dynamic process of constant innovation and a never-ending cycle of Schumpeterian creative destruction, which can only be supported by open, inclusive institutions. Their thesis is certainly consistent with the contrasting experience of different countries in Central, Eastern and Southeastern Europe under communism and during the past two decades.

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How to Get the Balance Right: Fiscal Policy At a Time of Crisis


By Anders Borg and Christine Lagarde

Last autumn was a turbulent time for Europe. The debt crisis deepened and financial markets became embroiled in turmoil, driven by fears of widespread restructuring of public debt. The crisis has harmed growth, increased unemployment, and left a large number of people less protected.

We are now seeing some signs of stabilization. Most countries are reducing their deficits and even if debt ratios are still rising, the return back to fiscal health has begun.

The International Monetary Fund and the Swedish Ministry of Finance are hosting an international conference in Stockholm on May 7-8, with the purpose of sharing knowledge and providing guidance on the best way to achieve fiscal consolidation, and on the role that effective fiscal policy frameworks and institutions can play in this endeavor.

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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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Disappearing Deficits


By Tim Irwin

Suppose a government must reduce its budget deficit. Perhaps it made a commitment to do so; perhaps investors are beginning to doubt its ability to repay debt. It could cut spending or raise taxes, but that is painful and unpopular. What can it do?

In our work at the IMF, we sometimes discover that governments choose to employ accounting devices that make the deficit smaller without actually causing any pain, and without actually improving public finances.

In ideal accounting, this would not be possible. In real accounting, it sometimes is.

How the devices work

Some governments, for example, have been able to reduce their reported deficits by taking over companies’ pensions schemes. The government’s obligation to make future pension payments has a real cost, but it doesn’t count as a liability in the accounting. So when the government receives a pension scheme’s assets from the company, it can treat the receipt of those assets as revenue that reduces its deficit.

Many other governments have been able to defer spending, without significantly reducing it in the long run, by entering into public-private partnerships. Under these contracts, a private company builds and maintains an asset like a road or a hospital. In return, the government agrees to pay the company for its costs over 20 or 30 years. In a sense, the government has bought the asset on an installment plan, but government accounting seldom counts this obligation as a liability.

In each of the above cases—and in others analyzed in my note, Accounting Devices and Fiscal Illusions—the government’s deficit is lower at first, but only at the expense of bigger future deficits.

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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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Youth Speaking Out


CliftJBy Jeremy Clift

Young people, hardest hit by the global economic downturn, are speaking out and demanding change. Coming of age in the Great Recession, the world’s youth face an uncertain future, with lengthening job lines, diminished opportunities, and bleaker prospects that are taking a heavy emotional toll.

Some people call them the iPod generation—insecure, pressured, overtaxed, and debt-ridden—but insecure or not, around the world young people are challenging a system that appears to have let many down. “Young people want a world economy that is more just, more equal, and more human,” says Angel Gurría, secretary-general of the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development.

Differing impact on generations

Youth Demanding Change

The Great Recession has taken its toll on the different generations in different ways. For the post–World War II baby boom generation, it’s essentially a wealth crisis. A generation that had hoped to retire has seen the value of its property and savings dramatically eroded. For the group known as Gen X (born 1965–80), it’s an income crisis. They should be in the period of their life when they are earning the most, but the downturn has depressed their salaries and threatens their pensions. For Gen Y (1981–2000), it’s about their future and the potentially damaging legacy of the boomer generation.

In recent issues of the magazine, we have looked at the impact of aging populations on economies around the world and how inequality affects growth.

In the March 2012 issue of F&D, we look at the need to urgently address the challenges facing youth and create opportunities for them. Watch a video on this.

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