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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Taper Tantrum or Tedium: How U.S. Interest Rates Affect Financial Markets in Emerging Economies


By Alexander Klemm, Andre Meier, and Sebastián Sosa

(Version in Español)

Governments in most emerging economies, including in Latin America, have reduced their exposure to U.S. interest rates over the past decade, by issuing a greater share of public debt in domestic currencies.

Even so, sudden changes in U.S. interest rates still have the power to roil financial markets in emerging economies. Witness last year’s “taper tantrum”—when the Fed hinted at the possibility of tapering its bond purchases sooner than previously expected, causing bond yields to rise sharply. Continue reading

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

When You Move, I Move: Increasing Synchronization Among Asia’s Economies


Romain DuvalBy Romain Duval

(Version in 中文, and 日本語)

In recent decades, trade integration within Asia has increased more than in other regions. In valued-added terms, intraregional trade grew on average by over 10 percent a year from 1990 to 2012, twice the pace seen outside of Asia. Likewise, financial integration within the region has started to catch up, although it still lags behind trade integration. Concomitantly, business cycles in Asia have become steadily more synchronized over the past two decades, with the correlation between ASEAN economies’ growth rates almost reaching the very high levels seen within the Euro Area.

As outlined in the IMF Asia and Pacific Department’s latest Regional Economic Outlook, these facts are related. Namely, increases in trade and financial integration have strengthened the propagation of growth shocks between regional partners, leading Asian economies to move more in lockstep. One driver of this synchronization of business cycles has been the increase in size and connectedness of China’s economy. Looking ahead, we expect regional integration agenda and a bigger China to further increase spillovers and growth co-movement across the region. Greater international cooperation, particularly regional and global financial safety nets, can help countries respond to the associated risk of more synchronized, sharper downturns, and thereby help Asia make the most of greater regional integration.

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Stabilizing Ukraine


moghadamsmallBy Reza Moghadam

(Version in Русский and Español)

Even before geopolitical tensions unleashed currency flight, bank deposit withdrawals and surging risk premiums, Ukraine faced serious challenges. The crisis there has been years in the making, reflecting deep structural problems that left it vulnerable to periodic funding shortfalls and near the bottom of transition country league tables. Thus, any program to tackle the immediate crisis in Ukraine must inevitably come to grips with this legacy.

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