Reigniting Strong and Inclusive Growth in Brazil


2014MDNEW_04By Christine Lagarde 

(Versions in Español and Português)

Brazil has made remarkable social gains over the past decade and a half. Millions of families have been lifted from extreme poverty, and access to education and health has improved thanks to a series of well-targeted social interventions, such as Bolsa Familia, the conditional cash transfer program. I was privileged to see some of this tangible progress during my visit to Brazil last week.

I met with Tereza Campello, Brazil’s Minister for Social Development, who explained the network of social programs in the country, and guided us on a visit to Complexo do Alemão—a neighborhood and a group of favelas in the North Zone of Rio de Janeiro. We got there after a ride on the recently built cable car, which links several neighborhoods on the hills to the North Zone. This is a great example of infrastructure that has contributed immensely to improving the economic opportunities of people, who now have a quick way to move around and connect to the larger city. The stations themselves are also focal points of the efforts aimed at improving the daily lives of the people of Rio de Janeiro, since they house important services such as the youth center, a social assistance center, a public library, a training center for micro-entrepreneurs, and even a small branch of the bank that distributes the Bolsa Familia monthly grants.

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Act Local, Solve Global: The $5.3 Trillion Energy Subsidy Problem


By Benedict Clements and Vitor Gaspar

(Versions in 中文, Français日本語Русский and Español)

US$5.3 trillion; 6½ percent of global GDP—that is our latest reckoning of the cost of energy subsidies in 2015. These estimates are shocking. The figure likely exceeds government health spending across the world, estimated by the World Health Organization at 6 percent of global GDP, but for the different year of 2013. They correspond to one of the largest negative externality ever estimated. They have global relevance. And that’s not all: earlier work by the IMF also shows that these subsidies have adverse effects on economic efficiency, growth, and inequality.

What are energy subsidies

We define energy subsidies as the difference between what consumers pay for energy and its “true costs,” plus a country’s normal value added or sales  tax rate. These “true costs” of energy consumption include its supply costs and the damage that energy consumption inflicts on people and the environment. These damages, in turn, come from carbon emissions and hence global warming; the health effects of air pollution; and the effects on traffic congestion, traffic accidents, and road damage. Most of these externalities are borne by local populations, with the global warming component of energy subsidies  only a fourth of the total (Chart 1).

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Securitization: Restore Credit Flow to Revive Europe’s Small Businesses


By Shekhar Aiyar, Bergljot Barkbu, and Andreas (Andy) Jobst

If financing is the lifeblood of European small businesses, then the effect of the financial crisis was similar to a cardiac arrest. The flow of affordable credit from banks was choked off and small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs) were hit hardest. Today, with bank lending still recovering from that shock, smart policy actions could open up securitization as a source of financing to help small businesses start up, flourish and grow.

SMEs are vital to the European economy. They account for 99 out of every 100 businesses, two in every three employees, and 58 cents of each euro of value added of the business sector in Europe. Improving access to finance would therefore not only revive small businesses, but also support a strong and lasting recovery for Europe as a whole.

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Latin America and the Fiscal Stimulus: A Mild Hangover, Not Yet an Addiction


Alexander KlemmBy Alexander Klemm

(Versions in Español and Português)

Latin America is heading for tougher times. Regional growth is expected to dip below 1 percent in 2015, partly as a result of the drop in global commodity prices. How well placed is the region for the coming lean times?

Countries face this slowdown from much weaker fiscal positions than when the global financial crisis hit. Then, Latin America responded strongly with expansionary fiscal policies, including explicit fiscal stimulus programs in many countries. But, as growth has recovered, this increase in spending has proved difficult to reverse.

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European Life Insurers: Unsustainable Business Model


By Reinout De Bock, Andrea Maechler, and Nobuyasu Sugimoto

(Versions in Français and deutsch)

Low interest rates in the euro area pose substantial challenges to the life insurance industry. Insurers—particularly in Germany and Sweden—offer their clients long-term policies, sometimes more than 30 years, without holding assets of a correspondingly long duration. Moreover, many policies contain generous return guarantees, which are unsustainable in today’s low interest rate environment.

In 2014, stress tests showed European life insurers are vulnerable to a “Japanese-like” scenario.

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How Much Finance Is Too Much: Stability, Growth & Emerging Markets


By Ratna Sahay, Martin Čihák, and Papa N’Diaye 

The world still lives in the shadow of the global financial crisis that began in the United States in 2008.  The U.S. experience shone a spotlight on the dangers of financial systems that have grown exponentially and beyond traditional banks. It triggered a rethinking of the extent and speed of the expansion of a country’s financial sector, and raised questions about which policies promote a safe financial system.

In our new study, we emphasize that the most commonly used indicator—bank credit—is not sufficient to measure the size and scope of a country’s financial development. We create a comprehensive index for over 170 countries to answer several policy questions from the perspective of emerging markets.

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Ten Take Aways from the “Rethinking Macro Policy: Progress or Confusion?”


blanchBy Olivier Blanchard

On April 15-16, the IMF organized the third conference on “Rethinking Macro Policy.

Here are my personal take aways.

1. What will be the “new normal”?  

I had asked the panelists to concentrate not on current policy challenges, but on challenges in the “new normal.” I had implicitly assumed that this new normal would be very much like the old normal, one of decent growth and positive equilibrium interest rates. The assumption was challenged at the conference.

On the one hand, Ken Rogoff argued that what we were in the adjustment phase of the “debt supercycle.” Such financial cycles, he argued, end up with debt overhang, which in turn slows down the recovery and requires low interest rates for some time to maintain sufficient demand.  Under that view, while it may take a while for the overhang to go away, more so in the Euro zone than in the United States, we should eventually return to something like the old normal.

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