Under Pressure


Jeff Hayden altBy Jeff Hayden

Between 2004 and 2013, Latin America recorded impressive growth and strong progress on a range of social issues. High commodity prices combined with strengthened economic management and progressive social policies to propel the region forward.

This strength was all the more striking against the backdrop of the 2008–09 global financial crisis, which mired many advanced economies in recession but saw emerging markets, including many in Latin America, power ahead. This led some observers to dub the period the “Latin American decade.”

Now, as the world’s economic leaders prepare to gather in Lima, Peru, in October for the Annual Meetings of the International Monetary Fund and the World Bank, the picture looks quite different.

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Foreign Help Wanted: Easing Japan’s Labor Shortages


By Giovanni Ganelli and Naoko Miake

(Version in 日本語)

Take a walk in Tokyo, and you will see the sign スタッフ募集中, or “Staff Wanted”, outside many restaurants and convenience stores. These businesses often find it impossible to recruit the workers they need. According to recent statistics, for each job seeker in Japan applying to work as a waiter, there are more than three available positions. Home helpers and long-term caregivers are equally in demand. If you want to work as a security guard, you can choose from around five openings, and for some positions in the construction business the job-to-applicant ratio is over six.

Japan’s labor shortages are the result of both a shrinking population—which limits the overall pool of workers—and skill mismatches. The reduced supply of labor is one of the factors bringing down medium-term potential growth, which the International Monetary Fund estimates at just 0.6 percent. Labor market shortages are also bad for short-term growth, because they reduce the effectiveness of the monetary and fiscal stimulus that the authorities are using to try to boost demand.

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Making Monetary Policy Decisions in the Dark


By Francesco Grigoli, Alexander Herman, Andrew Swiston, and Gabriel Di Bella

(Version in Español and Português)

In the wake of the global financial crisis, monetary and fiscal policies were used aggressively to counteract the effects of the crisis on economic activity. Policymakers look at a number of indicators to guide them in assessing an economy’s level of activity relative to its productive capacity. But trying to figure out the position of the economy in real time is often quite challenging, with consequences for setting policy.

In the case of Brazil in 2011, for example, policymakers estimated in real time that the economy was at a level of output consistent with its productive capacity. Over time, however, the assessment of the cyclical position of the Brazilian economy changed drastically. It had not just been at full capacity, but was overheating. The economy was actually facing inflationary pressures, requiring policy tightening to bring it back to the central bank’s target.

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The African Century


By Antoinette M. Sayeh and Abebe Aemro Selassie

If, as has been observed, demography is destiny, this will be the African century.

Most countries in sub-Saharan Africa are on the cusp of a demographic transition—the years when the share of young and old in the population declines and those in working age range (15-64 years) increases.

Elsewhere, this transition has generally been accompanied by higher savings, incomes, and economic growth. Our latest Regional Economic Outlook for sub-Saharan Africa looks at how the transition might play out and the implications for economic policies.
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From Windfall to Windmill: Harnessing Asia’s Dynamism for Latin America


By Andre Meier and Fabiano Rodrigues Bastos

(Versions in Español and Português)

Latin America’s recent economic fortunes highlight the region’s closer economic ties with Asia. China, in particular, has grown into a crucial source of demand for Latin American commodities over the past two decades, providing significant gains to the region. The flip side is that the ongoing structural slowdown of Chinese investment is weighing considerably on the prices of those commodities, and the countries that export them.

But Asia can be much more than just a source of episodic windfall gains (and losses) for Latin America. Like a windmill, Asia could help to power a stronger Latin American economy—by providing an example of successful regional trade integration and through greater direct links across the Pacific that benefit both sides. However, securing these benefits will require clear and realistic objectives, a long-term strategy, and attention to the political and social implications of greater economic integration. 

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The Key to Raising Business Investment: Keep Pushing the Accelerator


David Lipton By David Lipton 

Why have businesses in advanced economies not been investing more in machinery, equipment and plants? Business investment is the largest component of private investment, and its weakness has puzzled many of us.

Some believe that the key to more business investment is less uncertainty about fiscal policy, regulation, and structural reforms. Some believe that it is providing better financing, including for small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs).

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From Taper Tantrum to Bund Bedlam


By Yingyuan Chen, David Jones and Sanjay Hazarika

(Versions in 中文 and deutsch)

Global financial markets traditionally take their cue from the United States. Unexpected Fed rate hikes have unsettled global markets in the past. The entire global financial system threw a tantrum when then Fed Chairman Ben Bernanke merely suggested in May 2013 that the end to bond-buying and other policies could soon begin. However for the past year, the gears of global markets seem to have been thrown into reverse — it is German government bonds, known as Bunds, rather than U.S. bonds, known as Treasuries, that appear to be driving prices in global bond markets. This role reversal could add a new layer of complexity to investor calculations as they prepare for the beginning of Fed interest rate hikes, which are expected later in 2015. Also, as developments in Greece lead to rises and falls in Bund and Treasury yields, this is a trend worth keeping an eye on.

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