Structural Reforms Can Help Japan’s Post-Consumption Tax Blues


Stephan DanningerBy Stephan Danninger 

(Versions in 日本語)

Japan’s GDP declined by almost 7 percent in the second quarter, more than many had forecast including us here at the IMF.  Many cite the increase in the sales tax this April for this decline.  But that is not the full story.

Yes, it is true that consumer responses to major tax increases are difficult to predict, and large spending swings are not unusual. We see this pattern in many countries (see chart) including Germany’s 2007 VAT increase, which had a short-lived impact.

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U.S. Labor Force: Where Have All the Workers Gone?


Ravi BalakrishnanBy Ravi Balakrishnan

(Version in Español)

It’s not supposed to be this way. As the U.S. economy recovers, hirings increase and people are encouraged to look for jobs again. Instead, the ratio of the adult population with jobs, or looking for one—what’s called the labor force participation rate—has been falling, standing at 62.9 percent in July 2014 (Figure 1).

Figure 1

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Can Japan Afford to Cut Its Corporate Tax?


By Ruud de Mooij and Ikuo Saito

(Versions in 日本語)

It is no surprise that, as part of its revised growth strategy presented in June, the Japanese government has announced it will reduce the corporate income tax rate. At more than 35 percent for most businesses, the Japanese rate is one of the highest among the industrialized countries of the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (see Chart 1). Moreover, at a time when Japan needs to boost economic growth, the corporate income tax rate is generally seen as the country’s most growth-distortive tax.

japan1

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Europe’s Russian Connections


By Aasim M. Husain, Anna Ilyina and Li Zeng

(Version in Русский)

The conflict in Ukraine and the related imposition of sanctions against Russia signal an escalation of geopolitical tensions that is already being felt in the Russian financial markets (Chart 1). A deterioration in the conflict, with or even without a further escalation of sanctions and counter-sanctions, could have a substantial adverse impact on the Russian economy through direct and indirect (confidence) channels.

Chart 1

CESEE-Blog_7-30-14_final.001

What would be the repercussions for the rest of Europe if there were to be disruptions in trade or financial flows with Russia, or if economic growth in Russia were to take a sharp downturn? To understand which countries in Europe might be most affected, we looked at the broad channels by which they are connected to Russia—their trade, energy, investment, and financial ties. See also separate blog on Russia-Caucasus and Central Asia links.

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Links and Levers: How the Caucasus and Central Asia Are Tied to Russia


Alberto BeharBy Alberto Behar

(Version in Русский)

The countries of the Caucasus and Central Asia (CCA) are closely linked with Russia through trade, financial, and labor market channels. These ties have served the region well in recent years, helping it make significant economic gains when times were good. But how is the region affected when Russia’s economy slows down?

Underlying structural weaknesses have reduced Russia’s growth prospects for this year and over the medium term. Tensions emanating from developments in eastern Ukraine—including an escalation of fighting, the downing of Malaysian Airlines Flight 17, and new sanctions—have led to renewed market turbulence in Russian markets.

Experience has shown that lower growth in a large country can inflict significant collateral damage on neighboring countries with strong linkages of the type that the CCA has with Russia. (See also separate blog on Russia-Europe links.) We took a closer look at these connections to see how they transmit shocks, with particular attention to the impact on the region’s two main categories of economies—hydrocarbon importers and hydrocarbon exporters (see map).

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Too Much At Stake: Moving Ahead with Energy Price Reforms


Ian ParryBy Ian Parry

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

Energy plays a critical role in the functioning of modern economies. At the same time, it’s at the heart of many of today’s pressing environmental concerns—from global warming (predicted to reach around 3–4 degrees Celsius by the end of the century) and outdoor air pollution (causing over three million premature deaths a year) to traffic gridlock in urban centers. In a new IMF book, we look at precisely how policymakers can strike the right balance between the substantial economic benefits of energy use and its harmful environmental side effects.

These environmental impacts have macroeconomic implications, and with its expertise in tax design and administration, the IMF can offer sound advice on how energy tax systems can be designed to ensure energy prices fully reflect adverse environmental impacts.

We do this by developing a sensible and reasonably simple way to quantify environmental damages and applying it, in over 150 countries, to show what these environmental damages are likely to imply for efficient taxes on coal, natural gas, gasoline, and road diesel. For example, the human health damages from air pollution are calculated by estimating how many people are exposed to power plant and vehicle emissions in different countries and how this exposure increases the risk of various (e.g., heart and lung) diseases. Although there are some inescapable controversies in this approach (e.g., concerning the valuation of global warming damages or how people in different countries value health risks), the methodology is flexible enough to easily accommodate alternative viewpoints—it is a starting point for debate, not a final point of arrival.

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Should We Worry About Higher Interest Rates?


Hamid FaruqeeBy Hamid Faruqee

(Version in Español)

Global interest rates will eventually move higher. We do not know precisely when,  how fast, or how far, but we do know the direction. After a long period of very low interest rates following the global financial crisis, some central banks (mainly, the U.S. Federal Reserve and the Bank of England) are planning to “normalize”—that is, to gradually tighten their easy monetary policies as their economies improve. And when U.S. and U.K benchmark interest rates go up, interest rates tend to go up elsewhere, too.

So should we worry if and when global financial conditions tighten?

The 2014 IMF Spillover Report prepared by IMF staff looks into this important issue—what to watch out for and who to watch out for as interest rates begin to normalize. The answer depends on two sets of factors. First, what is going on in the originating source countries in terms of the underlying drivers behind higher yields—for example, whether or not stronger growth, say in the U.S. and U.K., is the main force behind higher interest rates.  Second, what is going on in the receiving countries—that is, how vulnerable they might be to higher borrowing costs.  Both these factors matter for spillovers as highlighted in the report.

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Managing Housing Market Risks in the United Kingdom


Ruy LamaBy Ruy Lama

House prices are rising rapidly in the UK at an annual rate of 10.5 percent. House price inflation is particularly high in London (20 percent per year), and it is gradually accelerating in the rest of the country. The recent increases in house prices have been getting a lot of attention, and understandably have raised questions about living standards and whether another “boom-bust” cycle has begun.

House Prices

The current UK housing cycle raises two important questions. What is driving the rise in house prices? And how should macroeconomic policies respond?

Macroeconomic policies should tackle two crucial issues in the housing market: (i) mitigating systemic financial risks during upswings in house prices and leverage; and (ii) encouraging an adequate supply of housing in order to safeguard affordability. In this blog, we discuss how the UK authorities are addressing these two issues and what additional policies may be necessary to manage risks from the housing market.

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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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