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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U.S. Monetary Policy and Its Effects on Latin America


Alejandro WernerBy Alejandro Werner

(Version in Español and Português)

Some basic realities seem to be getting lost in the debate over the Fed’s “exit” from unconventional monetary policy and its impact on Latin America.

First, the still-loose stance makes sense. U.S. inflation is too low, the output gap too large, and the labor market too weak. And even during tapering, the Fed’s stance will remain highly loose. The 10-year Treasury rate, adjusted for core inflation, is about 230 basis points below its 30-year average and the inflation-adjusted Fed funds rate is 320 basis points below. These rates are likely to remain below their 30-year average for at least the next two to three years.

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Unleashing Brazil’s Growth


By Martin Kaufman and Mercedes García-Escribano

(Version in Español and Português)

Since the early 2000s, Brazil’s economy has grown at a robust clip, with growth in 2010 reaching 7.5 percent—its strongest in a quarter of a century. A key pillar of its hard-won economic success has been sound economic policies and the adoption of far-reaching social programs, which resulted in a substantial decline in poverty.

In the last couple of years Brazil’s growth slowed down. Although other emerging market economies experienced a similar slowdown, the growth outturns in Brazil were particularly disappointing. And the measures taken to stimulate the economy did not produce a sustained recovery. This is because unleashing sustained growth in Brazil requires measures geared not at stimulating domestic demand but at changing the composition of demand towards investment and at increasing productivity.

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Cloudy With a Chance of Rain—Outlook for Latin America and the Caribbean


Alejandro WernerBy Alejandro Werner

(Version in Español & Português)

For many Latin American and Caribbean economies, clouds have appeared on the economic horizon. As the global growth momentum shifts from the emerging to the advanced economies, the strength of domestic economic policies will be crucial for how countries can cope with the combination of lower commodity prices and tighter external financing conditions.

Lower commodity prices have already started to affect the region’s commodity exporters. Even though prices remain high by historical standards, countries can no longer count on the tailwind from ever-improving terms of trade, which had propelled economic activity over the past decade.

Meanwhile, longer-term U.S. interest rates have started to rise, with knock-on effects for emerging markets. Across all of the financially integrated economies of Latin America, bond yields have increased, equity prices have fallen, and currencies have depreciated since May, when the U.S. Fed first mentioned the possibility of tapering its bond purchases later this year. Financial conditions remain fairly benign for now, but the strong tailwind from ultra-low external financing costs may also be gone for good.

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On A Roll: Sustaining Strong Growth in Latin America


By Sebastián Sosa, Evridiki Tsounta, and Hye Sun Kim

(Versions in Español and Português)

Latin America has enjoyed strong growth during the last decade, with annual growth averaging 4½ percent compared with 2¾ in the 1980s and 1990s. What is behind this remarkable economic performance and will this growth be sustainable in the years ahead?

Our recent study (see also our working paper) looks at the supply-side drivers of growth for a large group of Latin American countries, to identify what’s behind the recent strong output performance.

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Subsidizing Energy Consumption: Why it’s Wrong and What Can Be Done About it


Carlo CottarelliBy Carlo Cottarelli

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

Let’s face it. Everybody loves cheap energy. Almost all human activities require energy consumption and, if something is so basic, it seems pretty obvious that it should not be denied to anyone and government should make it as cheap as possible to both households and companies, including through subsidies. This can help households avoid paying exorbitant energy bills at the end of the month, something that the poor may not be able to afford even for basic needs like heating and cooking.

Companies may also need energy subsidies to help them stay competitive. Energy subsidies appear even more appropriate, and even the obvious thing to do, in countries that have a large supply of energy, like oil producers. After all, this natural wealth in the form of energy belongs to the people; why shouldn’t it be cheap?

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Building on Latin America’s Success


Christine Lagarde

By Christine Lagarde

(Version in Español)

Next week, I will travel to Latin America—my second visit to the region since November 2011. I return with increased optimism, as much of Latin America continues its impressive transformation that started a decade ago.

The region remains resilient to the recent bouts in global volatility, and many countries continue to expand at a healthy pace. An increasing number of people are escaping the perils of poverty to join a growing and increasingly vibrant middle class.

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