Debt in a Time of Protests


by Nemat Shafik

As the world economy continues to struggle, people are taking to the streets by the thousands to protest painful cuts in public spending designed to reduce government debt and deficits. This fiscal fury is understandable.

People want to regain the confidence they once had about the future when the economy was booming and more of us had jobs.

But after a protracted economic crisis, this will take planning, fair burden-sharing, and time itself.

If history is any guide, there is no silver bullet to debt reduction. Experience shows that it takes time to reduce government debt and deficits. Sustained efforts over many years will ultimately lead to success.

Most countries have made significant headway in rolling back fiscal deficits. By the end of next year in more than half of the world’s advanced economies, and about the same share of emerging markets, we expect deficits —adjusted for the economic cycle—to be at the same level or lower than before the global economic crisis hit in 2008.

But with a sluggish recovery, efforts at controlling debt stocks are taking longer to yield results, particularly in advanced economies. Gross public debt is nearing 80 percent of GDP on average for advanced economies—over 100 percent in several of them—and we do not expect it to stabilize before 2014-15.

So what can governments do to ease the pain and pave the way for successful debt reduction?

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Tackling The Jobs Crisis: What’s To Be Done?


by Gerd Schwartz and Ruud de Mooij

Faced with a jobs crisis, policymakers the world over are digging deep into their policy toolkits to generate more employment. A recent study by the IMF’s Fiscal Affairs Department argues that reforms of tax and expenditure policies offer great promise in helping countries confront the jobs crisis, including in the short term.

The study argues that improving employment outcomes, over and above what could be achieved through policies aimed at supporting the demand for goods and services by consumers and investors, requires actively supporting labor demand, strengthening incentives (or reducing disincentives) to work, and expanding training and job assistance, while preserving equity objectives.

The labor market challenge

The economic and social consequences of job losses since the onset of the global crisis have been enormous. However, as bad as the crisis has been for jobs, unemployment was already elevated before the crisis in many advanced and emerging economies. This would suggest that labor market challenges will not go away as the global economy recovers, and that policy measures are needed both to address structural employment issues and to improve the employment outlook in the short term.

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Signs of Fiscal Progress: Will It Be Enough?


By Carlo Cottarelli

(Versions in  عربي, 中文EspañolFrançaisРусский日本語)

We’ve just updated our latest assessment of the state of government finances, debts, and deficits in advanced and emerging economies.

Fiscal adjustment is continuing in the advanced economies at a speed that is broadly appropriate, and roughly what we projected three months ago. In emerging economies there’s a pause in fiscal adjustment this year and next, but this too is generally appropriate, given that many of these countries have low debt and deficits.

The improvement in fiscal conditions in many advanced economies is welcome, but it’s going to take more than lower deficits to get countries under market pressure out of the crosshairs.
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Risks to Financial Stability Increase, Bold Action Needed


By José Viñals

(Versions in  عربي中文EspañolFrançaisРусский日本語)

Our latest update of the Global Financial Stability Report has three key messages.

First, financial stability risks have increased, because of escalating funding and market pressures and a weak growth outlook.

Second, the measures agreed at the recent European leaders’ summit provide significant steps to address the immediate crisis, but more is needed. Timely implementation and further progress on banking and fiscal unions must be a priority.

And third, time is running out. Now is the moment for strong political leadership, because tough decisions will need to be made to restore confidence and ensure lasting financial stability in both advanced and emerging economies. It is time for action.

Now, why have financial stability risks increased?

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It’s the Years, Not The Mileage: IMF Analysis of Pension Reforms in Advanced Economies


By Benedict Clements

Indiana Jones, the fictional character of the namesake movies, once said “It’s not the years, it’s the mileage.” This quote comes to mind as many advanced economies wrestle with pension reform and the best way to ensure both retirees and governments don’t go broke.

Our view, explained in a new study, is that the years do matter.

Our analysis shows that gradually raising retirement ages could help countries contain increases in pension spending and boost economic growth. Further cuts in pension benefits, or raising payroll contributions, are also options countries could consider, although many countries will find many advantages in raising retirement ages.

The challenge is to reform pension systems without hurting their ability to provide income security for the elderly and prevent old-age poverty. Continue reading

A Spotlight on the IMF’s Technical Assistance


By Nemat Shafik

(Version in عربي)

Of the three main pillars of the IMF’s work, technical assistance has been a sort of middle child; it doesn’t get the attention of the oldest and youngest children, yet in many ways is the glue that holds the family together.

The other two pillars are well known: we lend money to countries in times of need and crisis, and conduct annual check-ups of their economies and financial systems, known as surveillance.

As countries around the world cope with the global economic crisis, the IMF’s technical assistance is a vital part of the work that we do to help countries prevent, prepare for and resolve crises.  Technical assistance also helps countries master the form and details to govern themselves in an effective and legitimate way. Continue reading

Interest Rates and Investor Decisions: The Long and Short of It


By Erik Oppers

What drives the investment decisions of investors with a longer time horizon? Our research found these investors generally do not look at differences in interest rates among countries when deciding where to invest.

It turns out the factors they do consider in making these decisions are good and stable growth prospects, low country risks—including political and economic stability—and a stable exchange rate. This all makes good sense for long-term investors such as pension funds and insurance companies.

So why all this talk about how low interest rates in advanced economies are “pushing” investment flows to emerging countries, where interest rates are generally higher—is this story wrong? Continue reading

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