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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The Outlook for Latin America and the Caribbean in 2014


Alejandro WernerBy Alejandro Werner

(Version in EspañolPortuguês)

Looking to the year ahead, how do we see the global economic landscape, and what will this mean for our region? This question is especially on people’s minds today, given the risks of deflation in advanced economies and of sustained turbulence in emerging markets.

Despite these risks, we expect that the region will grow a little faster than last year—increasing from 2.6 percent in 2013 to 3 percent in 2014. Stronger global demand is one part of the story, but not the whole story; volatility is likely to be a significant feature of the landscape ahead. And regional growth rates will still be in low gear compared to historical trends, and downside risks to growth remain. So, let’s start with the global scene.

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Regional Spillovers in South America: How “Systemic” is Brazil?


By Gustavo Adler and Sebastián Sosa

(Version in Español)

The risks that policies and shocks in major economies can spillover on other countries and regions have become a matter of renewed concern since the global crisis of 2008–09. Brazil is South America’s giant; how important is its influence on neighboring countries?

Brazil accounts for 60 percent of South America’s output and its economic fluctuations are closely correlated with those of many of its neighboring countries. This would appear to suggest that economic activity in Brazil’s neighbors is strongly influenced by Brazil’s business cycle.

But these close comovements could also reflect common global factors that affect all South American countries similarly, such as commodity prices, international financial conditions, and global demand.

Our latest Regional Economic Outlook: Western Hemisphere examines this question, quantifying the importance of spillovers from Brazil to the rest of South America.

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