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 MENA Jobs and Growth Challenge: How Can Finance Help?


By Masood Ahmed

Most policymakers in the Middle East and North Africa agree that stronger economic growth is a crucial component of any strategy to address the region’s persistently high levels of unemployment and raise its living standards. One question that arises is: What role can the financial sector play?

It is well known that a dynamic and vibrant financial sector will improve economic outcomes for a country, leading to faster and more equitable economic growth. The key to answering this question, therefore, is to look to the past and examine how the financial sector has contributed historically to growth in the region. Continue reading

Avoiding Another Year of Living Dangerously: Time to Secure Financial Stability


By José Viñals

In various guises, the “Year of Living Dangerously” has been used to describe the global financial crisis, the policy response to the crisis, and its aftermath.

But, we’ve slipped well beyond a year and the financial system is still flirting with danger. Durable financial stability has, so far, proven elusive.

Financial stability risks may have eased, reflecting improvements in the economic outlook and continuing accommodative policies. But those supportive policies—while necessary to restart the economy—have also masked serious, underlying financial vulnerabilities that need to be addressed as quickly as possible. Continue reading

New Policy Ideas for a New World: Interview with Robert Solow


By iMFdirect

There has been plenty of reflection, during the past few years, on the causes of the global financial crisis. But, last month’s conference at the IMF focused on taking what we’ve learned from the crisis and looking toward the future of economic policy.

Robert Solow—Professor Emeritus at Massachusetts Institute of Technology and Nobel Prize winning economist—was among those who brought interesting perspectives and a wealth of experience to the conference discussions.

Watch Professor Solow’s interview and hear more about what he has to say on… Continue reading

Is There a Silver Lining to Sluggish Credit Growth in the Gulf Countries?


By Masood Ahmed

(Version in عربي )

Bank credit has been very slow to pickup in the six nations of the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC). How big a problem is this for their economic recovery?

Sluggish credit growth in the post-crisis period was hardly a unique development, as indicated in our latest Regional Economic Outlook. More than a dozen countries in the Middle East and Central Asia region, and countless more outside the region, shared this experience. But while there are clearer signs of recovery in some countries, credit to the private sector is still barely growing in the GCC, notwithstanding policy efforts to revive it.

It might seem easy to ring the alarm bells. After all, won’t the prospect of weak credit growth restrain economic activity in the short-term? Perhaps. But we believe the negative impact of credit growth may not be quite so severe.

Why not? In part, that answer lies in how we arrived at the current situation. Continue reading

Emerging Europe—Lessons from the Boom-Bust Cycle


By Ajai Chopra

Almost unnoticed, amid the difficulties in western Europe, the other half of the continent has begun to recover from the deepest slump in its post-transition period. The emerging economies in central and eastern Europe will grow by 3¾ percent this year and next—a relief after the 6 percent decline in 2009.

Why was the crisis so severe—and how do we avoid a repeat? We consider just that question in our fall 2010 Regional Economic Outlook: Europe. While the crisis was triggered by external shocks, it is clear that domestic imbalances and policies also played a key role. Continue reading

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