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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Financial Crises: Taking Stock


Stijn ClaessensBy Stijn Claessens

Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it.

The world has been littered with many financial crises over the centuries, yet many a time these lessons are ignored, and crises recur.  Indeed, there are many clear lessons on the causes of past crises, the severity of their consequences, and how future crises can be prevented or better managed when they occur.

This applies to the 2007-09 global financial crisis that brought colossal disruptions in asset and credit markets, massive erosions of wealth, and unprecedented numbers of bankruptcies.  Six years after the crisis began, its lingering effects are still visible in advanced and emerging markets alike. It is, therefore, a good time to take stock.

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Transitions to Financial Stability: A Bumpy Ride


GFSRBy José Viñals

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

The global financial system faces several major transitions along the road to greater financial stability.  These transitions will be challenging because they are accompanied by substantial risks.

So what are these transitions?

  • The first one is the transition in the United States from a prolonged period of monetary accommodation towards a normalization of monetary conditions. Will this transition be smooth or bumpy?
  • Second, emerging markets face a transition to more volatile external conditions and higher risk premiums. What needs to be done to keep emerging markets resilient?
  • Third, the euro area is moving to a stronger union and stronger financial systems. This report focuses on the close links between the corporate and banking sectors. What are the implications of the corporate debt overhang for bank health?
  • Fourth, Japan is moving towards the new policy regime of Abenomics. The stakes are high. Will Japan’s policies be comprehensive enough to ensure stability?
  • And finally, there is the global transition to a safer financial system, where much remains to be done.

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Africa and the Great Recession: Changing Times


By Antoinette Sayeh

(Version in Français)

In previous global downturns, sub-Saharan Africa has usually been badly affected—but not this time around.

The world economy has experienced much dislocation since the onset of the global financial crisis in 2008. Output levels in many advanced economies still remain below pre-crisis levels, while unemployment levels have surged; growth in emerging market economies has slowed, but remains quite high.

But in sub-Saharan Africa, growth for the region as a whole has remained reasonably strong (around 5 percent), except for 2009 – where the decline in world output and associated shrinking of world trade pushed Africa’s growth down to below 3 percent.

Some better than others

Of course, sub-Saharan Africa is a diverse region, and not all economies have fared equally well. The more advanced economies in the region (notably South Africa) have close links to export markets in the advanced economies, and have experienced a sharper slowdown, and weaker recovery, than did the bulk of the region’s low-income economies.  Countries affected by civil strife (such as Cote d’Ivoire, and now Mali) and by drought have also fared less well than other economies in the region.

So why has most of sub-Saharan Africa continued to record solid growth against the backdrop of such a weak global economy?  And can we expect this solid growth performance to continue in the next few years?

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It’s Hip to Be Square—Why Good Financial Sector Supervision Is Important


By José Viñals 

Financial supervisors often get a raw deal. They are the stodgy “buttoned-up” guys who stand in the way of innovation, the dyed-in-the-wool bureaucrats who resist change and meddle with markets. On the list of thankless jobs they rank somewhere between traffic wardens and tax administrators.

And yet, as the global financial crisis taught us, supervision is incredibly important. Countries with the same set of rules had very different experiences during the crisis. Why? There are clearly many reasons but one of them is “better supervision.” After all, rules are only as good as their implementation. In some countries, the financial supervisor became the unsung hero of the crisis. One might say “It’s hip to be square!”  

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Reigniting Growth in Emerging Europe


By Marek Belka

As the deep recession in Europe’s emerging market countries finally comes to an end, the question on everyone’s minds is where  growth in the region will come from in the years ahead. Exports are rebounding, and domestic demand is showing signs of stabilization. Most countries will see positive GDP growth this year—a stark difference from 2009. But a return to the high growth rates that preceded the crisis is highly unlikely.

An unbalanced picture

During the boom years, Eastern Europe grew rapidly, but growth in many countries was rather unbalanced. Capital inflows were large, but to a great extent went to the “non-tradable” sector—in particular, real estate, construction, and banking. Capital flows boosted domestic demand rather than supply—leading to a surge in imports, current account deficits that widened to unprecedented levels, and overheating economies.

This kind of growth will not come back. The domestic demand boom came to an end in the fall of 2008.  In the global financial turmoil that followed the demise of Lehman Brothers, capital flows to Eastern Europe plunged, leading to a sharp decline in domestic demand. Further exacerbated by a decline in exports, this contributed a deep economic downturn—in the Baltics and Ukraine, GDP declined between 14 and 19 percent last year.

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