The Ties That Bond Us: What Demand For Government Debt Can Tell Us About the Risks Ahead


by Serkan Arslanalp and Takahiro Tsuda

It’s not news that emerging markets can be vulnerable to bouts of market volatility. Investors often pull sudden stops—they stop buying or start selling off their holdings of government bonds.

But what has become apparent in recent years is that advanced economy government bond markets can also experience investor outflows, and associated runs. At the same time, some traditional and new safe haven countries have seen their borrowing costs drop to historic lows as they experience rising inflows from foreign investors.

Our new research shows that advanced economies’ exposure to refinancing risk and changes in government borrowing costs depend mainly on who is holding the bonds— the demand side for government debt.

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Mind The Gap: Policies To Jump Start Growth in the U.K.


By Ajai Chopra

The U.K. economy has been flat for nearly two years. This stagnation has left output per capita a staggering 14 percent below its precrisis trend and 6 percent below its pre-crisis level.

Weak growth has kept unemployment high at 8.1 percent, with youth unemployment an alarming 22 percent.

The effects of a persistently weak economy and high long-term unemployment can reverberate through a country’s economy long into the future—commonly referred to by economists as hysteresis.

Our analysis of such hysteresis effects shows that the large and sustained output gap, the difference between what an economy could produce and what it is producing, raises the danger that a downturn reduces the economy’s productive capacity and permanently depresses potential GDP. 

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Watch This (Fiscal) Space: Assessing Room for Fiscal Maneuver in Advanced Countries


By Jonathan D. Ostry

Public debt sustainability in most advanced economies used to be a non-issue, or at most a back-burner one. A couple years back, if the topic came up, most people associated it with developing or emerging market countries. Defaults, rising sovereign risk premia, getting shut out from capital markets were, let’s face it, not really imagined to be possibilities for advanced economies. Of course there were fiscal challenges, demographic pressures being the obvious one, but these were issues for the long term, not the here and now.

But today, fiscal problems are a key concern of policy makers in many industrial countries, and a reassessment of sovereign risk is a palpable threat to global recovery. While the financial crisis may be a convenient scapegoat for the debt blowout in the advanced countries, blame lies elsewhere, in how fiscal policy was managed before the great recession, not during it. And, more sobering still, taming public debt will require steadfast policy efforts over the medium term: quick fixes will not do the trick.

What is the worry? At the heart of the issue is the extent to which governments have room for fiscal maneuver—“fiscal space”—before markets force them to tighten policies sharply and, relatedly, the size of adjustments needed to restore or maintain public debt sustainability.

Yet, surprisingly, much of the talk about fiscal space—how to measure it and the policy implications—has so far been rather fuzzy. A new staff position note, which I co-authored with several IMF colleagues, aims to remedy this, providing an operational definition of the fiscal space concept as well as empirical estimates of available fiscal space for 23 advanced economies.

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