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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Reduced Speed, Rising Challenges: IMF Outlook for Latin America and the Caribbean


Alejandro WernerBy Alejandro Werner

(Version in Español and Português)

The prospects for global growth have brightened in recent months, led by a stronger recovery in the advanced economies. Yet in Latin America and the Caribbean, growth will probably continue to slow, although some countries will do better than others. We analyze the challenges facing the region in our latest Regional Economic Outlook and discuss how policymakers can best deal with them.

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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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Make the Most of What You’ve Got: Small States in the Spotlight


Min ZhuBy Min Zhu

The economies of small states have unique features. They have relatively higher costs, higher public spending needs, and more volatile economies. And their growth has not matched the improved economic performance of the rest of the world since the late 1990s, despite their many efforts over the years. We wanted a better grasp of why this is so we can better tailor our advice and support. Here is what we found.

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Latin America and the Caribbean: Dealing with Another Food Price Shock


By Luis Cubeddu and Sebastián Sosa

(Version in Español)

World food prices are on the rise again owing mainly to global weather-related shocks. This has led to concern that the rise could result in higher inflation and hurt the most vulnerable.

Two points to note are that the recent increase in food prices has been less acute than the two previous episodes (in mid-2008 and early 2011), and features important differences across commodities. For example, while the price of soybeans, corn and wheat are up sharply, coffee and sugar prices are down. Market projections suggest that corn, soy, and wheat prices will stay high through end-2012, but then decline gradually as supply conditions normalize.

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Spring Is in the Air in Parts of Latin America


By Nicolás Eyzaguirre

(Version in Español)

Here in Washington D.C., Spring is showing its early signs, so we naturally feel a bit more upbeat. But spring comes in fits and starts—a day of sunshine, followed by cold rain, followed by sunshine again. So, we carry an umbrella on sunny days—but also have sunscreen ready.  It’s much the same for most of Latin America and the Caribbean, as we discuss in our Regional Economic Outlook for the Western Hemisphere. So, on a spring day, how do we see things?

Well, before explaining what I mean, let me start with a broad overview.

Most of Latin America stands out from much of the rest of the world—not for great economic performance, but for good performance in a subpar environment. Growth is generally solid, despite a slowdown late last year owing to policy tightening and global volatility. Under our baseline scenario, we expect regional growth to moderate to near 3¾ percent in 2012, down from 4½ percent last year (but modestly up from our January projections).

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Why We Need a “Marshall Plan” for Haiti


By Dominique Strauss-Kahn,

Managing Director of the International Monetary Fund

The saddening and horrific pictures from Haiti after its devastating earthquake brought back vivid memories for me. I lived through an earthquake when I was a young boy in Morocco, and I know how harrowing it is. At that time, there were forty thousand casualties—nothing close to what has happened in Haiti—but I still recall the traumatic scenes of collapsed buildings and mourning families.

Haiti has now been devastated on a far larger scale. The earthquake—the worst in the region in more than 200 years—is the latest in a series of natural and manmade disasters that have, over the years, turned the Caribbean country into the poorest nation in the Western Hemisphere. Some 80 percent of its nine million people live below the poverty line.

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