Euro Area: An Unbalanced Rebalancing?


By John Bluedorn and Shengzu Wang

Since the financial crisis, the euro area current account, made up mostly of the trade balances of the individual countries, has moved from rough balance into a clear surplus. But the underlying rebalancing across economies within the euro area has been highly asymmetric, with some debtors, like Greece, Ireland, and Spain, seeing large current account improvements (sometimes into surplus), while creditors, like Germany and the Netherlands, have basically maintained their surpluses (Chart 1). A set of new staff papers look at the drivers of the improvements in debtor current accounts and the persistence of creditor current accounts, and whether these developments are a cause for concern.

Euro Area Current Account.Chart1

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Euro Area — “Deflation” Versus “Lowflation”


By Reza Moghadam, Ranjit Teja, and Pelin Berkmen

Recent talk about deflation in the euro area has evoked two kinds of reactions. On one side are those who worry about the associated prospect of prolonged recession. On the other are those who see the risk as overblown. This blog and the video below sift through both sides of the debate to argue the following:

  • Although inflation—headline and core—has fallen and stayed well below the ECB’s 2% price stability mandate, so far there is no sign of classic deflation, i.e., of widespread, self-feeding, price declines.
  • But even ultra low inflation—let us call it “lowflation”—can be problematic for the euro area as a whole and for financially stressed countries, where it implies higher real debt stocks and real interest rates, less relative price adjustment, and greater unemployment.
  • Along with Japan’s experience, which saw deflation worm itself into the system, this argues for a more pre-emptive approach by the ECB.

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Turkey: How To Boost Growth Without Increasing Imbalances


by Isabel Rial, Suchanan Tambunlertchai, and Alexander Tieman

(Version in Türk)

Actual and Current Trend accountTurkey has received well-deserved praise for its growth performance over the last decade. Yet along with this success story has come a steady widening of the current account deficit, projected to come out at 7.4 percent of GDP in 2013. The counterpart of this deficit is a reliance on external financing, much of which is of a short-term nature, highlighting the Turkish economy’s main problem at the moment.

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Building on Latin America’s Success


Christine Lagarde

By Christine Lagarde

(Version in Español)

Next week, I will travel to Latin America—my second visit to the region since November 2011. I return with increased optimism, as much of Latin America continues its impressive transformation that started a decade ago.

The region remains resilient to the recent bouts in global volatility, and many countries continue to expand at a healthy pace. An increasing number of people are escaping the perils of poverty to join a growing and increasingly vibrant middle class.

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Debt in a Time of Protests


by Nemat Shafik

As the world economy continues to struggle, people are taking to the streets by the thousands to protest painful cuts in public spending designed to reduce government debt and deficits. This fiscal fury is understandable.

People want to regain the confidence they once had about the future when the economy was booming and more of us had jobs.

But after a protracted economic crisis, this will take planning, fair burden-sharing, and time itself.

If history is any guide, there is no silver bullet to debt reduction. Experience shows that it takes time to reduce government debt and deficits. Sustained efforts over many years will ultimately lead to success.

Most countries have made significant headway in rolling back fiscal deficits. By the end of next year in more than half of the world’s advanced economies, and about the same share of emerging markets, we expect deficits —adjusted for the economic cycle—to be at the same level or lower than before the global economic crisis hit in 2008.

But with a sluggish recovery, efforts at controlling debt stocks are taking longer to yield results, particularly in advanced economies. Gross public debt is nearing 80 percent of GDP on average for advanced economies—over 100 percent in several of them—and we do not expect it to stabilize before 2014-15.

So what can governments do to ease the pain and pave the way for successful debt reduction?

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Bridging the Gap: How Official Financing Can Ease the Pain of Adjustment


By Nicolás Eyzaguirre

After three and a half demanding and fulfilling years at the International Monetary Fund, I’ve had a chance to see, up close, countries trying to cope with the global economy in the same way a cook might operate a blender without the lid on—carefully, while creating as little mess as possible.

As I step down from my position as Director of the IMF’s Western Hemisphere Department, I would like to share some reflections on one of the central issues facing many countries—adjustment under fixed exchange rates.  It goes without saying that these reflect a personal and not an institutional view.

A lot of ink has been spent over the question of why you would lend money to a country trying to bring down its government debt and deficit. The answer is simple: to give the reforms needed to make economies competitive again time to kick in.

In the old days, fixed exchange rates were the norm rather than the exception. A body of literature and a wealth of country experience have accumulated on how to adjust under such exchange rate regimes, mostly in emerging economies. The expression “adjustment and financing” came to summarize what economies should do when faced with severe funding constraints brought on by high borrowing costs for government debt in financial markets.

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Global Financial Stability: What’s Still To Be Done?


By José Viñals

(Versions in Español, عربي)

The quest for lasting financial stability is still fraught with risks. The latest Global Financial Stability Report has two key messages: policy actions have brought gains to global financial stability since our September report; but current policy efforts are not enough to achieve lasting stability, both in Europe and some other advanced economies, in particular the United States and Japan.

Much has been done

In recent months, important and unprecedented policy steps have been taken to quell the crisis in the euro area. At the national level, stronger policies are being put in place in Italy and Spain; a new agreement has been reached on Greece; and Ireland and Portugal are making good progress in implementing their respective programs. Importantly, the European Central Bank’s decisive actions have supported bank liquidity and eased funding strains, while banks are reinforcing their capital positions under the guidance of the European Banking Authority. Finally, steps have been taken to enhance economic governance, promote fiscal discipline, and buttress the “firewall” at the euro area level.

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The Logic and Fairness of Greece’s Program


By Olivier Blanchard

(Version in ελληνικά عربي)

To get back to health, Greece needs two things. First, a lower debt burden. Second, improved economic competitiveness. The new program addresses both.

Bringing down the debt

Some countries have been able to work down heavy public debt burdens. Those that were successful did it through sustained high growth. But in Greece’s case, it had become clear that high growth—let alone sustained high growth—was not going to come soon enough. Debt had to be restructured.

The process was long and messy. After all, bargaining between creditors and debtors is rarely a love affair. In the process, foreign creditors were often vilified in Greece as bad guys—rich banks, who could and should be willing to take a hit. But in the end, banks belong to people, many of them saving for retirement, who saw the value of their bank shares go down in value.

All said, the PSI (private sector involvement) dealthe largest ever negotiated write-down of public debt—has reduced the debt burden of every man, woman, and child in Greece by close to €10,000 on average, a sizable contribution on the part of foreign savers.

Greece now has to do its part―with sustained political commitment to implement the difficult but necessary set of fiscal, financial, and structural reforms that have been agreed as part of the program supported by Greece’s partners in the eurozone and the IMF. It is a huge challenge, no doubt. But it is also an opportunity–to take advantage of the economic space opened up by private and official creditors. Will Greece seize it?

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Resolve and Determination—How We Get Out of This Together


By Christine Lagarde

(Versions in  عربي,  中文,  日本語 and Español)

This past weekend, 187 countries came together in Washington D.C. to focus on the economic crisis facing the world.

They were here for the 2011 Annual Meeting of the IMF and World Bank, at which finance ministers and central bank governors mix with businesspeople, civil society, labor leaders, and parliamentarians to discuss the critical issues we face.

Coming in to this Meeting, I had warned of a dangerous new phase now facing the global economy and had called for bold and collective action. Coming out of the Meeting, I feel strongly that the global community is beginning to respond.

Why? Three reasons: a shared sense of urgency, a shared diagnosis of the problems, and a shared sense that the steps needed in the period ahead are now coming into focus. Continue reading

Union Jack: Be Nimble, Be Quick


By Ajai Chopra

The U.K. government should be nimble in its policy response if it looks as though the economy is headed for a prolonged period of weak growth, high unemployment, and subdued inflation. Currently, we don’t expect this scenario to happen. But if such a scenario appears to be in prospect, we recommend responding quickly with some combination of further quantitative easing by the Bank of England and temporary tax cuts.

The most likely scenario for the U.K. economy is that it will gradually recover, although it will face continued headwinds from a soft housing market, household and financial sector deleveraging, and ongoing consolidation of the budget. Against this, the economy should get a push from private investment and an increase in exports driven by the global recovery. Labor productivity may also rebound and improve competitiveness.

Led by these forces, the IMF is expecting a bumpy and uneven recovery in the U.K. and our updated growth forecast for the near term, taking into account the recent GDP release for the second quarter, will be published with the September World Economic Outlook. Over the medium term, we expect growth to accelerate gradually to about 2½ percent. Continue reading

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