China: Fastest Growing Consumer Market in the World


Steve BarnettBy Steven Barnett

(Version in 中文)

It’s the season for shopping. We have Cyber Monday in the United States and Singles Day in China (November 11 or 11/11). So, while we are pondering shopping, try to guess which consumer market is growing the fastest. The answer is…China!

China had the largest consumption increase in the world. This was true in 2011, true in 2012, and likely to be true again this year (see chart). Consumption in China is also generally thought to be weak. Indeed, the government and the IMF are calling for more consumer-based growth. How could consumption, in effect, be both weak and strong at the same time?

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China’s Growth: Why Less is More


Steve BarnettBy Steven Barnett

(Version in 中文)

Less growth in China today will mean higher income in the future. So rather than worry, we should welcome the slowdown in China’s economy. Why? Because by favoring structural reforms over short-term stimulus, China’s leadership is illustrating their commitment to move to a more balanced and sustainable growth model.

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Shared Frustrations: How to Make Economic Growth in Sub-Saharan Africa More Inclusive


By Antoinette M. Sayeh

(Version in Français)

Suddenly it’s the thing everyone is talking about. Income inequality. Not just between countries, but inequality within countries.

In North Africa and the Middle East, jobless youth sparked the Arab Spring. In the United States, the growing gap between rich and poor is the “meta concern” of the Occupy Wall Street movement. Worldwide, frustrations appear to be on the rise.

What about sub-Saharan Africa? Sustained economic growth has certainly produced some tremendous advances. But a large proportion of the population is still living in poverty. So frustrations about the inclusiveness of growth are also shared within the region.

Complex story

Is the story really as negative in sub-Saharan Africa as the relatively slow reduction in the incidence of poverty and some people’s frustration suggest? Or is the underlying situation a little more complex?

In July, I wrote about the importance of inclusive growth and whether economic growth was a necessary or a sufficient condition for poverty reduction. The IMF’s latest Regional Economic Outlook for Sub-Saharan Africa takes that thinking a step further. The new analysis looks at how living standards for the poorest households have actually been changing in some countries in the region.

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Inflation in the Middle East—Looking at the Right Numbers


By Masood Ahmed

Across the world, surging international food prices have become a major cause for concern and topic of debate. This is especially so in the Arab world, which is home to some of the largest food importers and where rising food prices have been one of the factors in recent political unrest.

In the context of ongoing political developments, governments across the region are responding to the rise in commodity prices with hikes in fuel and food subsidies, civil service wage and pension increases, additional cash transfers, tax reductions, and other spending increases. These measures will help poor households maintain their purchasing power and limit further increases in domestic food prices.

How should central banks—whose task is to prevent general price increases that would further cut into peoples’ incomes—react? What inflation metric should they target? Continue reading

Investing in a Rebalancing of Growth in Asia


By Anoop Singh

Continuing my travels through Asia for the launch of our October 2010 Regional Economic Outlook: Asia and Pacific, I am writing to you today from Singapore. In my last post, I focused on the near-term outlook and challenges for Asia. Today, I turn to the key medium-term challenge—the need to rebalance economies in the region away from heavy reliance on exports by strengthening domestic sources of growth. This is against a backdrop of the need to rebalance global growth that was emphasized over the weekend by the ministers of the Group of Twenty industrialized and emerging market countries.

Heavy reliance, arguably over-reliance, on exports is a common challenge across Asia. Yet, the policies to address it will differ among the countries in the region. Much of the public discussion focuses on ways to increase consumption, and this is something the IMF has written about extensively in the past. But the role of investment in rebalancing growth is equally important and something that should not be overlooked. Continue reading

Asia’s Corporate Saving Mystery


By Anoop Singh

As Asia starts down the path to recovery, it is going to have to tackle two issues which are constraining its long-term growth potential: firms that save but do not invest and wealthy households that are reluctant to consume.

At first glance, such behavior seems inexplicable and counter-intuitive.  Let’s imagine for a moment you are an investor—you may well be— you put quite a bit of money into a company to back its expansion plans. Initially, these plans prove successful, and the company makes quite a bit of money. But then the firm ran out of investment ideas. What would you expect them to do?

Surely, you would expect them to return the money you provided, for example by paying it out as dividends. But in the past, prosperous decade before the current downturn this hasn’t been happening in emerging Asia. Firms have been sitting on their profits, not investing them, but not paying them out in dividends, either. That is a puzzle, and a problem.

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