How to Sustain Recent Financial Gains: Fix Old Risks and Meet New Challenges


GFSRBy José Viñals

(Versions in  عربي ,日本語Español)

Policymakers’ decisive actions  since our last report in October have increased global financial stability by reducing acute risks.

  • In the euro area, policymakers averted a financial cliff.
  • In the United States, the worst fears of the fiscal cliff had been averted, while balance sheet repair and continued monetary easing have supported financial markets and the recovery.
  • In Japan, new policy initiatives have caught the imagination of global markets that Japan may finally leave its deflation valley.

But our latest Global Financial Stability Report concludes that improved financial markets and gains in financial stability will not be sustained—and new risks are likely to emerge—unless policymakers address key underlying vulnerabilities.

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Moving Beyond Crisis Management in the West Bank and Gaza


By Oussama Kanaan, Udo Kock, and Mariusz Sumlinski

(Versions in  عربي)

It was an early spring morning in East Jerusalem in 2011, and we were wrapping up our two-week mission with a presentation to donor representatives on the Palestinian economy’s health. Our audience appeared encouraged by our assessment of performance over the previous three years (2008–10): the economy had been recovering strongly, supported by generous aid and an easing of Israeli restrictions on movement and trade.

And the Palestinian Authority had made impressive progress in institution-building, which alongside prudent fiscal management, had enhanced public-sector efficiency, reduced wasteful expenditure, and enabled a reduction in its recurrent budget deficit from US$1.7 billion in 2008 to US$1.1 billion in 2010.

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We May Have Avoided the Cliffs, But We Still Face High Mountains


WEO

by Olivier Blanchard

Version in Español  and عربي

Optimism is in the air, particularly in financial markets. And some cautious optimism may indeed be justified.

Compared to where we were at the same time last year, acute risks have decreased. The United States has avoided the fiscal cliff, and the euro explosion in Europe did not occur. And uncertainty is lower.

But we should be under no illusion. There remain considerable challenges ahead. And the recovery continues to be slow, indeed much too slow.

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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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Taking Away the Punch Bowl: Lessons from the Booms and Busts in Emerging Europe


By Bas B. Bakker and Christoph Klingen

With all eyes on the euro area, it is easy to forget that only a few years ago the emerging economies of Europe, from the Baltic to the Black Sea, went through a deep economic and financial crisis. This crisis is the topic of a new book that we will introduce to the public this week in Bucharest, London, and Vienna.

One lesson is that your best chance to prevent deep crises is forcefully addressing booms before they get out of hand. Another is that even crises that look abysmal can be contained and overcome— policies to adjust the economy and international financial support do work.

In the half decade leading up to the crisis, easy global financial conditions, confidence in a rapid catch-up with western living standards, and initially underdeveloped financial sectors spawned a tremendous domestic demand boom in the region. Western banking groups bankrolled the bonanza, providing their eastern subsidiaries with the funds to extend the loans that fueled the domestic boom. Continue reading

Japan Stands Up


By Jerry Schiff

(Version in  日本語)

As a Japanese proverb has it: “Knocked down seven times, get up eight.”

In a display of its resilience, Japan is getting up once again after the devastating earthquake and tsunami of a year ago.  But the world’s third largest economy still faces multiple challenges, and in our latest assessment of the country’s economy, the Japanese mission team at the International Monetary Fund has proposed a range of mutually reinforcing policies to strengthen confidence, raise growth and help restore Japan’s economic vitality.

A year and four months ago, Japan was reeling from the Great East Japan earthquake and accompanying devastation.  As well as the tragic loss of life, the economy was badly shaken.  Supply chain disruptions brought production in parts of Japan to a virtual halt. Yet, since then, the country has shown its resilience, with reconstruction contributing to strong first quarter growth of 4¾ percent.

But despite this hopeful sign, all is not well.

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Risks to Financial Stability Increase, Bold Action Needed


By José Viñals

(Versions in  عربي中文EspañolFrançaisРусский日本語)

Our latest update of the Global Financial Stability Report has three key messages.

First, financial stability risks have increased, because of escalating funding and market pressures and a weak growth outlook.

Second, the measures agreed at the recent European leaders’ summit provide significant steps to address the immediate crisis, but more is needed. Timely implementation and further progress on banking and fiscal unions must be a priority.

And third, time is running out. Now is the moment for strong political leadership, because tough decisions will need to be made to restore confidence and ensure lasting financial stability in both advanced and emerging economies. It is time for action.

Now, why have financial stability risks increased?

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Lost & Found in Eastern Europe: Replacing Funding by Western Europe’s Banks


By Bas Bakker and Christoph Klingen

With Western Europe’s banks under pressure, where does this leave Europe’s emerging economies and their financial systems that are dominated by subsidiaries of these very same banks?  There is little doubt that the era of generous parent-funding for subsidiaries is over.  But parent bank deleveraging—selling off assets, raising capital, and reducing loans, including to their subsidiaries—need not translate into a reduction of bank credit in emerging Europe.

A credit crunch can be avoided as long as parent banks reduce exposures gradually and domestic deposits, other banks, and local financial markets fill the void. Policymakers should create the conditions for this to happen.

The ties that bind

The dependence of the banking systems in emerging Europe on Western European banks is well known:

  • Ownership— foreign banks control more than half of the banking systems in most of Central, Eastern, and Southeastern Europe. Their share exceeds 80 percent in Bosnia, the Czech Republic, Croatia, Estonia, Romania, and Slovakia. Only in Russia, Ukraine, Belarus, Moldova, Slovenia, and Turkey do they not dominate.

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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Disappearing Deficits


By Tim Irwin

Suppose a government must reduce its budget deficit. Perhaps it made a commitment to do so; perhaps investors are beginning to doubt its ability to repay debt. It could cut spending or raise taxes, but that is painful and unpopular. What can it do?

In our work at the IMF, we sometimes discover that governments choose to employ accounting devices that make the deficit smaller without actually causing any pain, and without actually improving public finances.

In ideal accounting, this would not be possible. In real accounting, it sometimes is.

How the devices work

Some governments, for example, have been able to reduce their reported deficits by taking over companies’ pensions schemes. The government’s obligation to make future pension payments has a real cost, but it doesn’t count as a liability in the accounting. So when the government receives a pension scheme’s assets from the company, it can treat the receipt of those assets as revenue that reduces its deficit.

Many other governments have been able to defer spending, without significantly reducing it in the long run, by entering into public-private partnerships. Under these contracts, a private company builds and maintains an asset like a road or a hospital. In return, the government agrees to pay the company for its costs over 20 or 30 years. In a sense, the government has bought the asset on an installment plan, but government accounting seldom counts this obligation as a liability.

In each of the above cases—and in others analyzed in my note, Accounting Devices and Fiscal Illusions—the government’s deficit is lower at first, but only at the expense of bigger future deficits.

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