Africa: Changing the Narrative


Jeremy CliftBy Jeremy Clift

Enduring poverty and conflict are so stark in Africa that it is sometimes difficult to see what else is happening.

In April 2011, a study published by the Columbia Journalism Review titled “Hiding the Real Africa” documented how easily Africa makes news headlines in the West when a major famine, pandemic, or violent crisis breaks. But less attention is given to positive trends and underlying successes.

In many cases, despite accelerated economic growth over the past 10 years, the rise of a middle class of consumers, and a more dynamic private sector attracting indigenous entrepreneurs, the narrative about Africa has remained focused on the bad news.

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U.S. Housing and Labor Pains—Central America and the Caribbean Feeling the Pinch Too


By Evridiki Tsounta

(Version in Español)

If housing and labor market woes aren’t bad enough in the United States, they’re hurting Central America and the Caribbean too.

It has been five years since the U.S. housing bubble burst and three years since the onset of the global financial crisis. And still, in the world’s largest economy—which in the past quickly and vigorously recovered from downturns—jobs and output are barely growing. In fact, output is just 1.6 percent higher than a year ago, and almost 14 million people remain unemployed.

True, some of this lackluster economic performance reflects global factors, particularly the uncertainty surrounding the lingering European crisis, but also temporary factors related to the Japanese earthquake. However, on the domestic front, fragile household balance sheets and stubbornly high unemployment have been major factors impeding growth. This latter development is having negative spillovers on many Central American and Caribbean countries, where remittances and tourism flows from workers in the United States are important for their economies (see our most recent Regional Economic Outlook for Western Hemisphere).

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Lurking in the Shadows—The Risks from Nonbank Intermediation in China


By Nigel Chalk

(Version in 中文)

One of my all-time favorite movies is “The Third Man” starring Orson Welles and Joseph Cotten. It is a British film noir from the 1940s. Perhaps the most striking part of the movie is the shadowy cinematography, set in post-World War II Vienna. Strangely, it springs to mind lately when I have been thinking of China.

Many China-watchers looked on in awe in 2009 as the government’s response to the global financial crisis unfolded, causing bank lending as a share of the economy to expand by close to 20 percentage points in less than a year. This, subsequently, led to a lot of hand-wringing about the consequences of those actions and the eventual credit quality problems that China would have to confront and manage.

However, around the same time, a less visible phenomenon was also getting underway. One that, like Orson Welles’ character in the movie, resided firmly in the shadows. Various types of nonbank financial intermediaries—some new, some old—were gearing up to provide a conduit through which China’s high savings would be tapped to finance the corporate sector. The available data on this is terrible—the central bank’s numbers on social financing are the only credible and comprehensive public source, but even that gives only a partial picture.

Talking to people in China, and looking at what numbers are available, one cannot help but have an uneasy feeling that more credit is now finding its way into the economy outside of the banking system than is actually flowing through the banks. Continue reading

India: Linked or De-linked from the Global Economy?


By Anoop Singh

With economic growth expected to continue at a reasonably good clip this year and next, it’s all too easy to think there’s not much to worry about. Even as Diwali celebrations begin across India, the outlook for the world economy is fairly uneven and uncertain. More worrisome than the subdued global growth outlook, risks are building up especially in Europe—and these include an extreme scenario with financial disruption.

Although India’s economy has generally been less prone to external forces than many others, we still need to contend with the larger than typical risks in the global economy. These risks harken the need for a new wave of reforms.

What does the more somber darker global outlook mean for India? And exactly what policies are needed? Continue reading

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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Fiscal Glass is Half Full: Some Reasons for Optimism


By Carlo Cottarelli

(Versions in عربيFrançais中文 and  Русский)

In the midst of jittery financial markets, and global economic doom and gloom, it’s easy to become pessimistic. Perhaps too much so; amid what seems like a steady drum beat of bad news, one can lose sight of what has been  achieved over the last couple of years.

Public debt and fiscal deficits in many advanced economies remain very high. Nevertheless, important progress has been made in fiscal adjustment in many advanced economies. For most countries, government deficits have fallen substantially—by 2¼ percentage points of GDP on average compared to two years ago.


The fiscal outlook in most countries is stronger than we expected two years ago. Continue reading

Haves and Have Less—Why Inequality Throws Us Off Balance


Jeremy CliftBy Jeremy Clift

We used to think that overall economic growth would pull everyone up. While the rich might be getting richer, everyone would benefit and would see higher living standards. That was the unspoken bargain of the market system.

But now research is showing that, in many countries, inequality is on the rise and the gap between the rich and the poor is widening, particularly over the past quarter-century.

With taxpayers footing the bill for troubles in the financial industry in advanced economies during the global economic crisis, this discrepancy seems particularly galling to wage-earners who have seen their pay stagnate or worse. Inequality has started to attract more research by economists.

The September 2011 issue of Finance & Development (F&D) looks at income inequality around the world and how it matters. Continue reading

Interest Rates and Investor Decisions: The Long and Short of It


By Erik Oppers

What drives the investment decisions of investors with a longer time horizon? Our research found these investors generally do not look at differences in interest rates among countries when deciding where to invest.

It turns out the factors they do consider in making these decisions are good and stable growth prospects, low country risks—including political and economic stability—and a stable exchange rate. This all makes good sense for long-term investors such as pension funds and insurance companies.

So why all this talk about how low interest rates in advanced economies are “pushing” investment flows to emerging countries, where interest rates are generally higher—is this story wrong? Continue reading

More Diversity will Help the IMF at Work


By iMFdirect

Nemat Shafik, who took over as IMF Deputy Managing Director in April, says she has been surprised by the vigor of internal policy debate at the IMF. “From the outside looking in, you have the impression that the IMF is a monolith with a very single-minded view of the world. When you are inside the Fund, what is really striking is how active the internal debate is,” she says.

At a time when the global economy is being buffeted by continued uncertainty in Europe, uprisings in the Middle East, and signs of overheating in some emerging market economies, there’s a lot to discuss. And, in addition to global economic problems, the IMF’s work environment has come under increased scrutiny, in particular how women are treated and its professional code of conduct.

In an interview, Ms. Shafik discusses some of these issues Continue reading

The MENA Jobs and Growth Challenge: How Can Finance Help?


By Masood Ahmed

Most policymakers in the Middle East and North Africa agree that stronger economic growth is a crucial component of any strategy to address the region’s persistently high levels of unemployment and raise its living standards. One question that arises is: What role can the financial sector play?

It is well known that a dynamic and vibrant financial sector will improve economic outcomes for a country, leading to faster and more equitable economic growth. The key to answering this question, therefore, is to look to the past and examine how the financial sector has contributed historically to growth in the region. Continue reading

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