Taming government debt—it can be done, but it ain’t easy


By Helge Berger and  Justin Tyson

Sooner or later, and one way or the other, government debt in advanced economies will have to come down from the record levels reached in the wake of the global economic and euro area crises. Figure 1.Dev in Gross Debt and Structural Balance in Adv Economies There is no magic number for how much sovereign debt an economy can shoulder. And, as bringing down debt by cutting government spending or raising taxes comes at the risk of reducing growth and employment in the short term, there are arguments to not proceed too hastily. But eventually debt will have to be put back on a downward path in many countries. This will help rebuild fiscal buffers and cope with the costs of aging. So, what should governments do?

Our new analysis takes a closer look at the historical record and key trade-offs.  The bottom line: it is possible to reduce debt when growth is low. Ultimately perseverance should pay off.

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Latvia’s Economic Potential: Recovery and Reforms


david moore

by David Moore

Latvia’s economy has attracted international attention out of all proportion to its size. Many observers know that Latvia returned to strong economic growth after a severe downturn in 2008 and 2009 and a tough austerity program.  In late 2012, Latvia even repaid the IMF in full, several years early.

But the international consensus ends there. Critics of Latvia’s economic strategy point to continuing high rates of unemployment and poverty; advocates point to the benefits of frontloading spending cuts and tax increases to lay the foundations for recovery.

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Global Economy: Some Bad News and Some Hope


By Olivier Blanchard

(Versions in  عربي中文EspañolFrançaisРусский日本語)

The world economic recovery continues, but it has weakened further.  In advanced countries, growth is now too low to make a substantial dent in unemployment.  And in major emerging countries, growth that had been strong earlier has also decreased.

Let me give you a few numbers from our latest projections in the October World Economic Outlook released in Tokyo.

Relative to the IMF’s forecasts last April, our growth forecasts for 2013 have been revised down from 1.8%  to 1.5% for advanced countries, and from 5.8% down to 5.6% for emerging and developing countries.

The downward revisions are widespread.  They are however stronger for two sets of countries–for the members of the euro area, where we now expect growth close to zero in 2013, and for three of the large emerging market economies, ChinaIndia, and Brazil.

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Financial Support for Arab Countries in Transition


By Masood Ahmed

(Version in عربي)

The Arab Spring has injected new optimism into the Middle East and North Africa and, if managed well, the historic transitions that are under way will lead to a more prosperous future for the people of the region.

At the same time, the past year and a half has been difficult for the Arab countries in transition. They are facing economic strains as they manage political change and urgent social demands. It is a period when hard choices must be made, and it does not help that this is happening at a time of great turmoil in the global economy.

Close engagement

Throughout this difficult period, the IMF has remained closely engaged. We are advising countries on how to manage shocks to maintain economic stability, ensure that vulnerable households are protected during the transition, and lay the basis for job-creating growth.

We are also providing technical assistance to help build capacity and stronger institutions. In Egypt, for example, on tax reform to improve tax equity; in Libya to better manage its wealth through improved public financial management; and in Tunisia on measures to strengthen the financial sector.

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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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Global Crisis — Top Links from the IMF for Economics and Finance


Our top links for June, 2012 from iMFdirect blog and others:

Lessons from Latvia


By Olivier Blanchard

In 2008, Latvia was widely seen as an economic “basket case,” a textbook example of a boom turned to bust.

From 2005 to 2007, average annual growth had exceeded 10%, the current account deficit had increased to more than 20% of GDP.  By early 2008 however, the boom had come to an end, and, by the end of 2008, output was down by 10% from its peak, the fiscal deficit was shooting up, capital was leaving the country, and reserves were rapidly decreasing.

The treatment seemed straightforward: a sharp nominal depreciation, together with a steady fiscal consolidation.  The Latvian government however, wanted to keep its currency peg, partly because of a commitment to eventually enter the euro, partly because of the fear of immediate balance sheet effects of devaluation on domestic loans, 90% of them denominated in euros.  And it believed that credibility required strong frontloading of the fiscal adjustment.

Painful adjustment

Many, including me, believed that keeping the peg was likely to be a recipe for disaster, for a long and painful adjustment at best, or more likely, the eventual abandonment of the peg when failure became obvious.

Nevertheless, given the strong commitment of both Latvia and its European Union partners, the IMF went ahead with a program which kept the peg and included a strongly front-loaded fiscal adjustment.

Four years later, Latvia has one of the highest growth rates in Europe, the peg has held, and the fiscal and current accounts are close to balance.

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