Finish the Job on Financial Regulation


GFSRBy José Viñals

Brisbane and Basel may be 10,000 miles apart, but when it comes to financial regulation the two cities will be standing cheek by jowl.

At the next summit of the Group of Twenty advanced and emerging economies, to be held in Brisbane in November, political leaders will take the pulse of the global financial regulatory reform agenda, launched five years ago. The explicit goal of the Australian G-20 presidency is to finally complete these essential reforms. As Prime Minister Tony Abbott said today in Davos, “Financial regulation is always a work-in-progress, but these reforms now need to be finalized in ways that promote confidence without eliminating risk.”

I strongly support this extra push to create a safer financial system that can better support the needs of the real economy, and better protect taxpayers. For far too long, critics have been able to portray the G-20 reform agenda as a regulatory supertanker stuck in the shallow waters of technical complexity, financial industry pushback, and diverging national views. This image is increasingly off the mark.

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Banking on Reform: Can Volcker, Vickers and Liikanen Resolve the Too-Important-to-Fail Conundrum?


by José Viñals and Ceyla Pazarbasioglu

The global regulatory landscape governing banks has changed from its pre-crisis status quo.

In addition to the Group of Twenty advanced and emerging economies led global regulatory reforms, like Basel III, the United States and the United Kingdom have decided to directly impose limits on the scope of banks’ businesses. The European Union is contemplating a similar move.

We discussed these structural banking reforms a few weeks ago with officials from finance ministries, central banks, and supervisory authorities from around the world during the IMF and World Bank Spring Meetings. The design and implementation of these measures will have implications for global financial stability and sustainable growth, so we wanted to bring people together for the first global debate of the issue with G20 and other countries.

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A Missing Piece In Europe’s Growth Puzzle


moghadamsmallBy Reza Moghadam

Even before the latest euro area GDP numbers and Italian elections cast a shadow over the continent, economists were struggling to reconcile the steady improvement in market sentiment with the more downbeat data on the economy, production, orders, and jobs.

This video looks at this puzzle from a somewhat different perspective than the usual—and still correct—narrative of weak banks and over-indebted public sectors caught in a vicious cycle. More specifically, we examine the role of household and corporate balance sheets in the countries under financial market stress and the implications for policy priorities.

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Europe: Toward A More Perfect Union


Nemat Shafik 4

By Nemat Shafik

During the years that followed the euro’s introduction, financial integration proceeded rapidly and markets and governments hailed it as a sign of success. The widespread belief was that it would benefit both south and north—capital was finally able to flow to where it would best be used and foster real convergence.

But in fact, a lasting convergence in productivity did not materialize across the European Union. Instead, a competitiveness divide emerged. As the financial crisis gripped the euro area in 2010, these and other problems came to the fore.

Three years later, the financial symptoms of the crisis are thankfully receding with a new sense of optimism in markets. But the underlying problems—lack of convergence of productivity and the structural flaws in the architecture of the monetary union—have only been partially addressed.

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Middle East and North Africa Face Historic Crossroads


By David Lipton

(Version in عربي)

Almost two years since the Arab Awakening started, the future of the Middle East and North Africa is in a flux, with fledgling democracies struggling to find their way and renewed outbreaks of violence adding to the challenges the region is facing. Some are starting to worry aloud that the revolutionary path may hit a dead end.

To me, a useful way to think about the present situation is that the region could end up taking any one of three alternative paths, as far as its economic future is concerned. We could witness either:

  • Economic deterioration, if squabbling over political power prevents stabilization, let alone reform;
  • Stabilization through a reassertion of vested business interests that would offer a respite from eroding economic conditions, but condemn the region to a return to economic stagnation or at best tepid growth;
  • Or we could see a new economy emerge, as newly elected governments gradually find a way to end economic disruptions and undertake reforms that open the way to greater economic opportunity for their people.

While the first two paths would be undesirable, they could come to pass. Needless to say, the third path of transformation would be best.

No doubt the Arab countries in transition will chart their own paths. But I strongly believe that the international community also has a role in helping them avoid the unfavorable outcomes. Let me share some thoughts on how we can provide support.

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Seeing Our Way Through The Crisis: Why We Need Fiscal Transparency


by Carlo Cottarelli

Version in Français

Without good fiscal information, governments can’t understand the fiscal risks they face or make good budget decisions. And unless that information is made public, citizens and their legislatures can’t hold governments accountable for those decisions.

Fiscal transparency—the public availability of timely, reliable, and relevant data on the past, present, and future state of the public finances—is thus crucial to the foundation of effective fiscal management.

A new paper from the IMF on fiscal transparency, accountability, and risk considers the progress we have made in opening up the “black box” of fiscal policymaking over the past decade, the lessons of the recent crisis for current fiscal reporting standards and practices, and the steps we need to take to revitalize the global fiscal transparency effort.

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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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Fiscal Consolidation: Striking the Right Balance


By David Lipton

(Version in Español, in عربي)

The debate on austerity vs. growth has gained in intensity, as countries in Europe and elsewhere struggle with low growth, high debt, and rising unemployment. In essence, policymakers are being asked to tackle a continuation of the worst crisis since the Great Depression.

This would be no easy task under any circumstances. But it is made considerably harder by the fact that a number of countries need to engage in fiscal consolidation simultaneously. Complicating the picture further is the fact that monetary policy in most advanced economies is approaching the limits of what it technically can do to stimulate activity, while global growth remains weak.

There is no getting around the need to reduce debt levels. High debt leaves countries exposed to interest rate shocks, limits their capacity to respond to future shocks, and reduces long-term growth potential.

At the same time, we all know that fiscal consolidation―reducing deficits by cutting spending or raising revenues―can and usually does stifle growth. With more than 200 million people out of work worldwide, and with growth in advanced countries forecast at a mere 1½ percent for 2012, getting the pace of consolidation right is therefore of paramount importance. So how do policymakers strike the right balance?

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Mediocre Growth, High Risks, and The Long Road Ahead


By Olivier Blanchard

(Versions in Español, عربي)

For the past six months, the world economy has been on what is best described as a roller coaster.

Last autumn, a simmering European crisis became acute, threatening another Lehman-size event, and the end of the recovery.  Strong policy measures were taken, new governments came to power in Italy and Spain, the European Union adopted a tough fiscal pact, and the European central bank injected badly needed liquidity.   Things have quieted down since, but an uneasy calm remains.  At any moment, it seems, things could get bad again.

This shapes our forecasts.  Our baseline forecast, released by the IMF on April 17,  is for low growth in advanced countries, especially in Europe.  But downside risks are very much present.

Brakes hampering growth

This baseline is constructed on the assumption that another European flare-up will be avoided, but that uncertainty will linger on.   It recognizes that, even in this case, there are still strong brakes to growth in advanced countries:  Fiscal consolidation is needed and is proceeding, but is weighing on growth.  Bank deleveraging is also needed, but is leading, especially in Europe, to tight credit.  In many countries, in particular in the United States, some households are burdened with high debt, leading to lower consumption. Foreclosures are weighing on housing prices, and on housing investment.

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Debt Hangover: Nonperforming Loans in Europe’s Emerging Economies


By Christoph Rosenberg and Christoph Klingen

Some hangovers take more than a good night’s sleep to get over. It’s been three years since the global economic crisis put an abrupt end to emerging Europe’s credit boom, but neither lenders nor borrowers are in much of a party mood. One key reason: many of the loans so readily dished out before the crisis have now gone sour.

Festering bad loans are a problem on many fronts:  banks, credit supply, economic growth, and people all suffer. Take Japan’s lost decade. There too, a credit boom ended in tears, new lending subsequently went from too much to too little, and a vicious cycle of credit squeeze, declining asset and collateral values, and economic paralysis followed.

In emerging Europe, the share of loans classified as nonperforming—many of them household mortgages—have exploded from 3 percent before the crisis to 13 percent at the peak. As can be seen in the chart below, levels in some parts of the Baltics and Balkans are already at par with previous financial crises elsewhere.

Tackling bad loans

Nobody wants this dire script to replay in emerging Europe. Policymakers, bankers, and international financial institutions therefore got together under the Vienna Initiative to identify ways to tackle nonperforming loans. A working group co-chaired by the IMF and World Bank just presented a report that analyzes the problem and offers a way out.

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