Arab Economic Transformation Amid Political Transitions


Masood Ahmed #2By Masood Ahmed

(version in عربي)

The International Monetary Fund released today a new paper entitled “Toward New Horizons—Arab Economic Transformation amid Political Transitions.”

The paper makes the case for the urgency of launching economic policy reforms, beyond short-term macroeconomic management, to support economic stability and stronger, job-creating economic growth in the Arab Countries in Transition—Egypt, Jordan, Libya, Morocco, Tunisia, and Yemen.

These countries face the risk of stagnation if reforms are delayed further.Economic conditions have deteriorated from transition-related disruptions, regional conflict, an unclear political outlook, eroding competitiveness, and a challenging external economic environment.

As economic realities fall behind peoples’ expectations, there is a risk of increased discontent. This could further complicate the political transitions, impairing governments’ mandates and planning horizons and, consequently, their ability to implement the policies necessary to catalyze the much-needed economic improvements.

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A Wish List for China’s Third Plenum


ASinghBy Anoop Singh

(Versions in 中文 and Español)

Hard landing, soft landing, no landing, overheating. Pundits’ views on China’s economy bounce around—often rapidly—between these descriptions.

Just two short months ago, the dominant concern was about a sharp slowdown, below this year’s official growth target of 7½ percent. Now, these fears have retreated, pushed aside by talk of renewed momentum.

Our sense, here at the International Monetary Fund, has always been that economic growth will slightly surpass this year’s official target. But we have also cautioned that China’s economic challenges are growing, and that accelerating reform is critical for containing risks and achieving a smooth transition to sustainable growth.

The upcoming Third Plenum provides an opportunity for the new leadership to provide guidance on how they plan to meet these challenges.

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Not Making the Grade: Report Card on Global Financial Reform


by Laura Kodres

Despite a host of reforms in the right direction, the financial structures that were in place before the global crisis have not actually changed that much, and they need to if the global financial system is to become a safer place.

Although the intentions of policymakers are clear and positive, the system remains precarious.

Our new study presents an interim report card on progress toward a safer financial system. Overall, there is still a long way to go.

How we measure progress

In our study, we first tried to pay attention to those features of financial systems related to the crisis—the large dominant, highly interconnected institutions, the heavy role of nonbanks, and the development of complex financial products for instance—features that need to be addressed in some way.

To do this we needed to construct measures of these features in a way that would allow us to gauge how well the reforms are working toward changing them. We looked at a lot of data, but we focus on three types of features.

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The Long-term Price of Financial Reform


by André Oliveira Santos and Douglas J. Elliott

In response to the global crisis, policymakers around the world are instituting the broadest reform of financial regulation since the Great Depression.

Some in the financial industry claim the long-run economic costs of these global reforms outweigh the benefits. But our new research strongly suggests the opposite—the reforms are well worth the money.

Granted, just as adding fenders, safety belts, airbags, and crash avoidance features can make cars slower, we know that additional safety measures can slow down the economy in years when there is no crisis. The payoff comes from averting or minimizing a disaster.

Five years after the onset of the current crisis, we sadly know all too well the cost in terms of economic growth, so the potential gains in avoiding future crises are very large.

Our study finds that the likely long-term increase in credit costs for borrowers is about one quarter of a percentage point in the United States and lower elsewhere. This is roughly the size of one small move by the Federal Reserve or other central banks. A move of that size rarely has much effect on a national economy, suggesting relatively small economic costs from these reforms.

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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

The Other Rebalancing: Asia’s Quest for Inclusive Growth


By Anoop Singh

(Versions in 中文, 日本語)

For the past two or three decades, rising inequality—inequality of incomes, of economic outcomes and of economic opportunities—has taken a back seat to the goal of boosting overall growth. But growing discontent with the fallout of the global financial crisis has put inequality back on top of the policy agenda. While the symptoms may be different, tackling inequality is no less an issue in Asia.

Indeed, research shows that inequality can be counterproductive to sustaining longer-term growth. So, in increasingly turbulent global economic times, this gives added importance to promoting shared—or inclusive—growth in Asia that is more likely to be sustained.

This has been a major focus our latest Regional Economic Outlook, which we presented in Manila today. A great challenge for the government here, and for other countries across the region, is to raise living standards for a wide section of their populations. Continue reading

The Two Rebalancing Acts


By Olivier Blanchard

Achieving a “strong, balanced, and sustained world recovery”—to quote from the goal set in Pittsburgh by the G-20—was never going to be easy. It requires much more than just going back to business as usual. It requires two fundamental and complex economic rebalancing acts.

First, internal rebalancing. When private demand collapsed, fiscal stimulus helped reduce the fall in output. This helped avoid the worst. But private demand must now become strong enough to take the lead and sustain growth, while fiscal stimulus gives way to fiscal consolidation.

The second is external rebalancing. Many advanced countries, most notably the United States, relied excessively on domestic demand before the crisis, and they must now rely more on net exports. Many emerging market countries, most notably China, had relied excessively on net exports, but must now look to domestic demand. Continue reading

Financial System Fragilities – Achilles’ Heel of Economic Recovery


By José Viñals

It would be unfair for any assessment of global economic and financial stability not to acknowledge that tremendous progress has been made in repairing and strengthening the financial system since the onset of the global crisis.

Still, the key message from the IMF’s October 2010 Global Financial Stability Report (GFSR) is clear. Progress toward global financial stability has suffered a setback over the past six months—the financial system remains the Achilles’ heel of the economic recovery. Continue reading

Toto, we’re not in Kansas anymore: Exploring the Contours of the Financial System After the Tornado


By Laura Kodres

Just as a tornado in Kansas transplanted Dorothy and, her dog, Toto, from familiar comforts to the unknown land of Oz, the global crisis has led many to wonder what has become of the global financial system and, more importantly, what will it look like next. Is the wicked witch of the West—excessive risk taking and leverage—really dead?

But now, as the storm subsides, there is time to speculate about what the future financial sector might look like. My IMF colleague, Aditya Narain, and I have done just that in a new Staff Position Note that attempts to discern the contours of this new financial landscape. What is clear is that the new landscape will be influenced by both the private and public sectors—their reactions to the crisis and to each other.

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A Marriage Made in Heaven or Hell: Monetary and Financial Stability


By José Viñals

Monetary stability seems almost a given today, even taken for granted. It wasn’t always like that. Not so long ago, high and volatile inflation routinely raised its ugly head and threatened living standards. Some of us even remember those days! It wasn’t pleasant. But since then, an effective antidote has pretty much wiped out rampant price instability. Over the past three decades, better monetary frameworks have caused the level and volatility of inflation to fall sharply. These frameworks enshrined price stability as the main monetary policy objective, and provided independence and constrained discretion in the pursuit of this objective, often set out through formal inflation targets.

As I said, it worked out well. Or did it? In reality, there was a gaping hole in the system. While monetary policy frameworks fortified the castle against inflation at the front, they didn’t pay much attention to back door vulnerabilities. I’m talking about financial stability.

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