Are Banks Too Large? Maybe, Maybe Not


By Luc Laeven, Lev Ratnovski, and Hui Tong

Large banks were at the center of the recent financial crisis. The public dismay at costly but necessary bailouts of “too-big-to-fail” banks has triggered an active debate on the optimal size and range of activities of banks.

But this debate remains inconclusive, in part because the economics of an “optimal” bank size is far from clear. Our recent study tries to fill this gap by summarizing what we know about large banks using data for a large cross-section of banking firms in 52 countries.

We find that while large banks are riskier, and create most of the systemic risk in the financial system, it is difficult to determine an “optimal” bank size. In this setting, we find that the best policy option may not be outright restrictions on bank size, but capital—requiring  large banks to hold more capital—and better bank resolution and governance.

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The Time is Nigh: How Reforms Can Bring Back Productivity Growth in Emerging Markets


By  Era Dabla-Norris and Kalpana Kochar

(Version in Español)

The era of remarkable growth in many emerging market economies fueled by cheap money and high commodity prices may very well be coming to an end.

The slowdown reflects not just inadequate global demand, but also structural factors that are rendering previous growth engines less effective, and the fact that economic “good times” reduced the incentives to implement further reforms to enhance productivity. With the end of the period of favorable global financing and trade conditions, the time is nigh for governments to make strong efforts to increase productivity—the essential foundation of sustainable growth and rising living standards. Continue reading

The Lessons of the North Atlantic Crisis for Economic Theory and Policy


Joseph_E._StiglitzGuest post by: Joseph E. Stiglitz
Columbia University, New York, and co-host of the Conference on Rethinking Macro Policy II: First Steps and Early Lessons

(Versions in 中文, Français, 日本語, and Русский)

In analyzing the most recent financial crisis, we can benefit somewhat from the misfortune of recent decades. The approximately 100 crises that have occurred during the last 30 years—as liberalization policies became  dominant—have given us a wealth of experience and mountains of data.  If we look over a 150 year period, we have an even richer data set.

With a century and half of clear, detailed information on crisis after crisis, the burning question is not How did this happen? but How did we ignore that long history, and think that we had solved the problems with the business cycle? Believing that we had made big economic fluctuations a thing of the past took a remarkable amount of hubris.

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Rethinking Macroeconomic Policy


blanchBy Olivier Blanchard

(Versions in عربي中文FrançaisРусский, and Español)

The IMF has just hosted a second conference devoted to rethinking macroeconomic policy in the wake of the crisis. After two days of fascinating presentations and discussions, I am certain of one thing:  this is unlikely to be our last conference on the subject.

Rethinking and reforms are both taking place.  But we still do not know the final destination, be it for the redefinition of monetary policy, or the contours of financial regulation, or the role of macroprudential tools. We have a general sense of direction, but we are largely navigating by sight.

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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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Central Banks, Financial Regulators, and the Quest for Financial Stability: 2011 IMF Annual Research Conference


By Olivier Blanchard

The global financial crisis gave economists pause for thought about what should be the future of macroeconomic policy. We have devoted much of our thinking to this issue these past three years, including how the many policy instruments work together.

The interactions between monetary and macroprudential policies, in particular, remain hotly debated. And this year’s IMF Annual Research Conference is an important opportunity to take that debate another step forward.

Looking back, it is striking how many papers from last year’s conference—on post-crisis macroeconomic and financial policies—have been so immediately relevant to events on the ground. Just to give you an example: the paper on fiscal space is obviously front and center in the policy debate on the European sovereign crisis, the United States’ budget, and challenges faced by advanced country governments more generally.

This year’s topic—monetary and macroprudential policies—is equally relevant. It goes to the core of central banks’ mandates, and their role in achieving macroeconomic and financial stability. The financial crisis triggered a fundamental rethinking of these issues, but much research, both conceptual and empirical, remains to be done. The conference provides an excellent opportunity to engage with prominent academics, policymakers and private sector practitioners. I hope the conference will contribute to expanding the frontier of knowledge on this topic. Continue reading

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

Resolve and Determination—How We Get Out of This Together


By Christine Lagarde

(Versions in  عربي,  中文,  日本語 and Español)

This past weekend, 187 countries came together in Washington D.C. to focus on the economic crisis facing the world.

They were here for the 2011 Annual Meeting of the IMF and World Bank, at which finance ministers and central bank governors mix with businesspeople, civil society, labor leaders, and parliamentarians to discuss the critical issues we face.

Coming in to this Meeting, I had warned of a dangerous new phase now facing the global economy and had called for bold and collective action. Coming out of the Meeting, I feel strongly that the global community is beginning to respond.

Why? Three reasons: a shared sense of urgency, a shared diagnosis of the problems, and a shared sense that the steps needed in the period ahead are now coming into focus. Continue reading

Global Recovery Strengthens, Tensions Heighten


By Olivier Blanchard

The world economic recovery is gaining strength, but it remains unbalanced.

Three numbers tell the story. We expect the world economy to grow at about 4.5 percent a year in both 2011 and 2012, but with advanced economies growing at only 2.5 percent, while emerging and developing economies grow at a much higher 6.5 percent.

On the good news side. Earlier fears of a double dip—which we did not share—have not materialized. Continue reading

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