Seven Billion Reasons to Worry: the Financial Impact of Living Longer


By S. Erik Oppers

Everyone wants at some point to stop working and enjoy retirement.  In these uncertain economic times, most people worry about their pension. Now take your worries and multiply those several billion times. This is the scale of the pension problem. And the problem is likely bigger still: although living longer, healthier lives is a good thing, how do you afford retirement if you will live even longer than previously thought?

This so-called longevity risk, as discussed in the IMF’s Global Financial Stability Report has serious implications for global financial and fiscal stability, and needs to be addressed now.

Here’s the issue: governments have done their analysis of aging largely based on best guesses of population developments. These developments include further drops in fertility and some further increase in longevity. The trouble is that in the past, longevity has been consistently and substantially underestimated. We all live much longer now than had been expected 30, 20, and even just 10 years ago. So there is a good chance people will live longer than we expect now. We call this longevity risk—the risk we all live longer than anticipated.

Risky business

Why is that a risk, you may ask. We all like to live longer, healthy lives. Sure, but let’s now return to those pension worries. If you retire at 65 and plan your retirement finances expecting to live another 20 years (assuming you have enough savings for at least that period), you would face a serious personal financial crisis if you actually live to 95, or— well in your 100s.

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“Macro…, what?!” The New Buzz on Financial Stability


José Viñals (l) and Nicolás Eyzaguirre

By José Viñals and Nicolás Eyzaguirre

(Version in Español)

Just a few years ago, “Macro…, what?!” would have been a typical reaction to hearing the technical term that today is the talk of the town among financial regulators.

But in the aftermath of the global financial crisis, macroprudential policy—which seeks to contain systemic risks in the financial system—has indeed come to be an important part of the overall policy toolkit to preserve economic stability and sustain growth.

For example, a number of countries, especially emerging markets, have been relying on macroprudential policies (such as loan-to-value or debt-to-income ratios, or countercyclical loan loss provisions) to rein in rapid credit growth, which—if unchecked—could destabilize the financial system and, ultimately, bring about a recession and drive up unemployment.

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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

Capital Flows to Asia Revisited: Monetary Policy Options


By Anoop Singh

Capital flows into emerging Asia should be high on the ‘watch list’ for policymakers in the region. But, perhaps, not in the way we had previously anticipated.

Twelve months ago our policy antennae were keenly attuned to the risks posed by the foreign capital that flooded into Asia from mid-2009 onwards. What was remarkable about this was the speed of the rebound after the massive drop during the global financial crisis. Within just 5 quarters, net inflows rose from their early 2009 trough to their mid-2010 peak—a mere one-fifth of the time that typically elapsed between troughs and peaks in the cycle of capital flows during the pre-Asian crisis period.

Another twelve months on, what we’re seeing is not really all that “exceptional”—a point often overlooked in the current debate on capital inflows to emerging markets. Continue reading

A Tale of Titans: The Too Important to Fail Conundrum


By Aditya Narain and İnci Ötker-Robe

Folklore is riddled with tales of a lone actor undoing a titan: David and Goliath; Heracles and Atlas; Jack and the Beanstalk, to name a few.

Financial institutions seen as too important to fail have become even larger and more complex since the global crisis. We need look no further than the example of investment bank Lehman Brothers to understand how one financial institution’s failure can threaten the global financial system and create devastating effects to economies around the world. Continue reading

Avoiding Another Year of Living Dangerously: Time to Secure Financial Stability


By José Viñals

In various guises, the “Year of Living Dangerously” has been used to describe the global financial crisis, the policy response to the crisis, and its aftermath.

But, we’ve slipped well beyond a year and the financial system is still flirting with danger. Durable financial stability has, so far, proven elusive.

Financial stability risks may have eased, reflecting improvements in the economic outlook and continuing accommodative policies. But those supportive policies—while necessary to restart the economy—have also masked serious, underlying financial vulnerabilities that need to be addressed as quickly as possible. 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

Macroprudential Policy—Filling the Black Hole


By José Viñals

When the global financial system was thrown into crisis, many policymakers were shocked to discover a gaping hole in their policy toolkit.

They have since made significant progress in developing macroprudential policy measures aimed at containing system-wide risks in the financial sector. Yet progress has been uneven. Greater efforts are needed to transform this policy patchwork into an effective crisis-prevention toolkit. 

Given the enormous economic and human cost of the recent financial debacle, I strongly believe that we cannot afford to miss this opportunity for substantial reform. Continue reading

Observations on the Evolution of Economic Policies


Guest post by Michael Spence, New York University,
Professor Emeritus Stanford University, and
co-host of the Conference on Macro and Growth Policies in the Wake of the Crisis

It was a privilege to participate in the IMF conference devoted to rethinking policy frameworks in the wake of the crisis. Highly encouraging was the openness of the discussion, the range of views, the willingness to question orthodoxy, and the posture of humility.

One gets the impression that the crisis has triggered a response that it should trigger, and we have embarked on a path of rethinking conceptual frameworks and policy choices in a way that will contribute to the stability of the system.

That said, the good news is that we recognize that in finance and parts of macroeconomics the models or frameworks are incomplete. That represents a challenge to the academic community. But it also means that, in the short run, participants and regulators will be operating with incomplete models. This will require judgments (which will be uncomfortable in contrast to the earlier sense of certainty). There will be mistakes. And, as Olivier Blanchard said in his excellent summary, we will proceed step-by-step, evaluating the impacts of policy choices and sometimes reversing course. Continue reading

Government Bonds: No Longer a World Without Risk


By José Viñals

The risk free nature of government bonds, one of the cornerstones of the global financial system, has come into question as the global crisis unfolds.

One thing is now very clear: government bonds are no longer the risk-free assets they once were. This carries far reaching implications for policymakers, central bankers, debt managers, and how the demand and supply sides of government bond markets function.

After a recent IMF conference on a new approach to government risk, I’d like to highlight three key aspects: Continue reading

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