From Taper Tantrum to Bund Bedlam

By Yingyuan Chen, David Jones and Sanjay Hazarika

(Versions in 中文 and deutsch)

Global financial markets traditionally take their cue from the United States. Unexpected Fed rate hikes have unsettled global markets in the past. The entire global financial system threw a tantrum when then Fed Chairman Ben Bernanke merely suggested in May 2013 that the end to bond-buying and other policies could soon begin. However for the past year, the gears of global markets seem to have been thrown into reverse — it is German government bonds, known as Bunds, rather than U.S. bonds, known as Treasuries, that appear to be driving prices in global bond markets. This role reversal could add a new layer of complexity to investor calculations as they prepare for the beginning of Fed interest rate hikes, which are expected later in 2015. Also, as developments in Greece lead to rises and falls in Bund and Treasury yields, this is a trend worth keeping an eye on.

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Securitization: Restore Credit Flow to Revive Europe’s Small Businesses

By Shekhar Aiyar, Bergljot Barkbu, and Andreas (Andy) Jobst

If financing is the lifeblood of European small businesses, then the effect of the financial crisis was similar to a cardiac arrest. The flow of affordable credit from banks was choked off and small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs) were hit hardest. Today, with bank lending still recovering from that shock, smart policy actions could open up securitization as a source of financing to help small businesses start up, flourish and grow.

SMEs are vital to the European economy. They account for 99 out of every 100 businesses, two in every three employees, and 58 cents of each euro of value added of the business sector in Europe. Improving access to finance would therefore not only revive small businesses, but also support a strong and lasting recovery for Europe as a whole.

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European Life Insurers: Unsustainable Business Model

By Reinout De Bock, Andrea Maechler, and Nobuyasu Sugimoto

(Versions in Français and deutsch)

Low interest rates in the euro area pose substantial challenges to the life insurance industry. Insurers—particularly in Germany and Sweden—offer their clients long-term policies, sometimes more than 30 years, without holding assets of a correspondingly long duration. Moreover, many policies contain generous return guarantees, which are unsustainable in today’s low interest rate environment.

In 2014, stress tests showed European life insurers are vulnerable to a “Japanese-like” scenario.

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Fiscal Policy And Structural Reform

Vitor GasparBy Vitor Gaspar 

One of the big questions to emerge from the global financial crisis, especially in the euro area, is how to raise a country’s potential growth while restoring healthy public finances. For example, the euro area— despite some favorable news recently — faces marked-down growth prospects alongside high levels of public debt. The combination of high debt and tepid potential growth underscores the importance of improving prospects for sustained growth and safe and resilient public finances. A fundamental question then arises: what is the relation between fiscal consolidation and structural reform?

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Fiscal Arrangements in Federations: Four Lessons for Europe

Martine GuerguilBy Martine Guerguil 

Does the European Union need closer fiscal integration, and in particular a stronger fiscal center, to become more resilient to economic shocks? A new IMF book, Designing a European Fiscal Union: Lessons from the Experience of Fiscal Federations, published by Routledge, examines the experience of 13 federal states to help inform the debate on this issue. It analyzes in detail their practices in devolving responsibilities from the subnational to the central level, compares them to those of the European Union, and draws lessons for a possible future fiscal union in Europe.

The book sets out to answer three sets of questions: (1) What is the role of centralized fiscal policies in federations, and hence the size, features, and functions of the central budget? (2) What institutional arrangements are used to coordinate fiscal policy between the federal and subnational levels? (3) What are the links between federal and subnational debt, and how have subnational financing crises been handled, when they occurred?

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Investment in the Euro Area: Why Has It Been So Weak?

By Bergljot Bjørnson BarkbuS. Pelin Berkmen, and Hanni Schölermann

Investment in the euro area, and particularly private investment, has not recovered since the onset of the global financial crisis.

In fact, the decline in investment has been much more drastic than in other financial crises; and is more in line with the most severe of these crises (see Chart 1). The October 2014 World Economic Outlook showed that many governments cut investment because their finances became strained during the crisis. In addition, housing investment collapsed in some countries, reflecting a natural scaling back after an unsustainable boom. But what is holding back private non-residential investment?

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Portfolio Investment in Emerging Markets: More Than Just Ebb and Flow

Evan PapageorgioBy Evan Papageorgiou

When the U.S. Federal Reserve first mentioned in 2013 the prospect of a cutback in its bond buying program, markets had a “taper tantrum.” Many emerging markets saw large increases in volatility, even though outflows from their domestic markets were small and short-lived. Now the Fed has ended its bond buying and is looking ahead to rate hikes, and portfolio flows continue to arrive at the shores of emerging market economies. So everything’s fine, right? Not quite.

In our latest Global Financial Stability Report, we show that the large concentration of advanced economy capital invested in emerging markets acts as a conduit of shocks from the former to the latter.

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