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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Trade Winds—Has the Spectre of Protectionism Blown Away?


By Tamim Bayoumi

The global crisis has pushed trade reforms off—or at least to the edge of—the political radar screen. But shying away from improving the trade system in these tough economic times seems a little like cutting off your nose to spite your face.

The IMF’s First Deputy Managing Director David Lipton summed the issue up in a recent speech: “trade wars can put millions of jobs in jeopardy, while trade integration can be an engine of growth.”

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Latin America: What’s Ahead in 2012?


By Nicolás Eyzaguirre

(Version in Español, Português)

A few days after the first sunrise of 2012 kissed the shores of Latin America, it is natural to ask: What does the New Year hold for the region’s economies, especially with Europe still under stress?

For sure, a dimmer economic environment, here and abroad. Growth has softened in the larger countries of the region. Looking North, the United States is growing a bit more, but elsewhere activity is softening, including in China—an increasingly important customer for the region’s commodities.

Perhaps more importantly, global financial markets are still strained, because many questions about advanced economies remain unanswered:    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

Africa’s New Janus-Like Trade Posture


By Antoinette M. Sayeh

It wasn’t all that long ago when virtually all of sub-Saharan Africa’s exports were destined for Europe and North America.

But the winds of Africa’s trade have shifted over the past decade. There has been a massive reorientation towards other developing countries, in particular China and India.

Like Janus, the Roman god, Africa’s trade is now, as it were, facing both east and west.

Our latest Regional Economic Outlook for sub-Saharan Africa looks closely at these developments and its policy implications.

In addition to the well-known gains from international trade, Africa’s trade reorientation is also beneficial because it has broadened the region’s export base and linked Africa more strongly to rapidly growing parts of the global economy. These changes will help reduce the volatility of exports and improve prospects for robust economic growth in Africa.

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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

Capital Flows to the Final Frontier


By Antoinette M. Sayeh

(Version in Français)

Sub-Saharan Africa’s “frontier markets”—the likes of Ghana, Kenya, Mauritius, and Zambia—were seemingly the destination of choice for an increasing amount of capital flows before the global financial crisis. Improving economic prospects in these countries was a big factor, but frankly, so too was a global economy awash with liquidity.

Then the crisis hit. And capital—particularly in the form of portfolio flows—was quick to flee these countries as was the case for so many other economies.

Fast forward to 2011. Capital flows are coming back to the frontier, but in dribs and drabs. Continue reading

To Owe or Be Owned—Depends on How You Tax It


By Ruud de Mooij

In February, President Obama said “Companies are taxed heavily for making investments with equity; yet the tax code actually pays companies to invest using leverage”. And he is right: the corporate tax code in the United States creates a significant bias toward debt finance over equity.

Of course, the U.S. is not unique. In most of Europe, Asia and elsewhere in the world, the tax advantages of debt finance are even bigger than in the U.S.

The crux of the issue is that interest paid on borrowing can be deducted from the corporate tax bill, while returns paid on equity—dividends and capital gains—cannot.

The debt distortion is not new. What is new, however, is that we have come to realize that excessive debt (or leverage) is much more costly than we have always thought. Continue reading

Seven Pillars of Prosperity—Diversifying Economic Growth in the Caucasus and Central Asia


By David Owen

(Version in Русский)

Medium-term economic growth prospects in the Caucasus and Central Asia region are strong. But, to secure ongoing prosperity, the eight countries of the region—Armenia, Azerbaijan, Georgia, Kazakhstan, the Kyrgyz Republic, Tajikistan, Turkmenistan, and Uzbekistan—will need to look beyond traditional sources of growth.

The challenge for policymakers will be to foster new and more diverse growth drivers, outside mining, oil, and gas.

There are seven policy pillars that can help them do that: Continue reading

Confessions of a Dismal Scientist—Africa’s Resilience


By Abebe Aemro Selassie

(Version in Français)

Like many economists, I tend to fear the worst. I have witnessed phenomenal changes for the better in sub-Saharan Africa over the past 20 odd years. Part of me still worries that this trajectory will not endure. But, the more I see of the region’s economic performance and outlook, the more I’m changing my tune.

Old anxieties set aside

Until my latest source for anxiety took hold a few months ago (more on this in a moment), I’d worried about the impact of the global financial crisis on sub-Saharan Africa. The crisis hit just as many countries in the region were starting to enjoy a hard-earned period of economic growth, their best since at least the 1970s. I did not want this to be derailed by the crisis. Continue reading

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