The U.S. Housing Market’s Road to Recovery


Jarkko TurunenBy Jarkko Turunen

(Version in Español)

A year ago, we were very concerned about lingering weakness in the U.S. housing market, which we saw as a major obstacle to the economic recovery.

But what a difference a year makes! As our latest report on the U.S. economy points out, the housing market recovery has been stronger than expected, and is providing a significant boost to private domestic demand and economic growth.

What has changed in the last 12 months? House prices have rebounded sharply and are currently about 7-12 percent above their level a year ago. Home sales increased by more than 15 percent over the same time period. Thanks to higher house prices and the positive effects of government housing finance programs, fewer homeowners are “underwater” (owe more on their mortgages than their houses are worth) or are behind on their mortgage payments, and fewer houses are entering foreclosure.

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Bridging the Gap: How Official Financing Can Ease the Pain of Adjustment


By Nicolás Eyzaguirre

After three and a half demanding and fulfilling years at the International Monetary Fund, I’ve had a chance to see, up close, countries trying to cope with the global economy in the same way a cook might operate a blender without the lid on—carefully, while creating as little mess as possible.

As I step down from my position as Director of the IMF’s Western Hemisphere Department, I would like to share some reflections on one of the central issues facing many countries—adjustment under fixed exchange rates.  It goes without saying that these reflect a personal and not an institutional view.

A lot of ink has been spent over the question of why you would lend money to a country trying to bring down its government debt and deficit. The answer is simple: to give the reforms needed to make economies competitive again time to kick in.

In the old days, fixed exchange rates were the norm rather than the exception. A body of literature and a wealth of country experience have accumulated on how to adjust under such exchange rate regimes, mostly in emerging economies. The expression “adjustment and financing” came to summarize what economies should do when faced with severe funding constraints brought on by high borrowing costs for government debt in financial markets.

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World Faces Weak Economic Recovery


By Olivier Blanchard

(Versions in  عربي中文EspañolFrançaisРусский日本語)

The global recovery continues, but the recovery is weak; indeed a bit weaker than we forecast in April.

In the Euro zone, growth is close to zero, reflecting positive but low growth in the core countries, and negative growth in most periphery countries.  In the United States, growth is positive, but too low to make a serious dent to unemployment.

Growth has also slowed in major emerging economies, from China to India and Brazil.

Downside risks, coming primarily from Europe, have increased.

Let me develop these themes in turn.

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Latin America: Vulnerabilities Under Construction?


By Luis Cubeddu, Camilo E. Tovar, and Evridiki Tsounta

(Version in Español)

Housing construction projects are sprouting up across much of Latin America and mortgage credit is also growing very fast. Does this sound familiar? It should!

Easy external financing conditions and high commodity prices have led to important improvements in living standards and credit deepening in many countries of the region over the past decade. The credit expansion has been particularly impressive in the mortgage sector, where legal reforms and government subsidies have also played a role.

Although mortgage credit in Latin American countries is relatively low by international standards —at just 7 percent of GDP versus over 20 percent in emerging Asia and over 65 percent in the United States—it has grown at an impressive annual average real rate of 14 percent since 2003, with Brazil leading the pack. Home prices have also risen sharply over this period, particularly in countries where mortgage credit has expanded the fastest (for more details see Chapter 5 in our latest Western Hemisphere Regional Economic Outlook).

So, are housing vulnerabilities emerging?

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How to Exit the Danger Zone: IMF Update on Global Financial Stability


By José Viñals

(Versions in  عربي, 中文, EspañolFrançaisРусский日本語)

Since September of last year, risks to global financial stability have deepened, notably in the euro area.

However, over the past few weeks, markets have been encouraged by measures to provide liquidity to banks and sovereigns in the euro area. This recent improvement should not be taken for granted, as some sovereign debt markets remain under stress, and as bank funding markets are on life support from the European Central Bank (ECB).

Main sources of risk

Many of the root causes of the euro area crisis still need to be addressed before the system is stabilized and returns to health. Until this is done, global financial stability is likely to remain well within the “danger zone,” where a misstep or failure to address underlying tensions could precipitate a global crisis with grave economic and financial consequences.

Despite the recent improvements, sovereign financing stress has increased for many countries—with almost two-thirds of outstanding euro area bonds at spreads in excess of 150 basis points—and financing prospects are challenging. Markets remain very volatile and long-term foreign investors have sharply reduced their exposure to a number of euro area debt markets, including some in the core. Keeping these investors involved is essential to stabilizing markets.

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Whack-A-Mole in China’s Bubbly Housing Market


By Nigel Chalk

(Version in 中文)

 It has gone out of fashion now but, not so long ago, there was a popular fairground attraction called Whack-A-Mole. Rascally moles would pop their cute little heads out of holes in the ground and your task was to use a giant rubber mallet to wallop the poor critters back from where they came. China’s bubbly housing market makes me think that this game could be ready for a comeback.

There’s a lot of talk these days of a bubble in China’s property market. Certainly there’s no shortage of super-sharp investors and analysts that have very strong (and very diverse) views—see what  James Chanos, Andy Rothman, and Nouriel Roubini have to say.

The China team at the IMF is regularly asked about this. The question crops up in many different guises: Is China’s property sector going to crash? What about all those empty apartments that have no one living in them? Have you seen the remarkable and pristine ghost towns in Ordos? Isn’t all this going to end badly? Continue reading

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