Global Crisis — Top Links from the IMF for Economics and Finance


Our top links for June, 2012 from iMFdirect blog and others:

Lessons from Latvia


By Olivier Blanchard

In 2008, Latvia was widely seen as an economic “basket case,” a textbook example of a boom turned to bust.

From 2005 to 2007, average annual growth had exceeded 10%, the current account deficit had increased to more than 20% of GDP.  By early 2008 however, the boom had come to an end, and, by the end of 2008, output was down by 10% from its peak, the fiscal deficit was shooting up, capital was leaving the country, and reserves were rapidly decreasing.

The treatment seemed straightforward: a sharp nominal depreciation, together with a steady fiscal consolidation.  The Latvian government however, wanted to keep its currency peg, partly because of a commitment to eventually enter the euro, partly because of the fear of immediate balance sheet effects of devaluation on domestic loans, 90% of them denominated in euros.  And it believed that credibility required strong frontloading of the fiscal adjustment.

Painful adjustment

Many, including me, believed that keeping the peg was likely to be a recipe for disaster, for a long and painful adjustment at best, or more likely, the eventual abandonment of the peg when failure became obvious.

Nevertheless, given the strong commitment of both Latvia and its European Union partners, the IMF went ahead with a program which kept the peg and included a strongly front-loaded fiscal adjustment.

Four years later, Latvia has one of the highest growth rates in Europe, the peg has held, and the fiscal and current accounts are close to balance.

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India’s Slowdown May Have a Silver Lining


By Roberto Guimarães and Laura Papi

The extent of the recent slowdown in India’s growth rate has surprised most India watchers even in the face of ongoing international financial market volatility, high and volatile oil prices, and the uneven global recovery.

GDP growth fell throughout 2011, from a high of 7.8 percent at the beginning of the year to 6.1 percent in the quarter ending in December. The slowdown in the economy has affected the industrial sector particularly hard and has extended to 2012 as shown by the 3.5 percent contraction (y/y) in March industrial production. For 2012/13, we at the IMF project that GDP growth is likely to be about 7 percent.

While India has been affected by the worldwide slowdown, many observers have started to question the inner strength of the Indian growth story.

By international standards 7 percent growth is still very robust, but it sometimes feels like underachievement for a country that was growing at more than 9 percent just a few years ago.

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Beyond the Austerity Debate: the Deficit Bias in the post-Bretton Woods Era


By Carlo Cottarelli

(Version in Español)

The austerity vs. growth debate has raged in recent months, pitting those who argue that fiscal policy should be tightened more aggressively now to bring down high levels of debt, even though economic growth remains weak, against those who want to postpone the adjustment to better times. This is a critical issue for policymakers, perhaps the most important one in the short run.

And yet, this debate—which, mea culpa, I have myself contributed to―is attracting too much attention.

This is bad for two reasons:

  • The debate is driven, to some degree, by ideology and is therefore more focused on the relatively limited areas of disagreement than on the far broader areas of agreement. Most economists would agree that fiscal consolidation is needed in advanced economies, and that the average annual pace of adjustment during 2011-12―about 1 percentage point―is neither too aggressive nor excessively slow. Most economists would also agree that countries under pressure from markets have to adjust at a faster pace, while those that do not face such constraints have more time. Of course, there is disagreement on some aspects of the fiscal strategy, but it relates to specific country cases.
  • The debate is detracting attention from policy issues that may seem less urgent, but which are nevertheless critical in the medium term. I am referring to what I would call the institutional gaps in fiscal policymaking that still exist in most advanced and emerging economies. These gaps have contributed to a bias in the conduct of fiscal policy in favor of deficits that is behind many of the current problems.

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Why the Arab World Needs an Economic Spring


By Nemat Shafik

(Version in عربي)

What strikes you on a trip to the Middle East is that everyone is talking politics—all of the time. That had been the case in countries like Lebanon where it is a national pastime, but it is a new phenomenon in countries across North Africa and the Gulf.

Constitutions are being rewritten, political parties and youth groups are vibrant, and everyone has an opinion on current events. The older generation seems worried by the uncertainty associated with change. The young generation continues to be energized.

Need for an economic rethink

But, what I noticed during a week of travel through the region is that almost no one is talking economics, and that is a worry. Because while 2011 was a year of major transitions in the political domain, almost every economic indicator in the non-oil countries went in the wrong direction. Growth halved, unemployment rose, reserves came under pressure and deficits ballooned as governments responded to social pressures by increasing spending on wages and generalized subsidies.

New governments across the region are keen to respond to the demand for jobs and justice that brought them to power but are quickly faced with the hard reality of limited resources and powerful vested interests.

So, just as the “Arab Spring” opened a debate about politics in the Middle East, we now need an “Economic Spring” on how to rethink the region’s economic future.

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Closer, Ever Closer


By Anoop Singh

(Version in 中文)

Here’s the good news: thanks to relatively strong fundamentals and good policies,  Asian economies have coped well with the global market turbulence of recent years. Now the bad: a major financial shock—say, of type ignited by the bankruptcy of U.S. investment bank Lehman Brothers in 2008—is likely to have a substantial impact on Asia.  The reason: Asia’s increasing financial interconnectedness.

Over the past two decades—in line with the region’s growing role in the global economy—Asia’s equity markets have become increasingly sensitive to global financial developments.   More specifically, we have discovered that equity returns in Asia generally now move in tandem with those in systemic economies.  (By systemic economies, we are talking here about those countries—such as the United States and the United Kingdom which are home to major, global, financial centers such as Wall Street and the City of London.)

How do we measure that degree of financial interconnectedness?  Or put another way, how do we measure the relationship—if any—between those Asian equity returns and the performance of systemic economies?

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Africa and the Great Recession: Changing Times


By Antoinette Sayeh

(Version in Français)

In previous global downturns, sub-Saharan Africa has usually been badly affected—but not this time around.

The world economy has experienced much dislocation since the onset of the global financial crisis in 2008. Output levels in many advanced economies still remain below pre-crisis levels, while unemployment levels have surged; growth in emerging market economies has slowed, but remains quite high.

But in sub-Saharan Africa, growth for the region as a whole has remained reasonably strong (around 5 percent), except for 2009 – where the decline in world output and associated shrinking of world trade pushed Africa’s growth down to below 3 percent.

Some better than others

Of course, sub-Saharan Africa is a diverse region, and not all economies have fared equally well. The more advanced economies in the region (notably South Africa) have close links to export markets in the advanced economies, and have experienced a sharper slowdown, and weaker recovery, than did the bulk of the region’s low-income economies.  Countries affected by civil strife (such as Cote d’Ivoire, and now Mali) and by drought have also fared less well than other economies in the region.

So why has most of sub-Saharan Africa continued to record solid growth against the backdrop of such a weak global economy?  And can we expect this solid growth performance to continue in the next few years?

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Arab Countries in Transition Under the Spotlight


By Masood Ahmed

(Version in عربي)

Historic transitions in several Arab countries are coming under increasing strain. Domestic uncertainty over the countries’ future course, compounded by the global slowdown and rising oil prices, took a toll on growth in 2011, and the current year will be equally challenging.

A joint and sustained effort is needed to help these countries navigate through this challenging period and set out an economic vision that is fair and inclusive.

Clear risks require strong resolve

The difficulties and challenges facing these countries were very much a focus of discussion during the recent 2012 IMF-World Bank Spring Meetings in Washington. The meetings brought together ministers and top officials from all over the world, with Middle East issues high on the agenda.

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Spring Is in the Air in Parts of Latin America


By Nicolás Eyzaguirre

(Version in Español)

Here in Washington D.C., Spring is showing its early signs, so we naturally feel a bit more upbeat. But spring comes in fits and starts—a day of sunshine, followed by cold rain, followed by sunshine again. So, we carry an umbrella on sunny days—but also have sunscreen ready.  It’s much the same for most of Latin America and the Caribbean, as we discuss in our Regional Economic Outlook for the Western Hemisphere. So, on a spring day, how do we see things?

Well, before explaining what I mean, let me start with a broad overview.

Most of Latin America stands out from much of the rest of the world—not for great economic performance, but for good performance in a subpar environment. Growth is generally solid, despite a slowdown late last year owing to policy tightening and global volatility. Under our baseline scenario, we expect regional growth to moderate to near 3¾ percent in 2012, down from 4½ percent last year (but modestly up from our January projections).

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Top Links from the IMF – Global and Regional Economic Analysis for April


The IMF and World Bank have just wrapped up their Spring Meetings for April, dominated by agreement on a huge boost to the anti-crisis firewall to prevent contagion in the event of another flare-up.

Here’s some of the highlights in our latest global and regional assessments:

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