Foreign Help Wanted: Easing Japan’s Labor Shortages


By Giovanni Ganelli and Naoko Miake

(Version in 日本語)

Take a walk in Tokyo, and you will see the sign スタッフ募集中, or “Staff Wanted”, outside many restaurants and convenience stores. These businesses often find it impossible to recruit the workers they need. According to recent statistics, for each job seeker in Japan applying to work as a waiter, there are more than three available positions. Home helpers and long-term caregivers are equally in demand. If you want to work as a security guard, you can choose from around five openings, and for some positions in the construction business the job-to-applicant ratio is over six.

Japan’s labor shortages are the result of both a shrinking population—which limits the overall pool of workers—and skill mismatches. The reduced supply of labor is one of the factors bringing down medium-term potential growth, which the International Monetary Fund estimates at just 0.6 percent. Labor market shortages are also bad for short-term growth, because they reduce the effectiveness of the monetary and fiscal stimulus that the authorities are using to try to boost demand.

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From Windfall to Windmill: Harnessing Asia’s Dynamism for Latin America


By Andre Meier and Fabiano Rodrigues Bastos

(Versions in Español and Português)

Latin America’s recent economic fortunes highlight the region’s closer economic ties with Asia. China, in particular, has grown into a crucial source of demand for Latin American commodities over the past two decades, providing significant gains to the region. The flip side is that the ongoing structural slowdown of Chinese investment is weighing considerably on the prices of those commodities, and the countries that export them.

But Asia can be much more than just a source of episodic windfall gains (and losses) for Latin America. Like a windmill, Asia could help to power a stronger Latin American economy—by providing an example of successful regional trade integration and through greater direct links across the Pacific that benefit both sides. However, securing these benefits will require clear and realistic objectives, a long-term strategy, and attention to the political and social implications of greater economic integration. 

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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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Behind the News in Greece and China, Moderate Growth Continues


 By Olivier Blanchard

(Versions in Español and عربي)

Today we published the World Economic Outlook Update.

But first, let me talk about the elephant in the room, namely Greece.

The word elephant may not be right: As dramatic as the events in Greece are, Greece accounts for less than two percent of the Eurozone GDP, and less than one half of one percent of world GDP.
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Flash Crashes and Swiss Francs: Market Liquidity Takes a Holiday


GFSR

By José Viñals

Financial market liquidity can be fleeting. The ability to trade in assets of any size, at any time and to find a ready buyer is not a given.  As discussed in some detail last fall in this blog, a number of factors, including the evolving structure of financial markets and some regulations appear to have pushed liquidity into a new realm: markets look susceptible to episodes of high price volatility where liquidity suddenly vanishes.

In our April 2015 Global Financial Stability Report we identify a new aspect to the problem:  asset price correlations have risen sharply in the last five years across all major asset classes (see figure). Continue reading

Act Local, Solve Global: The $5.3 Trillion Energy Subsidy Problem


By Benedict Clements and Vitor Gaspar

(Versions in 中文, Français日本語Русский and Español)

US$5.3 trillion; 6½ percent of global GDP—that is our latest reckoning of the cost of energy subsidies in 2015. These estimates are shocking. The figure likely exceeds government health spending across the world, estimated by the World Health Organization at 6 percent of global GDP, but for the different year of 2013. They correspond to one of the largest negative externality ever estimated. They have global relevance. And that’s not all: earlier work by the IMF also shows that these subsidies have adverse effects on economic efficiency, growth, and inequality.

What are energy subsidies

We define energy subsidies as the difference between what consumers pay for energy and its “true costs,” plus a country’s normal value added or sales  tax rate. These “true costs” of energy consumption include its supply costs and the damage that energy consumption inflicts on people and the environment. These damages, in turn, come from carbon emissions and hence global warming; the health effects of air pollution; and the effects on traffic congestion, traffic accidents, and road damage. Most of these externalities are borne by local populations, with the global warming component of energy subsidies  only a fourth of the total (Chart 1).

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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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