Are Emerging Markets Still On the Receiving End?


By Aseel Almansour, Aqib Aslam, John Bluedorn and Rupa Duttagupta

(Version in  FrançaisРусский中文 and 日本語)

The recent slowdown in emerging market growth is fueling a growing mania across markets and policy circles. Some worry that a large part of their stellar pace of growth over the 2000s (Figure 1) was due to a favorable external environment—cheap credit and high commodity prices. And, therefore, as advanced economies gather momentum now and begin to normalize their interest rates, and commodity price gains begin to reverse, emerging market growth could slip further.

Others instead contend that internal or domestic factors have played a role, with improved standards of governance and genuine structural reforms and robust policies, driving a fundamental transformation in the sources of emerging market growth towards a lower yet more sustainable trajectory.

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The Trillion Dollar Question: Who Owns Emerging Market Government Debt


By Serkan Arslanalp and Takahiro Tsuda

(Version in EspañolFrançaisPortuguêsРусский中文 and 日本語)

There are a trillion reasons to care about who owns emerging market debt.  That’s how much money global investors have poured into in these government bonds in recent years —$1 trillion.  Who owns it, for how long and why it changes over time can shed light on the risks; a sudden reversal of money flowing out of a country can hurt.  Shifts in the investor base also can have implications for a government’s borrowing costs.

What investors do next is a big question for emerging markets, and our new analysis takes some of the guesswork out of who owns your debt.   The more you know your investors, the better you understand the potential risks and how to deal with them.

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The Outlook for Latin America and the Caribbean in 2014


Alejandro WernerBy Alejandro Werner

(Version in EspañolPortuguês)

Looking to the year ahead, how do we see the global economic landscape, and what will this mean for our region? This question is especially on people’s minds today, given the risks of deflation in advanced economies and of sustained turbulence in emerging markets.

Despite these risks, we expect that the region will grow a little faster than last year—increasing from 2.6 percent in 2013 to 3 percent in 2014. Stronger global demand is one part of the story, but not the whole story; volatility is likely to be a significant feature of the landscape ahead. And regional growth rates will still be in low gear compared to historical trends, and downside risks to growth remain. So, let’s start with the global scene.

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Fiscal Policy in Latin America: Prudence Today Means Prosperity Tomorrow


Alejandro WernerBy Alejandro Werner

(Versions Español and Português)

Public finances in most Latin American countries strengthened significantly before the global financial crisis. Since 2009, countries have generally increased public deficits, drawing down on their fiscal coffers.

These expansionary policies continue and are yet to be reversed. With further pressures likely to build over the period ahead—as economic growth has slowed, commodity prices have softened, and external funding costs are bound to rise—now is the right time to rethink fiscal policies across the region.

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Saving Latin America’s Unprecedented Income Windfall


by Gustavo Adler and Nicolás Magud

(Versions in Español and Português)

Commodity exporting countries in Latin America have benefited strongly from the commodity price boom that began around 2002. And the accompanying improvements in public and external balance sheets have fed a sense that this time the macroeconomic response to the terms-of-trade boom has been different (and more prudent) than in past episodes. But, has it?

In our recent work, we analyze the history of Latin America’s terms-of-trade booms during 1970–2012 and quantify the associated income windfall (i.e., the extra income arising from improved terms-of-trade). We also document saving patterns during these episodes and assess the extent of the “effort” to save the income windfall.

Our findings suggest that, although the additional income shock associated to the recent terms-of-trade boom is unprecedented in magnitude, the effort to save it has been lower than in past episodes.

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Latin American Firms: Keeping Corporate Vulnerabilities in Check


by María González-Miranda

(Version in Español)

Four years after the Lehman Brothers crisis, private companies in the largest and most financially integrated Latin American countries are doing relatively well, despite continuous bouts of global uncertainty. Like firms in other high-performing emerging markets in Asia, companies in Brazil, Chile, Colombia, Mexico, and Peru (the “LA5”) have benefited from abundant external financing, strong domestic credit, and generally robust demand growth.

These favorable conditions have resulted in robust corporate profitability and valuation, reasonably contained debt ratios, and lower short-term maturity exposures than those observed in other emerging markets.

But some vulnerabilities are starting to build up.

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Building on Latin America’s Success


Christine Lagarde

By Christine Lagarde

(Version in Español)

Next week, I will travel to Latin America—my second visit to the region since November 2011. I return with increased optimism, as much of Latin America continues its impressive transformation that started a decade ago.

The region remains resilient to the recent bouts in global volatility, and many countries continue to expand at a healthy pace. An increasing number of people are escaping the perils of poverty to join a growing and increasingly vibrant middle class.

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Policy Interest Rates in Latin America: Moving to Neutral?


By Nicolas Magud and Evridiki Tsounta 

(Version in Español)

Many Latin American countries have strengthened their monetary policy frameworks in recent years to keep the rate of inflation in check. Some of them have adopted an inflation target and use the policy interest rate as the main tool to achieve that target.

But how do central bankers know whether monetary policy is expansionary or contractionary? Policymakers would need to know how the current policy rate compares to a benchmark or neutral rate.

The neutral interest rate is the real interest rate consistent with the economy operating at full employment and stable inflation. If the economy is operating above its potential capacity and inflation is rising, policymakers should increase the policy interest rate above the neutral level to cool down the economy. Conversely, if the economy is operating below its full employment level, interest rates may need to be lowered below the neutral level.

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Latin America: Riding the Global Financial Waves


By Gustavo Adler and Camilo E. Tovar

(Version in Español)

Latin America has a long history of accidents that have occurred while navigating turbulent financial international waters. With risks looming over the world economy, should the region worry about new global financial waves?

Global financial markets have seen frequent bouts of severe stress since 2008, although this isn’t really anything new for the region. Global financial shocks have occurred on average every 2½ years since 1990, with significant effects on Latin America.

But how costly are these shocks in terms of domestic output, and is Latin America better placed to cope with them this time?

In Chapter 3 of the IMF’s latest Regional Economic Outlook: Western Hemisphere, we analyze whether changes in underlying fundamentals have made the region more or less vulnerable over time. The analysis, which complements our work on the effects of terms-of-trade shocks, looks at what country features and policies make a difference. We focus here solely on the impact of the financial shocks by isolating the effect from commodity prices and global demand shocks.

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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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