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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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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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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Regional Spillovers in South America: How “Systemic” is Brazil?


By Gustavo Adler and Sebastián Sosa

(Version in Español)

The risks that policies and shocks in major economies can spillover on other countries and regions have become a matter of renewed concern since the global crisis of 2008–09. Brazil is South America’s giant; how important is its influence on neighboring countries?

Brazil accounts for 60 percent of South America’s output and its economic fluctuations are closely correlated with those of many of its neighboring countries. This would appear to suggest that economic activity in Brazil’s neighbors is strongly influenced by Brazil’s business cycle.

But these close comovements could also reflect common global factors that affect all South American countries similarly, such as commodity prices, international financial conditions, and global demand.

Our latest Regional Economic Outlook: Western Hemisphere examines this question, quantifying the importance of spillovers from Brazil to the rest of South America.

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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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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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Latin America—Taking the Helm


By Christine Lagarde

Managing Director of the International Monetary Fund

(Version in Español)

The eyes of the world are locked on Europe these days. This is understandable. After all, the storm in the euro area casts a long shadow over the entire global economy.

But the IMF has 187 members, and my job is to serve each and every one of them as effectively as possible. For this reason, I am making it a point to visit the different regions of the world—to discuss, to listen, to learn.

This week, I am visiting three important countries in Latin America—Brazil, Mexico, and Peru—a trip coinciding with the transfer of leadership in the Group of 20 to Mexico. Like so many in the region, these countries have done remarkably well over the past few years. They have harvested the fruits of strong fundamentals, sound policy frameworks, and prudent macroeconomic policies and are now enjoying sustained growth with reduced vulnerabilities—an enviable sweet spot.

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Why Did Latin America Do Better in This Crisis? The Benefits of Being Prepared


By Nicolás Eyzaguirre

(Version en español)

Although this time the external shocks were very strong in this year of global crisis, the Latin American and Caribbean (LAC) region has performed notably better than in the past, and also better than many other emerging market countries.

This improvement can be attributed to the fact that the region faced the crisis equipped with economic policy frameworks that were more solid and credible than in the past, and with smaller financial, external, and fiscal vulnerabilities. This allowed a number of countries of the region to implement countercyclical monetary and fiscal policies.

Figure 1 shows a measure of the benefits that this better preparation has brought. It compares the fall in average growth of GDP actually observed in Brazil, Chile, Colombia, Mexico, and Peru (solid line) with our best estimate of the decline that would have occurred if their policy frameworks and vulnerabilities had not been changed (dashed line). The estimates here suggest that these countries were able to “save” about 4 percentage points of GDP during the crisis, thanks to their better preparations for confronting external shocks.

Eyzaguirre1021Ch1

Figure 2 shows that various countries of the region had the room or “space” to apply countercyclical fiscal and monetary policies during this crisis. The figure depicts changes in interest rates (vertical axis) and in fiscal deficits (horizontal axis) for each country of the LAC region, where the colors group countries according to certain general characteristics and the diameter of the circles represent the relative size of each economy.

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