Making the Most of Bad Situations


By Hugh Bredenkamp

Governments in low-income countries are having to deal with a lot of bad news these days. Slow growth in the advanced economies is dampening demand for their exports and affecting inflows of investment, aid, and remittances. Changes in credit conditions elsewhere influence the availability of trade finance. Volatility in commodity prices creates problems for both importers and exporters. Meanwhile, climactic and other natural disasters continue to occur at the local and regional level.

For low-income countries, the impact of these problems can be especially damaging. A surge in food prices can undo years of poverty reduction. A collapse in the price of a key export commodity can throw many people out of work and cause tax revenues to slip, just when expenditures on public services are needed most. For the poorest countries, events elsewhere can quickly affect employment, inflation, the budget, debt, and the balance of payments.

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U.S. Housing and Labor Pains—Central America and the Caribbean Feeling the Pinch Too


By Evridiki Tsounta

(Version in Español)

If housing and labor market woes aren’t bad enough in the United States, they’re hurting Central America and the Caribbean too.

It has been five years since the U.S. housing bubble burst and three years since the onset of the global financial crisis. And still, in the world’s largest economy—which in the past quickly and vigorously recovered from downturns—jobs and output are barely growing. In fact, output is just 1.6 percent higher than a year ago, and almost 14 million people remain unemployed.

True, some of this lackluster economic performance reflects global factors, particularly the uncertainty surrounding the lingering European crisis, but also temporary factors related to the Japanese earthquake. However, on the domestic front, fragile household balance sheets and stubbornly high unemployment have been major factors impeding growth. This latter development is having negative spillovers on many Central American and Caribbean countries, where remittances and tourism flows from workers in the United States are important for their economies (see our most recent Regional Economic Outlook for Western Hemisphere).

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Reviving Credit Growth in the Caucasus and Central Asia: What Can Policymakers Do?


By Masood Ahmed

The global financial crisis has led to mounting stress in the banking systems of most countries in the Caucasus and Central Asia. Private sector credit growth has slowed sharply and even turned negative in real terms in a number of countries, compared with the dramatic increases, ranging from 40 to 80 percent in the period immediately prior to the crisis. The credit slowdown is weighing on economic activity and having policymakers seek ways to restore it, thereby laying the foundation for a resumption in high and sustainable economic growth.

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The Commodity Connection: Rising Commodity Prices and the Outlook for Latin America and the Caribbean


By Nicolás Eyzaguirre

(Version en español)

As the world economy emerges from recession, it’s worth thinking about how the composition of this recovery, in terms of which countries expand faster, will affect commodity prices—and how those prices influence the outlook for economies of the Latin American and Caribbean (LAC) region.

Commodity prices usually follow a pattern of sizable declines in episodes of world recession, followed by some degree of recovery—and the current episode is no exception (Figure 1).

But within that pattern, what is notable is that this time the recovery of global activity is uneven, with emerging Asian countries already taking the lead, while the most advanced economies are recovering more slowly. Because the former countries consume relatively more commodities, this uneven composition of global growth is a key reason for the recovery recently seen in commodity prices, and for thinking that this will continue.

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This pattern of commodity prices’ being sensitive to the condition of Asian economies is not new: the crisis in East Asia in the late 1990s sent commodity prices down, even while the advanced economies maintained growth. And in the early 1990s, when advanced economies had a downturn that was not shared by other countries, commodity prices avoided a big decline.

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Unlocking Central Asia’s Huge Potential


By Masood Ahmed

The IMF has just finished its Annual Meetings in Istanbul, the traditional start of the old silk road and the gateway to Central Asia. 

Strategically located between East Asia and Europe, and South Asia and Russia, Central Asia is rich in resources and faces tremendous opportunities—yet to be made the most of. Since the outset of their transition to a market economy, the countries of the region have made visible progress toward decentralizing their economies, creating market institutions, expanding international links, and intensifying efforts to diversify and increase production and trade. 

As a result—and owing also to sound macroeconomic management, high commodity prices, and strong foreign inflows—this landlocked region, the size of the European Union and home to 60 million people, enjoyed near double-digit growth on average during 2001–07. 

Oil wells in Baku, Azerbaijan: With global energy demand increasing again, Central Asia's energy exporters should see growth rates increase in 2010 (photo: David Mdzinarishvili /Reuters)

Oil wells in Baku, Azerbaijan: With global energy demand increasing again, Central Asia's energy exporters should see growth rates increase in 2010 (photo: David Mdzinarishvili /Reuters)

But, as elsewhere in the world, the global economic crisis has taken a toll on Central Asia, with average growth for the region as a whole sinking from 5.7 percent in 2008 to 1.2 percent in 2009. Nevertheless, this average masks important differences across countries. 

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