The Top Ten Blogs of 2014


by iMFdirect

As 2014 draws to a close, we thought you might like a look back at the most read blogs of the year.  These are the headlines and ideas that caught your eyes and the list is based on readership.  We thought we’d pull them all together for you in one quick read.

Wishing you a wonky & worldy 2015 from all of us at iMFdirect.

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Seven Questions About The Recent Oil Price Slump


By Rabah Arezki and Olivier Blanchard[1]

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

Oil prices have plunged recently, affecting everyone: producers, exporters, governments, and consumers.  Overall, we see this as a shot in the arm for the global economy. Bearing in mind that our simulations do not represent a forecast of the state of the global economy, we find a gain for world GDP between 0.3 and 0.7 percent in 2015, compared to a scenario without the drop in oil prices. There is however much more to this complex and evolving story. In this blog we examine the mechanics of the oil market now and in the future, the implications for various groups of countries as well as for financial stability, and how policymakers should address the impact on their economies.  

In summary: 

  • We find both supply and demand factors have played a role in the sharp price decline since June. Futures markets suggest that oil prices will rebound but remain below the level of recent years. There is however substantial uncertainty about the evolution of supply and demand factors as the story unfolds.
  • While no two countries will experience the drop in the same way, they share some common traits: oil importers among advanced economies, and even more so emerging markets, stand to benefit from higher household income, lower input costs, and improved external positions. Oil exporters will take in less revenue, and their budgets and external balances will be under pressure.
  • Risks to financial stability have increased, but remain limited. Currency pressures have so far been limited to a handful of oil exporting countries such as Russia, Nigeria, and Venezuela. Given global financial linkages, these developments demand increased vigilance all around.
  • Oil exporters will want to smooth out the adjustment by not curtailing fiscal spending abruptly. For those without savings funds and strong fiscal rules, budgetary and exchange rate pressures may, however, be significant. Without the right monetary policies, this could lead to higher inflation and further depreciation. 
  • The fall in oil prices provides an opportunity for many countries to decrease energy subsidies and use the savings toward more targeted transfers, and for some to increase energy taxes and lower other taxes.  
  • In the euro area and Japan, where demand is weak and conventional monetary policy has done most of what it can, central banks forward guidance is crucial to anchor medium term inflation expectations in the face of falling oil prices.

Again, our simulations of the impact of the oil price drop do not represent a forecast for the state of the world economy in 2015 and beyond. This we will do in the IMF’s next World Economic Outlook in January, where we will also look at many other cross-currents driving growth, inflation, global imbalances and financial stability. 

What follows is our attempt to answer seven key questions about the oil price decline:

  1. What are the respective roles of demand and supply factors?
  2. How persistent is this supply shift likely to be?
  3. What are the effects likely to be on the global economy?
  4. What are likely to be the effects on oil importers?
  5. What are likely to be the effects on oil exporters?
  6. What are the financial implications?
  7. What should be the policy response of oil importers and exporters?

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Less Red Tape, More Credit: How the Private Sector Can Flourish in the Middle East


Min ZhuBy Min Zhu

(Versions in عربي)

To almost all economists it is clear that the private sector is critically important in creating jobs and achieving strong growth. The public sector is already overburdened in most countries. But what is not clear is how to support the private sector for it to play this important role.

To shed some light on how to facilitate strong job creation and growth by the private sector in the Middle East and North Africa, we held a conference in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia, in December 2013, jointly with the Council of Saudi Chambers and the International Finance Corporation.

As the date of the conference approached, registrations kept increasing, and by the time we opened the conference, the registration numbers had skyrocketed to more than 800! I can think of no better sign of the importance of this topic for the people in this region.

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Building Bridges To The Future In The Gulf


Christine LagardeBy Christine Lagarde

(Versions in عربي)

Two days ago, I had the pleasure of visiting Kuwait, a member country of the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC). It was a whirlwind visit, with many places to see and people to meet, in a thriving corner of the global economy. Kuwait has extended to me its emblematic tradition of hospitality— a testament to its ancient and noble culture. I was awed by the magnificent artifacts of the al-Sabah collection, which I saw in the beautifully restored Dar al-Athar al-Islamiyyah cultural center.

Back to economics. The member countries of the council—Bahrain, Kuwait, Oman, Qatar, Saudi Arabia, and the United Arab Emirates—have some of world’s highest living standards. The region has also become a major destination for foreign workers and a source of remittances for their families back home. And it is a financial center and a hub for international trade and business services.

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Hope and Perseverance on Tunisia’s Demanding Road Ahead


By Christine Lagarde

(Version in عربي)

Tunisia, the spark that ignited the Arab Spring, was where I spent the past two days. I held official meetings with the new leaders of the country. They spoke about the Freedom and Dignity Revolution, as the Tunisians call it, and of their concerns to ensure a smooth transition to democracy and prosperity.

One year on, it is still extraordinary to think how this dramatic transformation by a grassroots movement has migrated to other countries across the Middle East and North Africa.

Alongside my official visits, I particularly enjoyed a lunch I had with a small group of women, entrepreneurs, professors, and youth activists who spoke passionately about their lives, their commitment, and their hopes for their country. Continue reading

Meeting the Employment Challenge in the GCC


By Masood Ahmed

(Version in عربي)

The issue of how to create more jobs is high on the minds of policymakers everywhere. The economies of the six Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) countries—Bahrain, Kuwait, Oman, Qatar, Saudi Arabia, and the United Arab Emirates—are no exception.

By many measures, these economies are doing very well. Abundant oil and gas reserves are producing large budget and external surpluses, growth is up, and considerable strides have been made on social indicators.

Yet, economic activity is dominated by the oil/gas sector and—given that many GCC countries have proven reserves of at least another 50–100 years at current rates of production—will remain so. However, that sector creates relatively few jobs directly—it employs less than 3 percent of the region’s labor force.

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Is There a Silver Lining to Sluggish Credit Growth in the Gulf Countries?


By Masood Ahmed

(Version in عربي )

Bank credit has been very slow to pickup in the six nations of the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC). How big a problem is this for their economic recovery?

Sluggish credit growth in the post-crisis period was hardly a unique development, as indicated in our latest Regional Economic Outlook. More than a dozen countries in the Middle East and Central Asia region, and countless more outside the region, shared this experience. But while there are clearer signs of recovery in some countries, credit to the private sector is still barely growing in the GCC, notwithstanding policy efforts to revive it.

It might seem easy to ring the alarm bells. After all, won’t the prospect of weak credit growth restrain economic activity in the short-term? Perhaps. But we believe the negative impact of credit growth may not be quite so severe.

Why not? In part, that answer lies in how we arrived at the current situation. Continue reading

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