Tackling Inequality in sub-Saharan Africa Could Yield Mileage on Growth

Antoinette Sayehby Antoinette Sayeh

(Versions in Français and Português)

Rising inequality is both a moral and economic issue that has implications for the general health of the global economy, and impacts prosperity and growth.

So it’s not surprising that reducing inequality is an integral part of the Sustainable Development Goals  adopted by world leaders at the United Nations summit in September. I often discuss with my colleagues where sub-Saharan Africa stands with respect to these objectives. Unfortunately, the region remains one of the most unequal in the world, on par with Latin America (see Chart 1). In fact, inequality seems markedly higher at all levels of income in the region than elsewhere (see Chart 2).

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The Promise of Islamic Finance: Further Inclusion with Stability

By Mohamed Norat, Marco Pinon and Zeine Zeidane

(Versions in عربي)

Since the global financial crisis, policymakers have sought to press the “reset” button to strengthen financial intermediation that is performed by conventional banks and non-bank financial institutions. The aim has been to address the fault lines that helped trigger one of the most devastating financial crises in a century, and to enable a more inclusive, stable financial system that promotes stability as well as economic development and growth.

Islamic finance offers several features that are consistent with these objectives. Islamic finance refers to financial services that conform with Islamic jurisprudence, or Shari’ah, which bans interest, speculation, gambling and short-sales; requires fair treatment; and institutes sanctity of contracts. And these principles hold the promise of supporting financial stability, since a key tenet of Islamic finance is that lenders should share in both the risks and rewards of the projects and loans they finance. 

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Portfolio Investment in Emerging Markets: More Than Just Ebb and Flow

Evan PapageorgioBy Evan Papageorgiou

When the U.S. Federal Reserve first mentioned in 2013 the prospect of a cutback in its bond buying program, markets had a “taper tantrum.” Many emerging markets saw large increases in volatility, even though outflows from their domestic markets were small and short-lived. Now the Fed has ended its bond buying and is looking ahead to rate hikes, and portfolio flows continue to arrive at the shores of emerging market economies. So everything’s fine, right? Not quite.

In our latest Global Financial Stability Report, we show that the large concentration of advanced economy capital invested in emerging markets acts as a conduit of shocks from the former to the latter.

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Now Is a Good Time to Invest in Infrastructure

By Abdul Abiad, Davide Furceri, and Petia Topalova

Infrastructure is the backbone of well-functioning economies. Unfortunately, that backbone is becoming increasingly brittle in a number of advanced economies. For example, there has been a decline in the overall quality of infrastructure in the United States and Germany (Figure 1; see the FT 2014 and ASCE 2013 for more in infrastructure in the U.S., and Der Speigel 2014 and Kunert and Link 2013 for Germany). In many emerging market and developing economies, the expansion of the backbone has not kept pace with the broader economy, and this is stunting the ability of these economies to grow.

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Taper Tantrum or Tedium: How U.S. Interest Rates Affect Financial Markets in Emerging Economies

By Alexander Klemm, Andre Meier, and Sebastián Sosa

(Version in Español)

Governments in most emerging economies, including in Latin America, have reduced their exposure to U.S. interest rates over the past decade, by issuing a greater share of public debt in domestic currencies.

Even so, sudden changes in U.S. interest rates still have the power to roil financial markets in emerging economies. Witness last year’s “taper tantrum”—when the Fed hinted at the possibility of tapering its bond purchases sooner than previously expected, causing bond yields to rise sharply. Continue reading

Public Finances Are on the Mend, but No Clean Bill of Health

By Sanjeev Gupta and Martine Guerguil

(Version in Español FrançaisРусский中文, and 日本語)

We’ve had a spate of good news on the economic front recently. Does this mean that we are finally out of the fiscal woods? According to our most recent Fiscal Monitor report, not yet, as public debt remains high and the recovery uneven.

First, the good news. The average deficit in advanced economies has halved since the 2009 peak. The average debt ratio is stabilizing. Growth is strengthening in the United States and making a comeback in the euro area, and should benefit from the slower pace of consolidation this year. Emerging markets and developing countries have maintained their resilience, in part thanks to the policy buffers accumulated in the pre-crisis period. Talks of tapering in the United States have left a few of them shaken, but not (quite) stirred.

But there is still some way to go. The average debt ratio in advanced economies, although edging down, sits at historic peaks, and we project it will still remain above 100 percent of GDP by 2019 (Chart 1). The recovery is still vulnerable to several downside risks, including those stemming from the lack of clear policy plans in some major economies. The recent bouts of financial turmoil have raised concerns that the anticipated tightening of global liquidity could expose emerging markets and low-income countries to shifts in investor sentiment and more demanding debt dynamics.

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If China Sneezes, Africa Can Now Catch a Cold

By Paulo Drummond and Estelle Xue Liu

(Version in  中文)

Growing links with China have supported economic growth in sub-Saharan Africa. But the burgeoning commercial and financial ties between the developing subcontinent and the world’s second-biggest economy carry risks as well. These links also expose sub-Saharan African countries to potentially negative spillovers from China if the Asian giant’s growth slows or the composition of its demand changes.

The old aphorism “If America sneezes, the world catches a cold” referred to the U.S. economy’s role as a locomotive for the global economy, but it can now apply to any symbiotic relationship between a dominant economy and its clients. China has become a major development partner of sub-Saharan Africa. It is now the subcontinent’s largest single trading partner and a key investor and provider of aid.

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