The Ties That Bond Us: What Demand For Government Debt Can Tell Us About the Risks Ahead


by Serkan Arslanalp and Takahiro Tsuda

It’s not news that emerging markets can be vulnerable to bouts of market volatility. Investors often pull sudden stops—they stop buying or start selling off their holdings of government bonds.

But what has become apparent in recent years is that advanced economy government bond markets can also experience investor outflows, and associated runs. At the same time, some traditional and new safe haven countries have seen their borrowing costs drop to historic lows as they experience rising inflows from foreign investors.

Our new research shows that advanced economies’ exposure to refinancing risk and changes in government borrowing costs depend mainly on who is holding the bonds— the demand side for government debt.

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Tough Political Decisions Needed to Fix the Financial System


   By José Viñals

(Versions in عربي,  中文EspañolFrançaisРусский)

It was fitting that I should present our latest assessment of global financial stability in Sao Paulo, the financial center of one of the leading emerging economies. In common with many of its peers in Latin America, Brazil is recovering strongly from the crisis. But new financial stability challenges are emerging in this, and other fast-growing regions.

Let me start with three key messages:

  •  First, financial risks have increased since April.
  • Second, as a result, policymakers in both advanced and emerging economies need to step up their efforts to preserve financial stability and safeguard the recovery.
  • And third, we have entered into a new phase of the crisis – a political phase- when tough political decisions will need to be made, because the window for substantial policy action is closing. Time is of the essence.  Continue reading

Government Bonds: No Longer a World Without Risk


By José Viñals

The risk free nature of government bonds, one of the cornerstones of the global financial system, has come into question as the global crisis unfolds.

One thing is now very clear: government bonds are no longer the risk-free assets they once were. This carries far reaching implications for policymakers, central bankers, debt managers, and how the demand and supply sides of government bond markets function.

After a recent IMF conference on a new approach to government risk, I’d like to highlight three key aspects: Continue reading

The Long and the Short of It—Government Debt Plans in 2011 and Beyond


By Carlo Cottarelli

(Version in Español)

As we said in the just-published Fiscal Monitor update, fiscal policy this year in some leading advanced economies is shaping up to be quite different from what was expected just last November.

The United States and Japan are delaying their earlier plans to reduce their public deficits, choosing instead to provide further support to their economies. The change in plans is even more remarkable if you look at the cyclically adjusted balance. You can see this in the charts. Some of the change in the fiscal stance with respect to our earlier projections is attributable to the somewhat better than projected fiscal results in 2010, a point to which I will return in a moment. Most of it, however, is due to additional stimulus measures introduced during the last two months. These two countries need to strengthen their fiscal adjustment credentials by detailing the measures they will adopt to lower deficits and debt over the medium term. Continue reading

Time Waits for No Man: How to Secure Financial Stability in 2011


By José Viñals

(Version in Español | 中文 | Français | 日本語 | Русский | عربي )

This morning, I presented our latest views on global financial stability in Johannesburg, South Africa.

So, where does the global financial system stand at the moment? Yes, we have witnessed improvements recently, but we are also observing a dichotomy between the economy and the financial system. While the global economic recovery has been continuing, financial stability is still at risk, because of a persistent lack of investor confidence in some advanced country sovereigns and their banking systems.

At this cross-roads, we see three key messages. Continue reading

End the Credit Rating Addiction


By John Kiff

One of the earliest take aways from the global financial crisis was the importance of access to information for effectively functioning financial markets. And, in that regard, credit ratings can serve an incredibly useful role in global and domestic financial markets—in theory.

In practice, credit ratings have inadvertently contributed to financial instability—in financial markets during the recent global crisis and more recently with regard to sovereign debt. To be fair, the problem does not lie entirely with the ratings themselves, but with overreliance on ratings by both borrowers and creditors.

In one of the background papers for the Fall 2010 Global Financial Stability Report that I prepared with IMF colleagues, we recommend that regulators should reduce their reliance on credit ratings. Markets need to end their addiction to credit ratings. Continue reading

Watch This (Fiscal) Space: Assessing Room for Fiscal Maneuver in Advanced Countries


By Jonathan D. Ostry

Public debt sustainability in most advanced economies used to be a non-issue, or at most a back-burner one. A couple years back, if the topic came up, most people associated it with developing or emerging market countries. Defaults, rising sovereign risk premia, getting shut out from capital markets were, let’s face it, not really imagined to be possibilities for advanced economies. Of course there were fiscal challenges, demographic pressures being the obvious one, but these were issues for the long term, not the here and now.

But today, fiscal problems are a key concern of policy makers in many industrial countries, and a reassessment of sovereign risk is a palpable threat to global recovery. While the financial crisis may be a convenient scapegoat for the debt blowout in the advanced countries, blame lies elsewhere, in how fiscal policy was managed before the great recession, not during it. And, more sobering still, taming public debt will require steadfast policy efforts over the medium term: quick fixes will not do the trick.

What is the worry? At the heart of the issue is the extent to which governments have room for fiscal maneuver—“fiscal space”—before markets force them to tighten policies sharply and, relatedly, the size of adjustments needed to restore or maintain public debt sustainability.

Yet, surprisingly, much of the talk about fiscal space—how to measure it and the policy implications—has so far been rather fuzzy. A new staff position note, which I co-authored with several IMF colleagues, aims to remedy this, providing an operational definition of the fiscal space concept as well as empirical estimates of available fiscal space for 23 advanced economies.

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