Resolving Residential Mortgage Distress: Time to Modify


By Jochen Andritzky

(Versions in Español)

In housing crises, high mortgage debt can feed a vicious circle of falling housing prices and economic slowdown. As a result, more households default on their mortgages and the crisis deepens.  A new IMF Working Paper studies the differences in the housing crises and policy responses in Iceland, Ireland, Spain, and the United States, and argues that crisis policies geared to provide temporary debt service relief for struggling households, followed by durable loan modifications, can help break this vicious circle.

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Down But Not Out


Jeff Hayden altBy Jeff Hayden

We drew our inspiration for Finance & Development‘s cover from Diego Rivera’s Detroit Industry murals at the Detroit Institute of Arts. Rivera, a Mexican artist, was commissioned in 1932 to paint the 27-panel visual epic as a tribute to the city’s assembly-line workers, scientists, doctors, secretaries, and laborers, many of whom were struggling at the time to keep their jobs amid the devastation of the Great Depression.

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Fiscal Arrangements in Federations: Four Lessons for Europe


Martine GuerguilBy Martine Guerguil 

Does the European Union need closer fiscal integration, and in particular a stronger fiscal center, to become more resilient to economic shocks? A new IMF book, Designing a European Fiscal Union: Lessons from the Experience of Fiscal Federations, published by Routledge, examines the experience of 13 federal states to help inform the debate on this issue. It analyzes in detail their practices in devolving responsibilities from the subnational to the central level, compares them to those of the European Union, and draws lessons for a possible future fiscal union in Europe.

The book sets out to answer three sets of questions: (1) What is the role of centralized fiscal policies in federations, and hence the size, features, and functions of the central budget? (2) What institutional arrangements are used to coordinate fiscal policy between the federal and subnational levels? (3) What are the links between federal and subnational debt, and how have subnational financing crises been handled, when they occurred?

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Investment in the Euro Area: Why Has It Been So Weak?


By Bergljot Bjørnson BarkbuS. Pelin Berkmen, and Hanni Schölermann

Investment in the euro area, and particularly private investment, has not recovered since the onset of the global financial crisis.

In fact, the decline in investment has been much more drastic than in other financial crises; and is more in line with the most severe of these crises (see Chart 1). The October 2014 World Economic Outlook showed that many governments cut investment because their finances became strained during the crisis. In addition, housing investment collapsed in some countries, reflecting a natural scaling back after an unsustainable boom. But what is holding back private non-residential investment?

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Battling Global Unemployment: Too Soon to Declare Victory


Prakash LounganiBy Prakash Loungani

(Version in Français and Español)

Seven years after the onset of the Great Recession, the global unemployment rate has returned to its pre-crisis level: the jobless rate fell to 5.6% in 2014; essentially the same as in 2007, the year before the recession (chart 1, left panel).

Global Unemployment 1

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Housing Bubbles: An Ounce of Prevention is Worth a Pound of Cure


By Kevin Fletcher and Peter Kunzel

The main features of boom-bust cycles in housing markets are by now all too familiar.

During booms, conditions such as lax lending standards and low interest rates help drive up house prices and with them mortgage debt.

When the bust arrives, over-indebted households find themselves underwater on their mortgages— owing more than their homes are worth.

Feeling the pinch of reduced wealth and access to credit, households, in turn, rein in consumption. At the same time, lower house prices cause investment in new houses to tumble.

Together, these forces significantly depress output and increase unemployment. Non-performing loans increase, and banks respond by tightening credit and lending standards, further depressing house prices and adding to the vicious cycle.

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Challenges Ahead: Managing Spillovers


By Olivier Blanchard, Luc Laeven, and Esteban Vesperoni

The last five years have been a reminder of the importance of interconnections and risks in the global economy. They have triggered intense discussions on the optimal way to combine fiscal, monetary, and financial policies to deal with spillovers, and on the need and the scope for coordination of such policies.

The IMF’s 15th Jacques Polak Annual Research Conference, which took place in Washington DC on November 13 and 14, 2014, focused on Cross-Border Spillovers, and took stock of what we know and do not know.  The summary below picks and chooses some papers, and does not do justice to the full set of papers presented and discussed at the conference.  They can all be downloaded, and videos of each session are available, at www.imf.org/external/np/res/seminars/2014/arc.

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