European Life Insurers: Unsustainable Business Model


By Reinout De Bock, Andrea Maechler, and Nobuyasu Sugimoto

(Versions in Français and deutsch)

Low interest rates in the euro area pose substantial challenges to the life insurance industry. Insurers—particularly in Germany and Sweden—offer their clients long-term policies, sometimes more than 30 years, without holding assets of a correspondingly long duration. Moreover, many policies contain generous return guarantees, which are unsustainable in today’s low interest rate environment.

In 2014, stress tests showed European life insurers are vulnerable to a “Japanese-like” scenario.

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Ten Take Aways from the “Rethinking Macro Policy: Progress or Confusion?”


blanchBy Olivier Blanchard

On April 15-16, the IMF organized the third conference on “Rethinking Macro Policy.

Here are my personal take aways.

1. What will be the “new normal”?  

I had asked the panelists to concentrate not on current policy challenges, but on challenges in the “new normal.” I had implicitly assumed that this new normal would be very much like the old normal, one of decent growth and positive equilibrium interest rates. The assumption was challenged at the conference.

On the one hand, Ken Rogoff argued that what we were in the adjustment phase of the “debt supercycle.” Such financial cycles, he argued, end up with debt overhang, which in turn slows down the recovery and requires low interest rates for some time to maintain sufficient demand.  Under that view, while it may take a while for the overhang to go away, more so in the Euro zone than in the United States, we should eventually return to something like the old normal.

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Fiscal Policy And Structural Reform


Vitor GasparBy Vitor Gaspar 

One of the big questions to emerge from the global financial crisis, especially in the euro area, is how to raise a country’s potential growth while restoring healthy public finances. For example, the euro area— despite some favorable news recently — faces marked-down growth prospects alongside high levels of public debt. The combination of high debt and tepid potential growth underscores the importance of improving prospects for sustained growth and safe and resilient public finances. A fundamental question then arises: what is the relation between fiscal consolidation and structural reform?

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Disinflation in EU Countries outside the Eurozone


By Plamen Iossifov and Jiri Podpiera

Inflation has been falling sharply across Europe since 2012 (see Charts 1 and 2). Across Central and Eastern Europe (CEE), inflation expectations have also drifted down especially among countries who peg their currencies to the euro (Bulgaria, Croatia, as well as Lithuania, which adopted the euro on January 1, 2015), but also in those that target their inflation rate (the Czech Republic, Hungary, Poland, and Romania).

The recent drop in world oil prices has re-ignited the debate about good vs. bad disinflation. For the euro area, risks from low inflation have been discussed in the March 2014 iMFdirect post. Our blog examines the causes and potential consequences of falling inflation from the perspective of EU countries outside the euro zone.

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Era of Benign Neglect of House Price Booms is Over


Min ZhuBy Min Zhu

(Versions in  عربيEspañol, 日本語中文, Français, and Русский)

House prices are inching up.  But is this a cause for much cheer?  Or are we watching the same movie again? Recall how after a decade-long boom, house prices started to fall in 2006, first in the United States and then elsewhere, contributing to the 2008-9 global financial crisis. In fact, our research indicates that boom-bust patterns in house prices preceded more than two-thirds of the recent 50 systemic banking crises. Real Estate Boom.Chart1

While a recovery in the housing market (Figure 1) is surely a welcome development, we need to guard against another unsustainable boom. Housing is an essential sector of every country’s economy and has systemic implications, which is why we at the IMF are focusing on it not only in individual countries but on a cross-country basis.

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What We Can Do To Improve Women’s Economic Opportunities


Christine LagardeBy Christine Lagarde

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

Today, I invite all of you to celebrate International Women’s Day. Let’s celebrate the incredible progress women have made over the past decades in different parts of society, playing a key role in economic life that our grandmothers worked for and dreamed about. Today, although men still dominate the executive suites in most professions, women all over the world hold high positions in the private sector and in public office. Women are no longer the Second Sex Simone de Beauvoir wrote about.

But far too many women face the most fundamental challenges: the right to safety and to choose the life they want.

Across the globe, fewer women than men are in paid employment, with only about 50 percent of working-age women participating in the labor force. In many countries, laws, regulations and social norms still constrain women’s possibilities to seek paid employment. And all over the world women conduct most of the work that remains unseen and unpaid, in the fields and in households.

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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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