Act Local, Solve Global: The $5.3 Trillion Energy Subsidy Problem


By Benedict Clements and Vitor Gaspar

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

US$5.3 trillion; 6½ percent of global GDP—that is our latest reckoning of the cost of energy subsidies in 2015. These estimates are shocking. The figure likely exceeds government health spending across the world, estimated by the World Health Organization at 6 percent of global GDP, but for the different year of 2013. They correspond to one of the largest negative externality ever estimated. They have global relevance. And that’s not all: earlier work by the IMF also shows that these subsidies have adverse effects on economic efficiency, growth, and inequality.

What are energy subsidies

We define energy subsidies as the difference between what consumers pay for energy and its “true costs,” plus a country’s normal value added or sales  tax rate. These “true costs” of energy consumption include its supply costs and the damage that energy consumption inflicts on people and the environment. These damages, in turn, come from carbon emissions and hence global warming; the health effects of air pollution; and the effects on traffic congestion, traffic accidents, and road damage. Most of these externalities are borne by local populations, with the global warming component of energy subsidies  only a fourth of the total (Chart 1).

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Global Energy Subsidies Are Big—About US$5 Trillion Big


By Sanjeev Gupta and Michael Keen

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

In their blog, Ben Clements and Vitor Gaspar make the points that global energy subsidies are still very substantial, that there is a strong need for reform in many countries, and that now is a great time to do it. This blog sets out what we mean by “energy subsidies,” provides details on their estimation, and explains how they continue to be high despite the recent drop in international energy prices (Chart 1).

Slide1

Our latest update of global energy subsidies shows that “pre-tax” subsidies—which occur when people and businesses pay less than it costs to supply the energy—are smaller than a few years back. But “post-tax” subsidies—which add to pre-tax subsidies an amount that reflects the environmental, health and other damage that energy use causes and the benefit from favorable VAT or sales tax treatment—remain extremely high, and indeed are now well above our previous estimates.

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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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How Much Finance Is Too Much: Stability, Growth & Emerging Markets


By Ratna Sahay, Martin Čihák, and Papa N’Diaye 

The world still lives in the shadow of the global financial crisis that began in the United States in 2008.  The U.S. experience shone a spotlight on the dangers of financial systems that have grown exponentially and beyond traditional banks. It triggered a rethinking of the extent and speed of the expansion of a country’s financial sector, and raised questions about which policies promote a safe financial system.

In our new study, we emphasize that the most commonly used indicator—bank credit—is not sufficient to measure the size and scope of a country’s financial development. We create a comprehensive index for over 170 countries to answer several policy questions from the perspective of emerging markets.

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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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Close But Not There Yet: Getting to Full Employment in the United States


By Ravi Balakrishnan and Juan Solé

(Version in Español)

Last month’s report on U.S. jobs was disappointing, with far fewer jobs than expected added in March. A longer-term look at trends yields a different picture, however. Over the past year, U.S. job creation has been impressive. Payroll gains have averaged 260,000 per month—well above the 160,000 monthly average seen throughout the 2010–13 recovery.

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Financial Risks Rise Amid Uneven Global Economic Recovery


GFSR

By José Viñals

(Versions in عربي and Español)

The three main messages from this Global Financial Stability Report are:

  1. Risks to the global financial system have risen since October and have rotated to parts of the financial system where they are harder to assess and harder to address.
  2. Advanced economies need to enhance the traction of monetary policies to achieve their goals, while managing undesirable financial side effects of low interest rates.
  3. To withstand the global crosscurrents of lower oil prices, rising U.S. policy rates, and a stronger dollar, emerging markets must increase the resilience of their financial systems by addressing domestic vulnerabilities.

Let me now discuss these findings in detail. 

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