U.S. Monetary Policy: Avoiding Dark Corners

By Ali Alichi, Douglas Laxton, Jarkko Turunen, and Hou Wang

Copyright : © fStop Images GmbH / AlamyA few weeks ago, the Fund suggested that the Federal Reserve could defer its first increase in the policy rate until it sees greater signs of wage or price inflation, with a gradual increase in the federal funds rate thereafter. Such a monetary policy strategy could help avoid the “dark corners” in which, as Olivier Blanchard has argued, small shocks can have potentially large effects. In this blog and accompanying working paper, we expand upon this idea. We also outline the potential benefits of an expanded communications toolkit.

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Cross-Country Analysis of Housing Finance and Real Estate Booms

By Eugenio Cerutti, Jihad Dagher, and Giovanni Dell’Ariccia

Housing finance—considered one of the villains of the recent global financial crisis—was seen, at least until recently, as a vehicle for economic growth and social stability.  Broader access to housing finance promotes home ownership, especially for younger and poorer households; which in turn is often linked to social stability, and ultimately economic growth.

But real-estate boom episodes have often ended in busts with dire economic consequences, especially when the boom was financed through fast credit growth.  Several countries have seen these boom-bust patterns over the last decade, particularly in some of the hardest hit countries during the global financial crises, such as Ireland, Spain, and the United States. Despite having different mortgage market structures, these three countries saw an astonishing increase in house prices and construction on the back of risky lending which was followed by a painful adjustment period—a mortgage credit boom gone bad.

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U.S. Economy Returning to Growth, but With Pockets of Vulnerability

2014MDNEW_04By Christine Lagarde 

IMF staff have just concluded their annual health check of the U.S. economy, and released their concluding statement.

This year we have also undertaken a Financial Sector Assessment Program with the United States. We conduct these once every 5 years for systemically important countries and it is a comprehensive exercise looking at the whole U.S. financial system.

Given this important work, we have focused our review of the U.S. economy on financial stability risks and the appropriate policies to mitigate them, as well as looking at recent movements in the U.S. dollar and the timing, form, and impact of interest rate normalization by the Fed.

A more detailed report on the U.S. economy and on the financial sector will be available on July 8.

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Flash Crashes and Swiss Francs: Market Liquidity Takes a Holiday


By José Viñals

Financial market liquidity can be fleeting. The ability to trade in assets of any size, at any time and to find a ready buyer is not a given.  As discussed in some detail last fall in this blog, a number of factors, including the evolving structure of financial markets and some regulations appear to have pushed liquidity into a new realm: markets look susceptible to episodes of high price volatility where liquidity suddenly vanishes.

In our April 2015 Global Financial Stability Report we identify a new aspect to the problem:  asset price correlations have risen sharply in the last five years across all major asset classes (see figure). Continue reading

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).


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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