Learning to Live with Cheaper Oil in the Middle East

masood-ahmedBy Masood Ahmed

(Version in عربي)

The steep decline in global oil prices, by 55 percent since last September, has changed the economic dynamics of oil exporters in the Middle East and North Africa. Our update of the Regional Economic Outlook, released yesterday, shows that these countries are now faced with large export and government revenue losses, which are expected to reach about $300 billion (21 percent of GDP) in the Gulf Cooperation Council and about $90 billion (10 percent of GDP) in other oil-exporting countries.

Where prices will eventually settle is, of course, uncertain, making it hard for policymakers to gauge how much of the bane is temporary in nature and what share of it they should expect to last.

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Unlocking Latin America’s Huge Potential

2014MDNEW_04By Christine Lagarde

(Versions in Español and Português)

I am looking forward to being in Peru this week to discuss economic and social developments with the government and a wide range of stakeholders—and also to follow up on the preparations for the next IMF–World Bank Annual Meetings, which will be held in Lima in October 2015. Later this week, I will participate in the Santiago Conference in Chile, where I will meet policymakers and influential representatives from Latin America and the Caribbean to discuss economic approaches to strengthen the entire region.

As I travel to the land of the Andes, I am reminded of the natural beauty of the region, the richness of its culture, and its incredible diversity. Despite its current challenges—growth continues to slow, as global economic and financial conditions are shifting and economies run up against capacity limits—I remain decidedly optimistic about the region’s potential to raise living standards while protecting its unique heritage and precious environment.

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Mind the Dragon: Latin America’s Exposure to China

By Bertrand Gruss and Fabiano Rodrigues Bastos 

(version in Español and Português)

China is still a distant and exotic country in the mind of many people in Latin America. Yet, with the Asian giant rapidly expanding its ties with the region (the share of exports going to China is now ten times larger than in 2000), their economic fates seem to be increasingly connected. And in fact, a sharper slowdown in China now represents one of the key risks Latin Americans should be worried about—and prepare for. So, what is at stake? How much do shocks to China matter for economies in Latin America?

In an earlier study presented in our April 2014 Regional Economic Outlook, we analyzed growth spillovers in a large model of the global economy, focusing on the link through commodity prices. Here, we complement that analysis by using a simple yet novel approach that exploits the reaction of financial markets to the release of economic data. We find that growth surprises in China have a significant effect on market views about Latin American economies.

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Europe’s Russian Connections

By Aasim M. Husain, Anna Ilyina and Li Zeng

(Version in Русский)

The conflict in Ukraine and the related imposition of sanctions against Russia signal an escalation of geopolitical tensions that is already being felt in the Russian financial markets (Chart 1). A deterioration in the conflict, with or even without a further escalation of sanctions and counter-sanctions, could have a substantial adverse impact on the Russian economy through direct and indirect (confidence) channels.

Chart 1

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What would be the repercussions for the rest of Europe if there were to be disruptions in trade or financial flows with Russia, or if economic growth in Russia were to take a sharp downturn? To understand which countries in Europe might be most affected, we looked at the broad channels by which they are connected to Russia—their trade, energy, investment, and financial ties. See also separate blog on Russia-Caucasus and Central Asia links.

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Links and Levers: How the Caucasus and Central Asia Are Tied to Russia

Alberto BeharBy Alberto Behar

(Version in Русский)

The countries of the Caucasus and Central Asia (CCA) are closely linked with Russia through trade, financial, and labor market channels. These ties have served the region well in recent years, helping it make significant economic gains when times were good. But how is the region affected when Russia’s economy slows down?

Underlying structural weaknesses have reduced Russia’s growth prospects for this year and over the medium term. Tensions emanating from developments in eastern Ukraine—including an escalation of fighting, the downing of Malaysian Airlines Flight 17, and new sanctions—have led to renewed market turbulence in Russian markets.

Experience has shown that lower growth in a large country can inflict significant collateral damage on neighboring countries with strong linkages of the type that the CCA has with Russia. (See also separate blog on Russia-Europe links.) We took a closer look at these connections to see how they transmit shocks, with particular attention to the impact on the region’s two main categories of economies—hydrocarbon importers and hydrocarbon exporters (see map).

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Banking on the Government

By Jesus Gonzalez-Garcia and Francesco Grigoli

(Version in Español)

Government ownership of banks is still common around the world, despite the large number of privatizations that took place over the past four decades as governments reduced their role in the economy. On average, state-owned banks hold 21 percent of the assets of the banking system worldwide. In Latin American and Caribbean countries, the public banks’ share is about 15 percent, with some of them showing very large shares, for instance, Argentina, Brazil, Uruguay, and Costa Rica are all over 40 percent (see Figure 1).

State-owned banks play an important role in the financial system. They fulfill functions that are not performed by private banks, provide financing for projects that benefit the rest of the economy, and provide countercyclical lending (lending more when the economy is weak). But public banks usually respond to the needs of governments owing to the state’s obvious involvement in their administration. As a result, government’s participation in the banking system may weaken fiscal discipline by allowing the public sector to access financing that they would not obtain from other sources.

In our recent study, we use a panel dataset for 123 countries to test whether a larger presence of state-owned banks in the banking system is associated with more credit to the public sector, larger fiscal deficits, higher public debt ratios, and the crowding out of credit to the private sector. 

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Building the Future: Jobs, Growth, and Fairness in the Arab World


2014MDNEW_04
By Christine Lagarde

(Version in عربي and Français)

Returning from Amman, where we just wrapped up a conference on the future of the Arab countries in transition, I am truly energized by the optimistic spirit that I encountered. Following on the heels of my visit to Morocco, it was an extraordinary couple of days of better understanding the people and the challenges they confront in this fascinating region.

Christine Lagarde, IMF Managing Director, speaks to Syrian refugee woman during visit to Syrian al-Za'atari refugee camp in Mafraq city

IMF Managing Director Christine Lagarde speaks to Syrian refugee women at al-Za'atari refugee camp in Mafraq, Jordan. Photo: Pool/Ali Jarekjiali Jarekji/AFP/Getty Images

I did not start my visit to Jordan in a conference room, but at the Za’atari refugee camp. It is now home—hopefully a temporary one—to over 100,000 Syrians who fled the bloody conflict in their country. I saw firsthand how these refugees cope under extraordinarily difficult circumstances—and how Jordan, the region, and the international
community are coming together. It is heartening to see how Jordanian hospitality and determined support from UN agencies and many other aid organizations are preventing a bad situation from becoming even worse. But more help is direly needed. We at the IMF are doing our own part, by flexibly supporting Jordan with a $2.1 billion loan. Continue reading “Building the Future: Jobs, Growth, and Fairness in the Arab World” »

From Rabat to Amman

2014MDNEW_04

By Christine Lagarde

(Version in عربي  and Français)

Earlier this week, the first stop on my Middle East and North Africa trip was Morocco, which displayed its legendary hospitality and kindness. Located at the crossroads of Africa, Europe, and the Middle East, the country holds so much promise as a dynamic hub for the region.

Morocco has remained a model of stability despite a challenging environment—the economic crisis in Europe, political transition in Arab countries, and more. Throughout all this, the economy has proved resilient, and serious reforms are under way. Continue reading “From Rabat to Amman” »

For Africa, Good Policies Bring Good Prospects

Antoinette SayehBy Antoinette M. Sayeh

(Version in Français)

Once again, the latest review of growth prospects for sub-Saharan Africa shows that the region’s economy is in strong health. Growth in the region is set to pick up to 5½ percent in 2014 compared to 4.9 percent last year (see Chart 1). My view is that this growth momentum will continue over the medium term if countries rise to new challenges and manage their economies as dexterously as they have over the past decade or so.

So what explains this continued strong growth performance? Apart from good macroeconomic policies in the region, the growth has been underpinned by investment in infrastructure, mining, and strong agricultural output. And favorable global tailwinds—high demand for commodities and low interest rates—have played a major supporting role.

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Arab Economic Transformation Amid Political Transitions

Masood Ahmed #2By Masood Ahmed

(version in عربي)

The International Monetary Fund released today a new paper entitled “Toward New Horizons—Arab Economic Transformation amid Political Transitions.”

The paper makes the case for the urgency of launching economic policy reforms, beyond short-term macroeconomic management, to support economic stability and stronger, job-creating economic growth in the Arab Countries in Transition—Egypt, Jordan, Libya, Morocco, Tunisia, and Yemen.

These countries face the risk of stagnation if reforms are delayed further.Economic conditions have deteriorated from transition-related disruptions, regional conflict, an unclear political outlook, eroding competitiveness, and a challenging external economic environment.

As economic realities fall behind peoples’ expectations, there is a risk of increased discontent. This could further complicate the political transitions, impairing governments’ mandates and planning horizons and, consequently, their ability to implement the policies necessary to catalyze the much-needed economic improvements.

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