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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Spring Meetings Redux!

DSC_7906By Sabina Bhatia

Washington is at its best in the spring. Green shoots pop out, daffodils and magnolias are in full bloom and the cherry blossoms cast a pink halo over the city. After a long, cold winter, there is hope everywhere.

And so it was with the 2015 Spring Meetings of the IMF and World Bank. Hope was in the air—would the global economy avoid the “new mediocre” from becoming the “new reality?” Would Greece reach agreement with its creditors? Would there be progress on IMF governance reform?

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Tolstoy & Billionaires: Overheard at the IMF’s Spring Meetings

By iMFdirect editors

All happy countries are alike; each unhappy country is unhappy in its own way.

This twist on Tolstoy’s Anna Karenina echoed through the seminars during the IMF’s Spring Meetings as most countries, while recovering, are struggling with the prospect of lower potential growth and the “new mediocre” becoming a “new reality.”

Our editors fanned out to cover what officials and civil society had to say about how to help countries pave their own path to happiness.

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Contours of Macroeconomic Policy in the Future

By Olivier Blanchard

Seven years since the onset of the global financial crisis, we are still assessing how the crisis should change our views about macroeconomic policy.  To take stock, the IMF organized two conferences, the first in 2011, the second in 2013, and published the proceedings in two books, titled "In the Wake of the Crisis" and "What Have We Learned?".

The time seems right for a third assessment. Research has continued, policies have been tried, and the debates have been intense.  But have we truly made much progress? Are we closer to a new framework?  To address these questions, Raghuram Rajan, Ken Rogoff, Larry Summers and I are organizing a third conference, "Rethinking Macro Policy III: Progress or Confusion?"  that will take place on April 15-16 at the IMF.

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The Elusive Quest for International Policy Cooperation

By Olivier Blanchard, Atish R. Ghosh, Mahvash S. Qureshi

As with previous crises, the global financial crisis has prompted greater calls for international policy cooperation, but it still remains very much like Nessie, the lovable Loch Ness monster: oft-discussed, seldom seen. To reflect on the obstacles to international policy cooperation, and how to make progress, the IMF recently hosted a panel discussion, Toward a More Cooperative International Monetary System: Perspectives from the Past, Prospects for the Future, with Maurice Obstfeld (CEA; University of Berkley), José Antonio Ocampo (Columbia University), Alexandre Swoboda (The Graduate Institute, Geneva), and Paul Volcker (Former Chairman, Federal Reserve).

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What’s not to love about free data

By iMFdirect

The IMF has released a new, free online data tool.

You can find all sorts of good stuff: from budget numbers to balance of payments data, debt statistics to critical global indicators.  Good data supports good policy choices. With reliable and timely economic data, people can identify turning points in the economy or see looming risks.

*Wonky Warning* The data platform provides greater dynamic data visualizations, which show development over time and interact with each other. It includes a richer library of statistical tools, such as forecasting, smoothing, and aggregation. The platform strengthens the narrative and analysis of any data and allows users to customize their data experience.

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Inclusive Growth=Stability

By iMFdirect

In the end, the case for job rich, inclusive growth is not economic, it’s political, according to Nobel prize-winning economist Michael Spence.

In this podcast with the IMF, Spence discusses the growing sense in many countries that it’s mostly the wealthy population who are reaping the benefits of economic development.

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What Happens to Public Health Spending in IMF-Supported Programs? Another Look

By Benedict Clements, Sanjeev Gupta, and Masahiro Nozaki

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

Improvements in health can have a tremendously positive effect on society’s well-being and the level of economic activity. Indeed, 2013’s path-breaking report by the Lancet Commission indicates that about 11 percent of the economic growth in recent decades can be attributed to these improvements. As such, it makes good sense for macroeconomists to pay attention to health indicators and to the factors that influence them, such as public health spending.

In this context, it is not surprising that the impact of IMF-supported programs on public health spending has generated considerable attention. Previous research, focusing on periods before the global financial crisis, indicates that Fund-supported programs have a positive effect on public health spending (Martin and Segura, 2004; Center for Global Development, 2007; Clements, Gupta and Nozaki, 2013). But does this pattern still hold if we extend the analysis to more recent years? In this blog, we take a fresh look at this evidence for developing economies.

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Monetary Policy Will Never Be the Same

WEOBy Olivier Blanchard

(Version in Español)

Two weeks ago, the IMF organized a major research conference, in honor of Stanley Fischer, on lessons from the crisis. Here is my take.   I shall focus on what I see as the lessons for monetary policy, but before I do this, let me mention two other important conclusions.

One, having your macro house in order pays off when there is an (external) crisis.  In contrast to previous episodes, wise fiscal policy before this crisis gave emerging market countries the room to pursue countercyclical fiscal policies during the crisis, and this made a substantial difference.

Second, after a financial crisis, it is essential to rapidly clean up and recapitalize the banks. This did not happen in Japan in the 1990s, and was costly.  But it did happen in the US in this crisis, and it helped the recovery.

Now let me now turn to monetary policy, and touch on three issues: the implications of the liquidity trap, the provision of liquidity, and the management of capital flows.

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