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).
You may hear a sigh of relief from emerging market watchers as we approach the end of the year. Yet, against the backdrop of a prolonged period of low interest rates in advanced economies, huge capital flows, and a slowdown in emerging market growth, 2015 promises to keep us all on our toes. Differences in the timing of exit from unconventional monetary policy in advanced economies will have a global impact. The IMF has been keeping a close eye on developments in emerging markets, providing analysis on issues such as how investors’ differentiate between emerging market countries, the impact of volatile markets, and the factors explaining the slowdown in growth.
In a recent paper, we take a look back at what happened before and during the tapering episode to draw out the key lessons for policymakers. Past experience is clear: decisions by major central banks can have sizable global spillovers. Announcements by the U.S. Federal Reserve, in particular, have been strongly correlated with asset price volatility and capital flows in emerging markets. With expectations of Fed tightening to begin in 2015, we think a better understanding of these events can better inform policymakers’ decisions.
The last five years have been a reminder of the importance of interconnections and risks in the global economy. They have triggered intense discussions on the optimal way to combine fiscal, monetary, and financial policies to deal with spillovers, and on the need and the scope for coordination of such policies.
The IMF’s 15th Jacques Polak Annual Research Conference, which took place in Washington DC on November 13 and 14, 2014, focused on Cross-Border Spillovers, and took stock of what we know and do not know. The summary below picks and chooses some papers, and does not do justice to the full set of papers presented and discussed at the conference. They can all be downloaded, and videos of each session are available, at www.imf.org/external/np/res/seminars/2014/arc.
The global crisis—which challenged paradigms about the functioning of financial markets and had significant consequences in other markets—and the sluggish recovery since 2009, are a reminder of the importance of understanding interconnections and risks in the global economy. The increasing trend in global trade, and even more significant, in cross-border financial activities, suggests that spillovers can take many different forms.
The understanding of transmission channels of spillovers has become essential, not only from an academic perspective, but also policymaking. The challenges faced by policy coordination after the initial response to the crisis in 2009—illustrated by the debate on the impact of unconventional monetary policy in emerging economies—raise wide ranging issues on fiscal, monetary, and financial policies.
(Version in Español)
Governments in most emerging economies, including in Latin America, have reduced their exposure to U.S. interest rates over the past decade, by issuing a greater share of public debt in domestic currencies.
Even so, sudden changes in U.S. interest rates still have the power to roil financial markets in emerging economies. Witness last year’s “taper tantrum”—when the Fed hinted at the possibility of tapering its bond purchases sooner than previously expected, causing bond yields to rise sharply. Continue reading “Taper Tantrum or Tedium: How U.S. Interest Rates Affect Financial Markets in Emerging Economies” »
Some basic realities seem to be getting lost in the debate over the Fed’s “exit” from unconventional monetary policy and its impact on Latin America.
First, the still-loose stance makes sense. U.S. inflation is too low, the output gap too large, and the labor market too weak. And even during tapering, the Fed’s stance will remain highly loose. The 10-year Treasury rate, adjusted for core inflation, is about 230 basis points below its 30-year average and the inflation-adjusted Fed funds rate is 320 basis points below. These rates are likely to remain below their 30-year average for at least the next two to three years.
A number of emerging market economies have been on a rollercoaster since the U.S. Federal Reserve announced last May the eventual tapering of its asset purchase program. This is another reminder of how susceptible these economies remain to economic conditions outside their borders.
Much of the market movements to date have been short term in nature. But emerging markets know the end-game – interest rates in advanced economies will eventually go up, reducing the cheap external financing they have benefited from until now. And this is not the only external factor weighing on the growth prospects of emerging markets.
(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.
By: John Simon
The winds may fell the massive oak, but bamboo, bent even to the ground, will spring upright after the passage of the storm.
- Japanese Proverb
Capital flows to emerging market economies are a source of particular and enduring concern to many policymakers. As seen in the 1997-98 Asian crisis, surging inflows can fuel excessive credit growth, expanded current account deficits, appreciated exchange rates and a loss of competitiveness—followed by painful adjustment when the inflows reverse. Countries often fight these buffeting winds with tight controls on exchange rates, capital flow management and aggressive interest rate movements. While these sometimes work, and are sometimes the best response to a crisis, all too often countries can find themselves felled by the wind like the massive oak.
In the most recent World Economic Outlook we discuss an approach to dealing with volatile international capital flows that emphasizes the soft and flexible response to capital flows rather than the hard and oak-like. Instead of trying to resist foreign inflows, countries can bend. We find that the countries that proved to be more resilient to the turbulent gusts of international capital flows were not necessarily those that controlled the inflows, but those where foreign inflows were balanced by offsetting resident outflows.
Latin America continues to be one of the fastest growing regions in the world, even though growth slowed down a bit in 2012. Many economies in the region are operating at or near potential, inflation remains generally low, and unemployment is at historically low levels.
In the near term, the region will continue to benefit from easy external financing and relatively high commodity prices. In our May 2013 Regional Economic Outlook, we project that the region will expand by about 3½ percent in 2013. In Brazil—the region’s largest economy—economic activity is strengthening, driven by improving external demand, measures to boost investment, and the impact of earlier policy easing. In the rest of Latin America, output growth is expected to remain near potential.