Sluggish Business Investment in the Euro Area: The Roles of Small and Medium Enterprises and Debt

By John C. Bluedorn and Christian Ebeke

Small businesses could be the lifeblood of Europe’s economy, but their size and high debt are two of the factors holding back the investment recovery in the euro area. The solution partly lies in policies to help firms grow and reduce debt.

Our new study, part of the IMF’s annual economic health check of the euro area, takes a novel bottom-up look at the problem. We analyze the drivers of investment using a large dataset of over six million observations in eight euro area countries, from 2003 to 2013: Austria, Belgium, Germany, France, Finland, Italy, Portugal, and Spain. (more…)

The Specter of Risk in the Derivatives of Bond Mutual Funds

By Fabio Cortes

Current regulations only require U.S. and European bond mutual funds to disclose a limited amount of information about the risks they have taken using financial instruments called derivatives. This leaves investors and policymakers in the dark on a key issue for financial stability.  Our new research in the October 2015 Global Financial Stability Report looks at just how much is at stake.  (more…)

To Owe or Be Owned—Depends on How You Tax It

Corporate tax codes in the United States, most of Europe, Asia and elsewhere in the world, create a significant bias toward debt finance over equity. The crux of the issue is that interest paid on borrowing can be deducted from the corporate tax bill, while returns paid on equity—dividends and capital gains—cannot. This debt distortion is not new. What is new, however, is that we have come to realize that excessive debt (or leverage) is much more costly than we had. The global financial crisis was a stark lesson about the risks of excessive leverage ratios in financial institutions. Designing a better system will ultimately pay off. And now is the time for change. A recent IMF Staff Discussion Note offers two alternatives that reduce or eliminate the more favorable tax treatment of debt.

Observations on the Evolution of Economic Policies

It was a privilege to participate in the IMF conference devoted to rethinking policy frameworks in the wake of the crisis. Highly encouraging was the openness of the discussion, the range of views, the willingness to question orthodoxy, and the posture of humility. One gets the impression that the crisis triggered the response that it should. We have embarked on a path of rethinking conceptual frameworks and policy choices in a way that will contribute to the stability of the system. Returning to old patterns, while waiting for different or more complete models to be developed and tested, would be a risky mistake. Here, I offer five thoughts stimulated by the spirit of the conference, as a contribution to the broader discussion that we all hope might stimulate further research and policy analysis. And, ultimately, progress.

Toto, we’re not in Kansas anymore: Exploring the Contours of the Financial System After the Tornado

Just as a tornado in Kansas transplanted Dorothy and, her dog, Toto from familiar comforts to the unknown land of Oz, the global crisis has led many to wonder what has become of the global financial system and, more importantly, what will it look like next. Is the wicked witch of the West—excessive risk taking and leverage—really dead? Now, as the storm subsides, there is time to speculate about what the future financial sector might look like. Here, Laura Kodres blogs about a new Staff Position Note she co-authored with Aditya Narain that attempts to discern the contours of this new financial landscape.

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