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Central Banks, Financial Regulators, and the Quest for Financial Stability: 2011 IMF Annual Research Conference
The global financial crisis gave economists pause for thought about what should be the future of macroeconomic policy. We have devoted much of our thinking to this issue these past three years, including how the many policy instruments work together. The interactions between monetary and macroprudential policies, in particular, remain hotly debated. This topic goes to the core of central banks’ mandates, and their role in achieving macroeconomic and financial stability. While the financial crisis triggered a fundamental rethinking of these issues, much research—both conceptual and empirical—remains to be done. I hope this year’s IMF Annual Research Conference will contribute to expanding the frontier of knowledge on this topic.
Capital flows emerging Asia should be high on the ‘watch list’ for policymakers in the region. But, perhaps, not in the way we had previously anticipated. Twelve months ago we were keenly attuned to the risks posed by the foreign capital that flooded into Asia from mid-2009 onwards. Now, what we’re seeing is not really all that “exceptional.” With the recent surge, net overall capital flows to emerging have not surpassed the peaks reached in past episodes of large inflows to the region. Of course, that’s not to say it's all blue skies. The nature of inflows is different this time—dominated by portfolio flows—and that poses new challenges and risks for policymakers.
Sub-Saharan Africa’s “frontier markets”—the likes of Ghana, Kenya, Mauritius, and Zambia—were seemingly the destination of choice for an increasing amount of capital flows before the global financial crisis. Improving economic prospects in these countries was a big factor, but frankly, so too was a global economy awash with liquidity. Then the crisis hit. And capital—particularly in the form of portfolio flows—was quick to flee these countries as was the case for so many other economies. Fast forward to 2011. Capital flows are coming back to the frontier, but in dribs and drabs. In our recent Regional Economic Outlook we examined the experience of sub-Saharan Africa’s frontier markets, with a view to understanding how they can best make use of these inflow to meet their own development and growth objectives.
Asia’s vigorous pace of growth has seen the region play a leading role in the global recovery. But there are signs that higher commodity prices are spilling over to a more generalized increase in inflation. Expectations of future inflation have picked up. And accommodative macroeconomic policy stances, coupled with limited slack in some economies, have added to inflation pressures. Against this backdrop, the need for policy tightening in Asia has become more pressing than it was six months ago, especially in economies that face generalized inflation pressures. How should policymakers address these challenges?
For a decade or more, we at the IMF have grappled with the idea that very large capital flows into successful emerging market countries were almost inevitable and would prove extremely difficult to manage. Since these topics were first broached at a theoretical level, we have witnessed developments in a number of emerging economies in Europe that reinforce the concerns and underscore the implications for policy. Two lessons may be learned from the experience. First, the choice between fixed and flexible exchange rates is important, but perhaps not for reasons that are usually put forward. Second, monetary policy—and policy to stabilize the economy more generally—needs substantial reinforcement.
In various guises, the “Year of Living Dangerously” has been used to describe the global financial crisis, the policy response to the crisis, and its aftermath. But, we’ve slipped well beyond a year and the financial system is still flirting with danger. Financial stability risks may have eased, reflecting improvements in the economic outlook and continuing accommodative policies. But those supportive policies—while necessary to restart the economy—have also masked serious, underlying financial vulnerabilities that need to be addressed as quickly as possible. Many advanced economies are “living dangerously” because the legacy of high debt burdens is weighing on economic activity and balance sheets, keeping risks to financial stability elevated. At the same time, many emerging market countries risk overheating and the build-up of financial imbalances—in the context of rapid credit growth, increasing asset prices, and strong and volatile capital inflows. Here is our suggested roadmap for policymakers to address these vulnerabilities and risks, and achieve durable financial stability.
The world economic recovery is gaining strength, but it remains unbalanced. Earlier fears of a double dip recession—which we did not share—have not materialized. And, although rising commodity prices conjure the specter of 1970s-style stagflation, they appear unlikely to derail the recovery. However, the unbalanced recovery confronts policy makers with difficult choices. In most advanced economies, output is still far below potential. Low growth implies that unemployment will remain high for many years to come. And the problems in Europe’s periphery are particularly acute. On the other end of the spectrum, emerging market countries must avoid overheating in the face of closing output gaps and higher capital flows. The need for careful design of macroeconomic policies at the national level, and coordination at the global level, may be as important today as they were at the peak of the crisis two years ago.
When the global financial system was thrown into crisis, many policymakers were shocked to discover a gaping hole in their policy toolkit. They have since made significant progress in developing macroprudential policy measures aimed at containing system-wide risks in the financial sector. Yet progress has been uneven. Greater efforts are needed to transform this policy patchwork into an effective crisis prevention toolkit. Given the enormous economic and human cost of the recent financial debacle, we cannot afford to miss this opportunity for substantial reform. We need further collective efforts to fill the policy black hole. It is our best chance of avoiding future crises.
The near collapse of the financial system that set off the global crisis was due in part to financial institutions suddenly lacking access to funding markets, and liquidity drying-up across securities markets. Financial institutions did not factor in how their own responses to a liquidity shortfall could make the entire system shut down. But, it only takes a few institutions to pull the plug on a liquidity-filled bathtub before it runs dry, and the central bank needs to open the spigots again. The key then is to make sure that firms have less incentive to pull the plug. To do that, in the latest Global Financial Stability Report, we have come up with a way to measure how much an individual financial institution contributes to system-wide liquidity risk.