As I step down from my position as Director of the IMF’s Western Hemisphere Department, I would like to share some reflections on one of the central issues facing many countries—adjustment under fixed exchange rates. It goes without saying that these reflect a personal and not an institutional view. In the old days, fixed exchange rates were the norm rather than the exception. A body of literature and a wealth of country experience have accumulated on how to adjust under such exchange rate regimes, mostly in emerging economies. The expression “adjustment and financing” came to summarize what economies should do when faced with severe funding constraints brought on by high borrowing costs for government debt in financial markets.
Most of Latin America stands out from much of the rest of the world—not for great economic performance, but for good performance in a subpar environment. Growth is generally solid, despite a slowdown late last year owing to policy tightening and global volatility. Under our baseline scenario, we expect regional growth to moderate to near 3¾ percent in 2012, down from 4½ percent last year (but modestly up from our January projections).
Clearly, global uncertainties have weighed on Latin America, but most economies are nevertheless growing close to potential and operating near full capacity, as shown by record low unemployment in many economies. Demand and credit growth have moderated, but continue to expand briskly, in some countries supported by public financial institutions. Overall, Latin America stands out as a relatively bright spot in a gloomy world scene.
A few days after the first sunrise of 2012 kissed the shores of Latin America, it is natural to ask: What does the New Year hold for the region’s economies, especially with Europe still under stress? For sure, a dimmer economic environment, here and abroad. Growth has softened in the larger countries of the region. Looking North, the United States is growing a bit more, but elsewhere activity is softening, including in China—an increasingly important customer for the region’s commodities. Perhaps more importantly, global financial markets are still strained, because many questions about advanced economies remain unanswered. What should countries do in the face of this risky outlook? A lot depends on their current macroeconomic situation.
Latin America and the Caribbean During the Global Crisis: Better than the Past, Better than Other Regions
In contrast to what happened in past episodes of world recession, this time the fall in growth of the Latin American and Caribbean (LAC) region has not exceeded that of the world economy. In fact, the performance of the region has been as good as, or better than, many other emerging market economies.