Chart of the Week: Slowing Productivity: Why It Matters and What To Do

By IMFBlog

Output per worker and total factor productivity have slowed sharply over the past decade in most advanced economies and many emerging and developing countries.

Even before the global financial crisis, productivity growth showed signs of slowing in many advanced economies. But in the aftermath of the crisis, there was a further, abrupt deceleration. Continue reading “Chart of the Week: Slowing Productivity: Why It Matters and What To Do” »

A Strategy for Resolving Europe’s Problem Loans

By Shekhar Aiyar and Anna Ilyina

Problem loans are clogging the arteries of Europe’s banking system. The global financial crisis and subsequent recession have left businesses and households in many countries with debts that they cannot repay. Nonperforming loans as a share of total loans in the EU have more than doubled since 2009, reaching €1 trillion—over 9 percent of the region’s GDP—by end-2014.  These loans are particularly high in the southern part of the euro area, as well as in several Eastern and Southeastern European countries. Only a handful of countries have managed to lower their nonperforming loan ratio to below its post-crisis peak.

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The Key to Raising Business Investment: Keep Pushing the Accelerator

David Lipton By David Lipton 

Why have businesses in advanced economies not been investing more in machinery, equipment and plants? Business investment is the largest component of private investment, and its weakness has puzzled many of us.

Some believe that the key to more business investment is less uncertainty about fiscal policy, regulation, and structural reforms. Some believe that it is providing better financing, including for small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs).

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Growth Dividend from Stabilizing Fiscal Policies

Xavier DebrunBy Xavier Debrun 

(Versions in عربي中文, FrançaisРусский日本語and Español)

Anyone can easily picture an economy where instability, stagnation and runaway government deficits converge into a perfect storm. Yet the simple mirror image of stability, growth, and balanced budgets currently seems odd to many. And with monetary policy looking breathless, some even wonder whether sacrificing fiscal sanity for short-term growth might not be worth a try.

In any economic debate, looking at the data is always a good starting point. And the latest issue of the Fiscal Monitor does exactly that. Our study looks at the experience with fiscal stabilization during the past three decades in a broad sample of 85 advanced, emerging market, and developing economies. The message is loud and clear: governments can use fiscal policy to smooth fluctuations in economic activity, and this can lead to higher medium-term growth. This essentially means governments need to save in good times so that they can use the budget to stabilize output in bad times. In advanced economies, making fiscal policies more stabilizing could cut output volatility by about 15 percent, with a growth dividend of about 0.3 percentage point annually.

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Resolving Residential Mortgage Distress: Time to Modify

By Jochen Andritzky

(Versions in Español)

In housing crises, high mortgage debt can feed a vicious circle of falling housing prices and economic slowdown. As a result, more households default on their mortgages and the crisis deepens.  A new IMF Working Paper studies the differences in the housing crises and policy responses in Iceland, Ireland, Spain, and the United States, and argues that crisis policies geared to provide temporary debt service relief for struggling households, followed by durable loan modifications, can help break this vicious circle.

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More Jobs That Pay Decent Wages: How To Fight Poverty In The United States

Deniz IganBy Deniz Igan 

(Version in Español)

Something unusual happened this year. For the first time in almost ten years, a book by an economist made it to Amazon’s Top 10 list. Thomas Piketty’s Capital in the Twenty-First Century captured the attention of people from all walks of life because it echoed what an increasing number of Americans have been feeling: the rich keep getting richer and poverty in America is a mainstream problem. 

The numbers illustrate the troubling reality. According to the U.S. Census Bureau, 1 in 6 Americans—almost 50 million people—are living in poverty. Recent research documents that nearly 40 percent of American adults will spend at least one year in poverty by the time they reach 60. During 1968–2000, the risk was less than 20 percent. More devastatingly, 1 in 5 children currently live in poverty and, during their childhood, roughly 1 in 3 Americans will spend at least one year living below the poverty line.

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Pakistan: The Realities of Economic Reform

Jeffrey FranksBy Jeffrey Franks

(Version in اردو)

Following my most recent visit to Pakistan I noticed there seem to be many different and contradictory views about the government’s reform agenda supported by the IMF program. This piece addresses some of the key concerns on people’s minds.

1. The IMF dictated the content of the program.

The government mostly produced the policies supported in this program, which respond to key challenges facing Pakistan today.

The economic section of the PML-N party manifesto shows that most of the policies agreed with the IMF were actually those proposed by Prime Minister Sharif and his team before the elections, such as: fiscal consolidation, tax reform, measures to tackle the energy crisis, restructuring and privatizations of public sector enterprises, trade policy reforms, and steps to boost the investment climate.

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Hi-Fis and Low Gears: Manufacturing’s Bounce in the U.S.

Tim MahedyBy Tim Mahedy

(Version in Español)

It’s no secret that the manufacturing sector in the United States has been in decline for the past three decades. But a strong rebound in durable goods, such as cars and electronics, has helped revive the manufacturing sector and has supported the post-recession recovery.

As of early 2013, manufacturing output was only 4 percentage points below its pre-recession peak. Comparing across countries, the United States has performed more strongly than most of its G-7 counterparts, with the exception of Germany. Yet, the recovery in Germany has stagnated since mid-2011, while the U.S. recovery continues to gain steam.

Is this strong rebound in U.S. manufacturing here to stay, or just a temporary phenomenon?

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The Impact of the Gloomier Global Outlook on Latin America

The IMF has sharply marked down its forecast for world growth and it now expects a mild recession in the euro area. Naturally, weaker world growth will affect economic activity in Latin America and the Caribbean. Concretely, the Fund expects the world economy to grow by just 3¼ percent in 2012, ¾ percentage points lower than our September forecasts. In contrast, our forecast for the U.S. economy for 2012 is unchanged, as incoming data signal a stronger—but still sluggish—domestic recovery that will offset a weaker global environment. Commodity prices will be affected by ebbing global demand, with oil projected to fall about 5 percent and non-oil commodities about 14 percent.

Africa and the Global Economic Crisis: Weathering the Storm

By Antoinette Sayeh

Last week, my colleague Hugh Bredenkamp talked about how the IMF is helping the low-income countries overcome the global  economic crisis. This week, I want to follow this theme, but hone in more on sub-Saharan Africa. I know this region reasonably well, both from current and past vantage points. In my present role, I am the director of the IMF’s African department. Previously, I was minister of finance in Liberia and, before that, I spent a significant part of my long World Bank career working on African countries. Grappling with the kinds of economic challenges that affect the lives of millions of Africans is a passion for me.

In this first post, I want to talk about growth prospects for Africa. Let’s take a step backwards. Before the global recession, sub-Saharan Africa was generally booming. Output grew by about 6½ percent a year between 2002 and 2007—the highest rate in more than 30 years. This acceleration was broader than ever before, going beyond the typical short-lived commodity driven booms and touching many more countries. Hopes were high that the region was slowly but surely turning the corner.

Workers making footwear in Nigeria at a factory funded by Hong Kong investment. (photo: Qiu Jun/Xinhua)

Workers making footwear in Nigeria at a factory funded by Hong Kong investment. (photo: Qiu Jun/Xinhua)

Then, in a great reversal of fortune, the global economy went into a tail-spin. Initially, we hoped that the fallout in Africa would be limited. And, indeed, when the global financial tsunami made landfall, it first hit the relatively small number of countries with well-developed financial linkages to international capital markets. South Africa in particular faced difficult challenges as portfolio outflows spiked. Together with Ghana, Uganda and several other frontier markets, its currency plunged, confidence dipped, and foreign direct investment slowed.

But the impact didn’t stop there.  Falling export demand and commodity prices battered economic activity in many more countries, including oil exporters in western and central Africa, causing fiscal and external balances to deteriorate significantly. Remittances from the diaspora shrank and credit dried up. The result, in many countries, was stalled growth.

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