Giant steps: The IMF's global recovery blueprint


The quest for lasting financial stability is still fraught with risks. The latest Global Financial Stability Report has two key messages: policy actions have brought gains to global financial stability since our September report; but current policy efforts are not enough to achieve lasting stability, both in Europe and some other advanced economies, in particular the United States and Japan.

Much has been done.

In recent months, important and unprecedented policy steps have been taken to quell the crisis in the euro area. At the national level, stronger policies are being put in place in Italy and Spain; a new agreement has been reached on Greece; and Ireland and Portugal are making good progress in implementing their respective programs. Importantly, the European Central Bank’s decisive actions have supported bank liquidity and eased funding strains, while banks are reinforcing their capital positions under the guidance of the European Banking Authority. Finally, steps have been taken to enhance economic governance, promote fiscal discipline, and buttress the 'firewall' at the euro area level.

These actions and policies have brought much-needed relief to financial markets since the peak of the crisis late last year.

But it is too soon to say that we have exited the crisis because lasting stability is not yet ensured. Indeed, we have been reminded in recent weeks that sentiment can quickly shift and rekindle sovereign financing stress, leaving many sovereigns and banking systems caught in a vicious circle.

Furthermore, pressures on European banks remain from high rollover requirements, weak growth, along with the need to strengthen balance sheets, including by shrinking. Some deleveraging is healthy – when banks increase capital, cut non-core activities, and reduce reliance on wholesale funding that results in more robust balance sheets.

But like Goldilocks, the amount, pace, and location of deleveraging must be just right at the aggregate level – not too large, too fast, or too concentrated in one region or country.

So far current policies have prevented a generalised "credit crunch”, but we still anticipate a considerable squeeze on credit which will impede growth. We estimate that large European Union-based banks could shrink their combined balance sheet by as much as $2.6 trillion – or about 7 per cent of their total assets – by the end of 2013, with about a quarter of that shrinkage leading to a cutback in lending. Overall, we estimate that deleveraging by EU banks could reduce the supply of credit in the euro area by about 1.7 per cent over two years.

However, if current policy commitments are not implemented and financial stresses intensify, the downside risk of a large-scale and synchronised deleveraging could do serious damage to asset prices, credit supply, and economic activity in Europe and beyond. In this scenario, we estimate that large EU banks could shed a total of $3.8 trillion, or 10 per cent, of their total assets by the end of 2013. Such a retrenchment by EU banks could reduce euro area credit supply by 4.4 per cent; and GDP could fall by 1.4 per cent from the baseline after two years.

Outside the euro area, the region most affected by the deleveraging process is emerging Europe. And other emerging markets are unlikely to remain immune. While emerging markets generally have substantial policy buffers, such an external shock could combine with homegrown vulnerabilities and further undermine global stability.

Unaddressed fiscal challenges in the United States and Japan represent latent risks to global stability. Both countries have yet to forge a much-needed political consensus for medium-term deficit reductions. The United States is also grappling with high household debt burdens and an overhang of home foreclosures.

So how can we achieve lasting financial stability?

In the euro area, policy steps are needed along several dimensions:

– To prevent the materialisation of downside risks, continued adjustment efforts are needed at the national level, especially by countries currently under strain. Those reform efforts are being bolstered by a financing backstop that has recently been strengthened. This euro area "firewall” should also be able to take direct stakes in banks in order to help break the adverse feedback loop between sovereigns and banks.

– To ensure an orderly process of bank deleveraging, close macroprudential oversight by European banking authorities of bank business plans is called for. And greater efforts are needed to restructure viable banks and resolve weak banks.

– To strive for better and more balanced growth, accommodative monetary policies need to be combined with a sufficiently gradual withdrawal of fiscal support in countries not subject to market pressures, and with structural policies to lift potential growth rates.

– To provide a vision of "more and better Europe”, a roadmap for a more integrated economic and monetary union should be laid out and committed to. This encompasses two key objectives: (i) a truly pan-European framework for bank supervision and resolution as well as deposit insurance; and (ii) greater ex-ante fiscal risk sharing, for example, through some central financing mechanisms. I am well aware that this will not be politically easy, nor immediately achievable. But a consensus needs to be forged now to help restore confidence.

Beyond Europe, it is essential to start addressing now the medium-term fiscal challenges in the United States and Japan. This should be accompanied by stronger efforts to address US household debt and accelerate housing market reforms.

Policymakers in emerging markets should not take stability for granted.Given the risks in advanced economies, policy room may need to be used to cushion external shocks and volatile capital flows. Homegrown vulnerabilities, like those linked to persistently rapid credit growth, need to be addressed to increase resilience.

None of these policies are easy and some are politically difficult. But I believe they are within reach. Let’s not miss this opportunity. Policy makers and politicians must act now and in close collaboration to end this crisis once and for all – this time must be different.

Jos Vials is financial counsellor anddirector of the IMF’s Monetary and Capital Markets department. This story first appeared on iMFdirect. Reproduced with permission.

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Maybe I'm missing something but this sounds very much like more of the same (Giant steps: The IMF's global recovery blueprint, April 20). And of course if we keep on doing what we have always done, expecting different outcomes, then we are nuts. This really does feel like lipstick on a pig.
And coming from the IMF, I think it's a bit like poacher turned gamekeeper for many countries.
Is there any likelihood, of China buying into EU banks? It is obvious, that China desires to gain, greater understanding, of international banking. It is also obvious that Chinese banks will not supply an understanding of international banking (Giant steps: The IMF's global recovery blueprint, April 21).
As the renimbi struggles to become a relevant currency, cash is leaving China in search of easier business models held by the west (especially in exchange trading).
So perhaps EU banks should prepare, for a large flow of Chinese capital.
Well Jose, a mechanism is needed whereby the less economically successful nations can authorise some adjustment measures to their interest rates to allow for some inflation to occur to correct imbalances in the exchange rates, etc, to enhance the nation's competitive position? (Giant steps: The IMF's global recovery blueprint, April 20.)
Why won't this bloke say it as it is? (Giant steps: The IMF's global recovery blueprint, April 20)
The Euro crisis occurred because governments borrowed more than they could afford, to fund ridiculous welfare entitlements, and when the banks they refused to regulate tanked, they had to borrow more without cutting spending. That a Greek worker with a life expectancy of 85 can retire at 54 on an indexed pension is insanity. The French are about to elect a president who wants to cut the retirement age to 60! And they can't pay their debts now. Why isn't this pundit writing a piece telling the French how dire their predicament is? The jargon riddled drivel in this piece shows the Euro focused IMF as the joke it has become.
The IMF will not save the financial world, far from it, they and their meddlesome ways guarantee they will contribute to the eventual failure of the global financial system, not that of fixing it (The IMF's global recovery blueprint, April 23).
Ask yourself this – where on earth is this extra 1 trillion war chest coming from. In reality it is just more debt conjured up by the west which they intend using to continue the failed game of smoke and mirrors. There will be no recovery. How does an alcoholic recover from persistent abuse ? That's right, he avoids the addicting stimulus of more alcohol and instead faces reality and chooses the path of sobriety. You do not give the poor bugger more of the same.
Q: So how do you fix a debt problem with more debt?
A: You can't, by doing so you only add to the problem.
The sooner we acknowledge that we are operating in a failed fiat money system where rampant unchecked credit growth is leading us to eventual collapse the better.
We need a global financial system reset. Out of the ashes will arise a system that demands honesty, accountability and a currency unit that can be counted on to be a store of wealth for future generations.
The current global casino is nothing more than a very sick joke!