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Great Recession and Not-So-Great Recovery

From the Financial Times:

This week’s IMF meetings in Washington lacked the sense of crisis which has characterised many such meetings since the crash in 2008. Although the official IMF growth forecasts were revised down slightly for 2013, mainly due to tighter fiscal policy in the US, the organisation also said that downside risks, relative to the central forecasts, had diminished since the October 2012 meetings.

These improved downside risks seem to have stemmed mainly from greater confidence in the financial system, reflecting the budget deal on the US fiscal cliff, and the actions of the ECB to reduce systemic threats to the euro. Global equity markets agree with this: they are up by 13 per cent since last autumn.

There is, however, a dangerous schism between the improvements in financial confidence and the marked lack of improvement in global GDP growth. On this latter problem, the Washington meetings were focused mainly on the weakness of the eurozone, with Christine Lagarde calling for “more investment” in Germany, greater steps towards banking union and bank recapitalisation, and ECB measures to deal with fragmentation in monetary conditions between the core and the periphery. The G20 statement refrained from setting any targets for public debt reduction, which suggests that Keynesian thinking is gaining ground in international policy circles.

The IMF and the US administration are as one on all this, but my impression is (confirmed here by Chris Giles) is that the gap between Washington and Berlin is wider than ever, especially on fiscal stimulus in Germany. There is a marked sense of frustration, but also of resignation, in Washington about the German approach. Plus ça change.

Abstracting from the details of policy in the coming months, it is important not to lose sight of the big picture for the world economy. This was well summarised in a special study on “The Great Divergence of Policies” in Chapter 1 of the IMF’s latestWorld Economic Outlook. Occasionally, a few simple graphs tell an important story:

In the graphs, the red lines represent the current cycle in the advanced economies, the blue lines represent the average of three earlier recessions (1975, 1982 and 1991), and the index numbers are centred on the year before the recessions started. An abnormally deep recession in 2008/09 has been followed by an abnormally weak recovery, so real GDP per capita is now 10 per cent below the levels indicated by previous cycles (Panel A).

Fiscal policy has been tightened everywhere to control public debt, which is much higher than “normal”, so real public spending is about 14 per cent below the cyclical norm (B). With fiscal policy tightening, the whole burden of supporting demand has fallen on monetary policy, so nominal interest rates have fallen to zero (C) and the central banks have resorted to sizeable increases in their balance sheets (D).

Questions About the Not-So-Great Recovery

This familiar story about the dramatic change in the global fiscal/monetary mix raises several questions about the Not-So-Great Recovery.

First, would the global recovery have been stronger if fiscal policy had tightened less rapidly than has actually occurred? Since the short term fiscal multiplier is almost certainly not zero, the answer to this question is clearly “yes”, but it is hard to ascribe the whole of the shortfall in GDP growth to this single factor.

If real government expenditure had performed as normal in this recovery, this would have resulted in spending being about 5 percentage points of GDP higher than it is now, so the fiscal multiplier would have needed to be about 2 in order to explain the whole of the 10 per cent growth shortfall. This seems implausibly high. Furthermore, monetary policy would have been tighter in such fiscal circumstances, and there would have been a somewhat greater (if still small) risk of fiscal crises in some economies. Therefore the Not-So-Great Recovery is not just a fiscal story.

Second, if fiscal policy is not the only factor at work, what else has been going on? Here the primary candidate is surely the collapse and subsequent malfunctioning of the banking system. Kenneth Rogoff and Carmen Reinhart, for all their arithmetical faults, warned that this would be the case, and it has been. Furthermore, the fact that the US repaired its banking system more rapidly than Europe probably explains a good part of the earlier recovery in US private spending in 2012/13. The US/Europe divergence on growth is often attributed entirely to the difference in fiscal policy between the two continents, which means that the difference in bank reform all too easily gets forgotten.

Third, if global fiscal policy is tightening and the European banking sector is still in deep trouble, can a continuation of balance sheet expansion by the central banks produce a stronger recovery? The IMF and its economists seem to be answering “yes” to this question, since they are forecasting much stronger global growth in 2014 and 2015.

But there must surely be severe doubts about this conclusion. Both the IMF and the major central banks are becoming concerned that quantitative easing is causing excessive risk taking in some financial assets, and it is doubtful whether the beneficial effect on the wider economy, via price expectations and aggregate demand, is as powerful as it was at the start.

Conclusion

The IMF’s conclusion is familiar enough: less fiscal tightening should take place in the US this year, along with longer term fiscal reform; root and branch restructuring and recapitalisation of the European banking sector is essential; and monetary accommodation is still needed because it is the only game in town. A familiar message, but this week there was little sign that any of the major policy-makers were listening.

From the Financial Times:

This week’s IMF meetings in Washington lacked the sense of crisis which has characterised many such meetings since the crash in 2008. Although the official IMF growth forecasts were revised down slightly for 2013, mainly due to tighter fiscal policy in the US, the organisation also said that downside risks, relative to the central forecasts, had diminished since the October 2012 meetings.

These improved downside risks seem to have stemmed mainly from greater confidence in the financial system,

Read the full article…

Posted by at 10:29 PM

Labels: Economic Forecast

Free to Spend, Developing Economies Recover Quicker

From the New York Times:

THIS has not been a good recovery for the wealthy countries. Growth has lagged, in part, because government spending has been far more restrained than in past recoveries from major recessions.

But developing economies have been free to increase government spending, and their economies are generally growing more rapidly than they did after past recessions.

The accompanying charts, based on data released this week by the International Monetary Fund in the semiannual World Economic Outlook, show the stark differences in performance.

At the top are charts comparing changes in real gross domestic product per capita in developing countries and advanced economies since 2008, including the fund’s forecasts for 2013 and 2014. In every year, the developed countries have lower growth. The monetary fund forecasts that this year the increase in the United States will be a paltry 1 percent, which at least is better than the forecast for the euro zone and Britain, where declines are expected.

A major reason for the slow recoveries is the absence of fiscal stimulus in much of the developed world. The middle charts show trends in government spending in advanced economies and in developing ones, comparing the trend during the current recovery to an average of the recoveries after three previous world downturns — in 1975, 1982 and 1991. In each case, the figures treat the year before the downturn as zero, and show how earlier and later years differed from that year.

In emerging markets, spending this time has been much stronger than in previous recoveries. But the opposite is true for developed countries, both as a group and for each of the four major regions — the United States, the euro zone, Britain and Japan — that are shown in separate charts.

Those changes reflect the determination to follow a path of austerity in much of the developed world. Many developing countries, having built up foreign exchange reserves in the years before the recession, do not need to follow that course.

The Great Recession brought a drop in world trade volumes that exceeded any decline since the Depression. But as the charts show, the percentage declines were a little less in developing countries than they were in developed countries. And since then, the recoveries have been far more impressive in the less developed countries.

In the euro zone, the total level of imports has still not recovered to 2007 levels, although the International Monetary Fund says it thinks that will happen in 2014. The same is true of exports from Japan, a country whose export prowess once seemed unmatched but lately has been running trade deficits.

Among the four developed regions shown, only the United States has experienced an export revival that is comparable to that of the average emerging market.

From the New York Times:

THIS has not been a good recovery for the wealthy countries. Growth has lagged, in part, because government spending has been far more restrained than in past recoveries from major recessions.

But developing economies have been free to increase government spending, and their economies are generally growing more rapidly than they did after past recessions.

The accompanying charts,

Read the full article…

Posted by at 2:54 PM

Labels: Economic Forecast

Krugman on why this global recovery is different

Krugman uses a graph from Box 1.1 of the WEO. Read the full box here.

Krugman uses a graph from Box 1.1 of the WEO. Read the full box here.

Read the full article…

Posted by at 11:42 AM

Labels: Economic Forecast

What Next for the Eurozone? Macroeconomic Policy and the Recession

Posted by at 11:01 AM

Labels: Unemployment

How the IMF became the friend who wants us to work less and drink more

From the Washington Post:

The International Monetary Fund has a reputation, hard earned over the decades, of being the annoying friend who is always telling you to be more responsible. Eat more vegetables! Put in more hours at the office! Do you really need that second glass of wine?

Similarly, it has historically been the IMF’s role to tell countries to behave themselves economically: Cut those deficits! Let’s see some tighter monetary policy! Do you really need such a generous public welfare system?

But something strange has changed in the world economy, which is evident in the Fund’s latest edition of the World Economic Outlook. The IMF is now among the strongest voices against excessive fiscal austerity and tight money.

The Fund is most direct in its prescriptions for Britain, which has had a stagnant economy for the past three years as deficit-reduction has gone into effect. Sure, the language is that ofinternational bureaucratese (“In the United Kingdom, where recovery is weak owing to lackluster demand, consideration should be given to greater near-term flexibility in the fiscal adjustment.”). But there is no mistaking the message: Hey, David Cameron! Slow down with the deficit reduction! 


Similarly, the Fund worries that the United States is reducing deficits too fast under the sequester spending cuts. “In the United States, the concern is that the budget sequester will lead to excessive consolidation,” says the WEO. Continue reading the Washington Post article here.

From the Washington Post:

The International Monetary Fund has a reputation, hard earned over the decades, of being the annoying friend who is always telling you to be more responsible. Eat more vegetables! Put in more hours at the office! Do you really need that second glass of wine?

Similarly, it has historically been the IMF’s role to tell countries to behave themselves economically: Cut those deficits! Let’s see some tighter monetary policy!

Read the full article…

Posted by at 10:03 AM

Labels: Economic Forecast

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