Pension funds are rightly viewed as an important source of long-term capital in many countries. Following the global financial crisis of 2008, the theme of long-term investment and the role of institutional investors as providers of domestic capital for economic development has been high on policy makers’ agendas. Despite generally positive findings linking pension system development and economic growth, there are also plenty of disappointments. In too many countries, pension fund investments remain highly concentrated in bank deposits and traditional government bonds. This lack of diversification can be explained by many factors, for instance, unsupportive macro conditions, shortage of investment instruments, poor governance, limited investment knowledge, and regulations with restrictive asset class limits and excessive reliance on short-term performance monitoring.
As financial intermediaries tracking benchmarks grow in importance around the world, the issue of which countries belong to relevant international benchmark indexes (such as the MSCI Emerging Markets) has generated significant attention in the financial world (Financial Times, 2015). The reason is that the inclusion/exclusion of countries from widely followed benchmarks has implications for the allocation of capital across countries.
As institutional investors become more passive, they follow benchmark indexes more closely. These benchmark indexes change over time, as index providers reclassify countries, implying that investment funds have to re-allocate their portfolio among the countries they target. The capital flows generated by these portfolio re-allocations are important because worldwide open-end funds that follow a few well-known stock and bond market indexes manage around 37 trillion U.S. dollars in assets (ICI, 2016).
Since the global financial crisis of 2007, international banking has attracted heightened interest from policy makers, researchers, and other financial sector stakeholders. Perhaps no sector of the economy better illustrates the potential benefits—but also the perils—of deeper integration than banking. Before the crisis, international banks (banks that do business outside of the country they are headquartered in) were generally considered to be an important contributor to financial development as well as economic growth. This belief coincided with a significant increase in financial globalization in the decade prior to the crisis, particularly for banking institutions.
Adults around the world and in all income groups use a variety of financial services, ranging from digital payments and savings accounts to loans and insurance. Many low-income adults, however, rely largely on informal financial services — 2 billion adults worldwide, or 38 percent, reported not having an account at a formal institution in 2014, according to Global Findex data. The World Bank has launched the ambitious goal of Universal Financial Access by 2020. This goal is not an end in itself. Rather, financial inclusion is a means to an end.
Which bring us to the question: What do we know about the link between financial inclusion and inclusive growth benefiting all income groups?
Students of systemic banking distress point to concentration in specific asset classes or sectors as one of the most important factors explaining these crises. The last two global crises are good examples: the simultaneous overexposure of several banks to the U.S. mortgage market initiated the global financial crisis `07–`08 and the overexposure of several banks to sovereign debt of distressed European countries severely deepened the European debt crisis of `11–`12. Given the importance of risk concentration in banking it is therefore surprising how little empirical evidence is available on the relationship between sectoral concentration and bank performance and stability. This absence of research is mainly explained with a lack of data. In recent work, we introduce a new methodology to measure sectoral specialization and differentiation and relate these measures to bank performance and stability (Beck, De Jonghe and Mulier, 2017).
As economies in the East Asia and Pacific (EAP) region have developed, they have also become important in international financial transactions, both as a source and destination of cross-border bank lending, foreign direct investments (FDI), and portfolio investments. But, as we document in a new paper (Didier et al., 2017), the composition of those financial connections has been changing in recent years in at least two fronts: (i) the partners with which EAP countries interact and (ii) the type of financial transactions conducted.
Efforts to foster collaboration between science and industry have long been a part of innovation policy in many countries. Firms stand to benefit from accessing the specialized infrastructure and expertise available in universities. Researchers gain access to practical problems that can provide greater relevance for their research, and to industrial capabilities for manufacture and assistance in commercializing their ideas to take them to market. Yet, there are barriers that inhibit collaboration, including financing constraints, information asymmetries, and transaction costs in negotiating collaboration agreements.
Public equity markets are seen as a critical component of a developed financial system, with such markets going back to the 18th and 19th century in many advanced economies. There have been therefore intensive efforts of donors and local government to establish such markets across the developing world, in the 1980s across Sub-Saharan Africa and in the 1990s across many transition economies. These efforts, however, have been met with mixed success, illustrated by the statement by a local market practitioner that “an entire year’s worth of trading in the frontier African stock markets is done before lunch on the New York Stock Exchange.”1 On the other extreme are markets such as China, which have developed rapidly over the past two decades, with many listed companies, high trade volume and a broad investor basis. What explains why some countries have well-developed public equity markets while others have shallow and illiquid markets?
Foreign banks can play an important role in facilitating international trade. They can provide trade financing, enforce contracts, and reduce information asymmetries. Studies have shown that trade financing is an important channel to boost exports. For example, Claessens and others (2015) show that sectors that are more dependent on external finance have more bilateral exports when a foreign bank from that trade partner is present in the country. Much like immigrant networks and colonial ties (Rauch 1999), foreign banks can play a role in reducing information asymmetries for exporting firms, especially in countries where there are fewer financing constraints. Foreign banks have strong ties with their parent country, and are better placed to assess the profitability of a given product in that market and provide information about export market conditions.
Cross-border portfolio investments are increasingly important in global markets. Since 2001, the share of equity holdings by foreign investors grew from 19 percent of the world's stock market capitalization to more than 35 percent by the end of 2015 (IMF, 2016). Much of this recent growth has been in foreign index funds, that is, in funds that replicate the return of an index by buying and holding all (or almost all) index stocks in the official index proportions (Cremers et al., 2016). Notwithstanding their popularity among investors, little is known about how managers of these funds trade to accommodate flows, and how their performance compares to domestic funds with similar management style.