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Financial Sector

Are South Asian countries sinking into a debt trap?

Bidisha Das's picture

This blog is part of a series based on International Debt Statistics 2018.

The 2018 edition of International Debt Statistics (IDS 2018) which presents statistics and analysis on financial flows (debt and equity) for 123 low-and middle-income countries has just been released. One of the key observations of IDS 2018 is that net financial flows in 2016 to all developing countries witnessed a more than threefold increase over their 2015 level. This was driven entirely by net debt flows, which increased by $542 billion in 2016. Consequently, total external debt outstanding of all developing countries went up to $6.9 trillion, an increase of 4.1 percent over 2015. Interestingly, South Asia seems to deviate from this norm of IDS 2018.

External debt outstanding of South Asia contracted in 2016

South Asia is the only region that has shown a contraction in the total external debt outstanding in 2016. The total external debt stock of South Asia contracted by almost 2 percent as net debt flows into the region turned negative ($-7.7) for the first time in a decade. More specifically, this is the result of net long-term external debt flows turning negative (-$12.5 billion) implying that principal repayments by South Asia, on long-term external debt far exceeded disbursements.

Pro-market activism: A new role for the state in promoting access to finance

Sergio Schmukler's picture

The debate on whether the state should play an active role in broadening access to finance or not is one that has lingered for decades. A recent book (de la Torre, Gozzi, and Schmukler, 2017) argues that a new a view has gained traction and is worth considering.  

Hot off the press: The Global Financial Development Report 2017/2018: Bankers without Borders

Asli Demirgüç-Kunt's picture

GFDR 2018 cover image The decade before the 2007–09 global financial crisis was characterized by a significant increase in bank globalization, which also coincided with dramatic increases in bank size. International banks became the cornerstone of many financial systems around the world, also in developing countries. Proponents of international banking emphasized the potential gains in terms of much-needed capital, know-how, and technological improvements that foreign banks bring, leading to more competitive and diversified banking systems, improved resource allocation, and greater financial and economic development.

However, the global financial crisis has led to a significant re-evaluation of this conventional wisdom. With the crisis, there was a backlash against globalization in general, and the emphasis shifted to the role international banks can play in shock transmission. Developing countries felt the impact of retrenchment by global banks. Global banks were criticized for taking excessive risks. Financial Stability Board (FSB) and the G20 voiced concerns about how to deal with the resolution of too-big-to-fail banks. As a result, regulations and restrictions got stricter in many countries, particularly in developing countries, further contributing to the retrenchment kicked off by the crisis.

Global Financial Development Report 2017/2018: Bankers without Borders, the fourth in the series, brings to bear new evidence on the debate on the benefits and costs of international banks, particularly for developing countries. It provides figures on recent trends, emerging patterns since the global crisis, and evidence on the economic impact of international banking. The goal is to synthesize evidence and data to contribute to the policy debate on international banking.

The Legacy of Saman Kelegama

Sanjay Kathuria's picture
Saman Kelegama, a Sri Lankan economist and the Executive Director of the Institute of Policy Studies (IPS Sri Lanka) died prematurely in June 2017. He was a champion of deeper South Asian cooperation.
Saman Kelegama, a Sri Lankan economist and the Executive Director of the Institute of Policy Studies (IPS Sri Lanka) died prematurely in June 2017. He was a champion of deeper South Asian cooperation. Credit:  Institute of Policy Studies

I first met Saman in the early 1990s in Delhi.  Over the years, our paths diverged.  When I re-engaged on South Asia, I ran into Saman again. We re-connected instantly, despite the long intervening period.  This was easy to do with Saman—soft-spoken, affable, a gentleman to the core.  He bore his considerable knowledge lightly.  

Despite his premature passing away in June 2017, he left a rich and varied legacy behind him. I will confine myself to discussing his insights on regional cooperation in South Asia, based on his public writings and my interactions with him.

Saman was a champion of deeper economic linkages within South Asia. He was also pragmatic. 

Along with a few other regional champions, Saman, as the head of the Institute of Policy Studies in Colombo, helped to kick-start the “South Asian Economic Summit”, or SAES, in Colombo in 2008, to provide a high-profile forum for dialogue on topical issues, especially South Asian regional integration. It is remarkable that the SAES has endured, without any gap. The fact that the policy and academic fraternity meet with unfailing regularity, despite on-and-off political tensions in the region, is testimony to its value.

Saman repeatedly stressed that Sri Lanka has been able to reap benefits from the India-Sri Lanka FTA (ISFTA), contrary to the general belief. His arguments were powerful: the import-export ratio for Sri Lanka improved from 10.3 in 2000 (the start of the ISFTA) to 6.6 in 2015; about 70 percent of Sri Lanka’s exports to India get duty-free access under the FTA, but less than 10 percent of Sri Lanka’s imports from India come under the FTA (since India provided “special and differential treatment” to Sri Lanka).

Why distressed asset resolution is important to development finance

Joaquim Levy's picture
© Jonathan Ernst/World Bank
© Jonathan Ernst/World Bank

Addressing high levels of non-performing loans (NPLs) is key to preserving financial stability and an important element of an integrated development agenda. High levels of NPLs lock in capital that could support fresh lending, and they create a negative macro-financial feedback loop, as debt overhang depresses borrowers’ investment and consumption decisions. High NPLs have particularly adverse implications in emerging market and developing economies (EMDEs), which lack fully developed capital markets and where credit is provided mostly by banks. Hence expanding the role of debt servicing companies and a secondary market for distressed debt is a constructive strategy: it should be a priority in most EMDEs.

Rethinking saving practices in the digital era

Margaret Miller's picture



3-1-0 Three minutes to complete the online loan application, one second for approval and with zero human touch for SME loans. This is the marketing slogan used by Ant Financial, one of China’s largest online lenders with more than 400 million active users.

Digital finance is a cost-effective route to financial inclusion for many unbanked and underserved consumers in emerging markets. But digital finance is also still developing and maturing, with many open questions on the impact it will have. One of the most important of these is whether digital finance will ultimately help consumers to make better financial decisions over time.

October 31 is World Savings Day, a day which emphasizes the importance of savings to economic development, and provides a good occasion to look at how fintech may help solve the challenge of savings.

Steps to increase cooperation between national development banks, the private sector and multilateral banks

Ceyla Pazarbasioglu's picture



The program of events at the just concluded 2017 World Bank-IMF Annual Meetings was rich, and covered a range of topics instrumental to the World Bank Group’s work.

However, the event closest to my heart was on the role national development banks (NDBs) can play to close the staggering financing gap needed to reach the Sustainable Development Goals, nicknamed going “from billions to trillions” of dollars.

Since the SDGs were announced, the international development community has been looking at ways to tap into new funding venues, attract the private sector and build relevant private-public sector partnerships.

National development banks are important: they are key in attracting and mobilizing private sector funding.

Global Investment Competitiveness: New Insights on FDI

Anabel Gonzalez's picture

It is easy enough to find data on flows of foreign direct investment (FDI). There are also plenty of anecdotes out there that purportedly encapsulate what businesses worldwide are thinking. It is far more difficult, however, to establish rigorous connections between global investment trends and individual investment decisions by international companies. In the World Bank Group’s newly published Global Investment Competitiveness Report 2017–2018, our team does just this, combining new survey data, rigorous econometric analysis, and extensive literature reviews to reveal what is going on behind the headline numbers.



Here are some of the key takeaways:
 

Measuring South Asia’s economy from outer space

Martin Rama's picture
New technologies offer an opportunity to strengthen economic measurement. Evening luminosity observed from satellites has been shown to be a good proxy for economic activity.
New technologies offer an opportunity to strengthen economic measurement. Evening luminosity observed from satellites has been shown to be a good proxy for economic activity.
Economic growth is a key concern for economists, political leaders, and the broader population.

But how confident are we that the available data on economic activity paints an accurate picture of a country’s performance?

Measuring Gross Domestic Product (GDP), the most standard measure of economic activity, is especially challenging in developing countries, where the informal sector is large and institutional constraints can be severe.

In addition, many countries only provide GDP measures annually and at the national level. Not surprisingly, GDP growth estimates are often met with skepticism.
 
New technologies offer an opportunity to strengthen economic measurement. Evening luminosity observed from satellites has been shown to be a good proxy for economic activity.

As shown in Figure 1, there is a strong correlation between nightlight intensity and GDP levels in South Asia: the higher the nightlight intensity on the horizontal axis, the stronger the economic activity on the vertical axis.
Figure 1 Nightlight intensity increases with economic activity
Figure 1 Nightlight intensity increases with economic activity

However, measuring nightlight is challenging and comes with a few caveats. Clouds, moonlight, and radiance from the sun can affect measurement accuracy, which then requires filtering and standardizing.

On the other hand, nighlight data has a lot advantages like being available in high-frequency and with a very high spatial resolution. In the latest edition of South Asia Economic Focus, we use variations in nightlight intensity to analyze economic trends and illustrate how this data can help predict GDP over time and across space.


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