Syndicate content

Financial Sector

Re-thinking Economic Policy: An Overview

Raj Nallari's picture

The global financial and economic crisis of 2008 has brought an urgency to focus on shorter-term policy issues related to managing bubbles, analyzing current development paradigms, and drawing out policy lessons for future action, particularly lessons learned during the past two years. At the same, longer-term development challenges also must be addressed to avoid the mistakes of 1970s and 1980s when managing stabilization issues dominated economic policy making and development economics was pushed aside for a while. For example, with the exception of East Asian countries and more recently India, why are African, Eastern European and Central Asian, and other South Asian countries unable to sustain high growth rates for more than five to seven years? What are the policy implications of demographic changes and climate change? There is a need for policy discussion on frontier topics such as rethinking globalization in trade, finance, and labor; new economic geography; green growth; and inclusive, balanced, and sustainable growth.

The 15th-century Florentine Niccolo Machiavelli is said to be the first to state, “Never waste the opportunities offered by a good crisis.” During a crisis, countries experiment with policies and learn a lot in a hurry. This overview shares this learning on early policy responses to the current economic crisis, focusing particularly on specific issues that are of interest to policy makers and practitioners in the developing countries. The overview is a compilation of notes that staff members of the World Bank Institute have used during global dialogues and international seminars and conferences since October 2008.

What brought the world to the edge of an abyss in September 2008? After quickly recovering from the Asian crisis of 1997-98, world economic growth accelerated during the period 2000-07. However, in hindsight, there was a ‘perfect storm’ in the making as US and European housing defaults began to pile up beginning in late 2006, oil prices doubled in a few months during late 2007 and early 2008, while rice, wheat, and corn prices jumped by 40-50% during the same period.

Madagascar - What's Going On?

Jacques Morisset's picture

After one year (still counting) of political crisis, uncertainty remains the key word in Madagascar.

Private activities have rebounded compared to the first quarter 2009 but remain below pre-crisis levels. Fiscal policy, globally cautious, went through several “stop and go” episodes, sending mixed messages to financial markets, especially visible through the recent variations in the exchange and interest rates.

This uncertainty is exacerbated by the lack of consistency in policy decisions.

What Explains Firm Innovation in Developing Countries?

Asli Demirgüç-Kunt's picture

Many economists agree that innovation is essential for economic growth.  But the little we know about firm innovation is based on the study of large, publicly-traded firms in developed countries.  As Moisés Naím, editor-in-chief of Foreign Policy magazine, pointed out at the recent Financial and Private Sector Development Forum, large, publicly-traded firms have served as the basis for a lot of formal economic analysis, but they are much less typical of developing countries.  This is a problem, since we know from existing studies that small and medium size firms play an important role in developing countries.

What might explain the likelihood of these firms to innovate?   Here are some of the key issues that deserve closer scrutiny:

  • Are certain types of firms more innovative than others?
  • What is the role of finance, governance and competition?
  • Is ownership or corporate form important?
  • Does foreign competition or trade openness matter?
  • And what about the education and experience of managers and workers?
     

American Perso-national Financial Statements

Israel Osorio Rodarte's picture

Think about your family. Think about your work, your earnings, debts, credit cards, your children's education, your retirement and the unforgettable taxes. Now, imagine just for just a few moments that you have just received a sealed envelope from your Congressman working at Capitol Hill. Inside this envelope there is a letter: "CONGRATULATIONS! This is your New Citizen Account Bill (PDF) with the Federal Government of the United States." Immediately the letter will tell you very good news.

How Do Firms Finance Investment?

Asli Demirgüç-Kunt's picture

A large body of literature has found that in countries with weak institutions firms are able to obtain less external financing, resulting in lower growth.  Indeed, even simple cross-country comparisons of firm financing patterns can be quite revealing.  In a paper co-authored with Thorsten Beck and Vojislav Maksimovic, this is exactly what we do.  Using data from the World Bank’s Enterprise Surveys dataset (WBES) for 48 countries, we investigate what proportion of firm investment is financed externally, and, of this external finance, how much of it comes from different sources, such as bank and equity finance, leasing, supplier credit, development banks, and informal sources such as money lenders.

In our sample of firms, on average just over 40 percent of firm investment is externally financed.  Breaking external financing down into its parts, about 19 percent of all financing comes from commercial banks and 3 percent from development banks.  Another 7 percent is provided by suppliers and 6 percent through equity investment.  Leasing is another 3 percent, and less than 2 percent comes from informal sources.  More recent enterprise survey data for an expanded sample of countries and firms also suggest similar patterns (Figure 1).

Sources
Source: Enterprise Surveys, covering 71 countries

What Does the Financial Crisis Teach Us about the Feasibility of Different Banking Models?

Asli Demirgüç-Kunt's picture

The recent financial crisis has seen the demise of large investment banks in the U.S.  This major change in the financial landscape has also rekindled interest in discussion of optimal banking models.  All over the world, perceived costs and benefits of combining bank activities of various kinds have given rise to a wide variation in allowed bank activities.  Should banks operate as universal banks, a model which allows banks to combine a wide range of financial activities, including commercial banking, investment banking and insurance; or should their activities be restricted?

To some policymakers the universal banking model may appear to be a more desirable structure for a financial institution due to its resilience to adverse shocks, particularly after the crisis.  However, others have called for the separation of commercial and investment activities (along the lines of the Glass-Steagall Act of 1933 in U.S. which was repealed by Gramm-Leach-Bliley Act in 1999) to minimize the crisis-related costs imposed on taxpayers through the financial safety net.  So which model is more desirable?

Theory, as usual, provides conflicting predictions about the optimal asset and liability mix of an institution.  On the one hand, banks gain information on their customers in the provision of one financial service that may prove useful in the provision of other financial services to these same customers.  Hence, combining different types of activities – non-interesting earning, as well as interest-earning assets – may increase return as well as diversify risks, therefore boosting performance.  This argues for the merits of universal banks.

On the other hand, if a bank becomes too complex, bank managers may actually start taking advantage of this complexity for their own private benefit (what are sometimes known as “agency costs”) at the expense of the bank.  So, too much diversification may actually not be optimal, increasing bank fragility and reducing overall performance.  This tends to support the separation of commercial and investment activities. 

Re-regulating the Financial Sector

Raj Nallari's picture

The financial system, measured by assets, profits, contribution to GDP, stock market capitalization, employment etc, has expanded rapidly since 1990. For example, global financial assets were about 50 trillion in 1989 and increased to about 200 trillion by 2007, during the same period financial depth increased from 200% of world GDP to 400% in 2007. The financial crisis has raised a plethora of issues, many of which are inter-twined. There have been failures on all fronts – market failures in the form of financial firms innovating new instruments while neglecting risk management practices, credit rating agencies failing in rating assets without much thought to risk, private auditors not checking Lehman Brothers’ assets and liabilities, government failures in the form of central bank keeping interest rates low in the run up to the crisis, and government entities such as Fannie and Freddie involved in mortgage lending and making enormous losses, and failure by regulators for not checking the books of financial firms such as Lehman Brothers that were moving toxic assets of the balance sheets, and last but least the financial economists who failed to foresee to crisis. There is plenty of blame to go around but one thing is clear: State ownership of financial firms is back. After decades of rising foreign ownership of banks (shrinking state ownership) in almost all regions, except the Middle East and South Asia, the trend could be reversed especially in the developed countries.

The crisis has shifted focus from foreign private ownership to some state ownership, from micro to macro prudential regulations, to re-assessment of deposit insurance, lender of last resort, and implicit guarantees, to consumer protection and taxpayer protection, from mark to market accounting to mark to funding, to revamping of credit rating agencies, to crisis in corporate governance and questioning of remuneration in financial firms, and to strengthening of supervision. These and a number of related issues of interest to policy makers are discussed below.

Given the large set of issues arising from the crisis, the major challenges facing countries are essentially two: (i) Government entities which are subsidizing directed credit (e.g. Frannie and Freddie in USA; similar type of ‘chaebol’ lending to industrial firms triggered the Asian crisis of 1997); and (ii) universality of too big to fail entities, where systemic important firms, often politically powerful conglomerates that are controlled by elites, have to be bailed out, which in turn leads to the moral hazard problem, where the large entity is considered worthy saving at all costs, including use of lender of last resort facilities from the Central Bank and tax payers money from the Treasury. The too big to fail entities also then knowingly max-out on leveraged lending (40 to one in case of USA) and ‘gamble’ on financially innovative instruments (e.g. mortgage-backed securities and credit default swaps in case of USA). The large entities also have the political clout to suppress regulations and/or evade regulations. Successful regulation requires that the regulator should have information on exposure to systemic risks. Too big to fail institutions were exposed to CD swaps (e.g. AIG in USA) and we knew little about its exposure. The reason is that there is data on a firm by firm but there is no agency that can put it all together. But policy makers and politicians are reluctant to address these two problems head on. Instead the focus on a large set of problems, as detailed below, and obfuscate the issues.

Measuring Access to Finance…One Step at a Time

Asli Demirgüç-Kunt's picture

How well do financial systems in different countries serve households and enterprises?  Who has access to which financial services – such as savings, loans, payments, insurance?  Just how limited is access?

Just a short while ago, we didn’t know the answer to these questions.  But modern development theories very much emphasize that broad financial access is the key to development.  Lack of access to finance is often the critical element underlying persistent income inequality as well as slower growth.  Without inclusive financial systems, poor individuals and small enterprises need to rely on their personal wealth or internal resources to invest in their education, become entrepreneurs, and make their businesses grow.  So it was disappointing that although data on the financial sector have been readily available, data on access simply were not.

Those of us who spend our days trying to find ways of influencing policy decisions know that one of the most effective ways of focusing policy attention on an issue is by measurement.  If you can measure something and “benchmark” it with useful comparisons, you are one step closer to identifying what needs to be done.  And if you can provide these measurements at regular intervals, you are more likely to capture the attention of policymakers, promote policy change, and track and evaluate the impact of such policies. A team at the World Bank began thinking about this issue in the beginning of this decade, so when the UN announced 2005 as the Year of Microcredit, we were more than ready to rise to the challenge. 


Pages