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Financial Sector

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.

Are you reaping the full benefits of the technology revolution?

Sara Sultan's picture

 
About 17 years ago, I began preparations for applying to colleges in America. One of the prerequisites to qualify for an undergraduate program was the Test of English as a Foreign Language (TOEFL), administered at testing centers around the world. I vividly remember calling the number given to see how I faired in the test, standing at an international call center booth on a sunny afternoon in Islamabad, Pakistan, my heart beating fast with anticipation. The call cost Rs.100/minute at the time ($1.05/min at the current rate). But despite the expensive price tag, the service delivered information I desperately needed.

Fast forward to the age of Google Voice, WhatsApp, Viber… You’ll agree that technology has not only advanced but services have become cheaper as well. Technology is entrenched in our everyday tasks—from communication to financial transactions, from expanding education to building resilience to natural disasters, and from informing transport planning to expanding energy to the unserved.

So, ask yourself: am I—a student, teacher, business owner, or a local government representative—reaping the full benefits of the greatest information and communication revolution in human history? With more than 40% of the world’s population with access to the internet and new users coming online every day, how can I help turn digital technologies into a development game changer? And how can the world close the global digital divide to make sure technology leaves no one behind?

International Debt Statistics 2018 shows BRICs doubled bilateral lending commitments to low-income countries in 2016 to $84 billion

World Bank Data Team's picture
The 2018 edition of International Debt Statistics (IDS) has just been published.

IDS 2018 presents statistics and analysis on the external debt and financial flows (debt and equity) of the world’s economies for 2016. It provides more than 200 time series indicators from 1970 to 2016 for most reporting countries. To access the report and related products you can:

This year’s edition is released less than 10 months after the 2016 reference period, making comprehensive debt statistics available faster than ever before. In addition to the data published in multiple formats online, IDS includes a concise analysis of the global debt landscape, which will be expanded on in a series of bulletins over the coming year.

Why monitor and analyze debt?

The core purpose of IDS is to measure the stocks and flows of debts in low- and middle-income countries that were borrowed from creditors outside the country. Broadly speaking, stocks of debt are the current liabilities that require payment of principal and/or interest to creditors outside the country. Flows of debt are new payments from, or repayments to, lenders.

These data are produced as part of the World Bank’s own work to monitor the creditworthiness of its clients and are widely used by others for analytical and operational purposes. Recurrent debt crises, including the global financial crisis of 2008, highlight the importance of measuring and monitoring external debt stocks and flows, and managing them sustainably. Here are three highlights from the analysis presented in IDS 2018:

Net financial inflows to low-and middle income countries grew, but IDA countries were left behind

In 2016, net financial flows into low- and middle-income countries grew to $773 billion - a more than three-fold increase over 2015 levels, but still lower than levels seen between 2012 and 2014.

However, this trend didn’t extend to the world’s poorest countries. Among the group of IDA-only countries, these flows fell 34% to $17.6 billion - their lowest level since 2011. This fall was driven by drops in inflows from bilateral and private creditors.

Addressing the SME finance problem

Sergio Schmukler's picture

Small and medium enterprises (SMEs) are the backbone of the economy, being the main contributors to employment in developing and developed countries. Despite their importance, access to finance is relatively limited when comparing to large firms and is a major operating constraint for SMEs. The International Finance Corporation (IFC) estimates that to satisfy the demand by formal SMEs around the world credit had to increase between 900 and 1,100 billion U.S. dollars in 2011.

In a new policy brief (Abraham and Schmukler, 2017), we explore the obstacles to SME finance and some of the solutions that have been put in practice to try overcome them.

Financial globalization: A glass half empty?

Sergio Schmukler's picture

For many years, financial globalization has been promoted as a vehicle to raise living standards throughout the world, particularly in developing countries. However, a mounting body of empirical literature shows that in practice the effects of financial globalization have been overall mixed; financial globalization has only brought limited positive effects while it has also increased risks.


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