To do this, we rely heavily on macroeconomic data from the national statistical office, the Ministry of Finance, the Central Bank and other sources. While this sounds straightforward enough (given it’s what economists around the world do when they compile their latest economic assessments) – it’s a rather indirect way to assess the issue.
At a time of fundamental uncertainty on global financial markets, how should the World Bank help countries respond? Mohamed El-Erian, CEO of the global bond management giant PIMCO, took on this question during his recent talk at the World Bank, which was part of the PREM seminar series. One of his answers may come as a surprise: Invest in girls' education!
First, some background: El-Erian is one of the most influential figures in the world of finance. His firm manages $1.8 trillion in assets, an amount that comfortably exceeds Japan's foreign-exchange reserves, and he's on Foreign Policy magazine's list of Top 100 global thinkers. As a longtime former IMF official, El-Erian is also intimately familiar with international financial institutions.
Since the 1990s, a large part of world savings have gone to institutional investors that manage those funds by investing around the world. Given this accumulation of resources in professional and sophisticated asset managers, one might expect to see significant international diversification accompanying this process. Yet, to date, little evidence exists on how institutional investors allocate their portfolios globally, and what effect their investment practices have on investors, firms, and policymakers.
In a new paper and VoxEU column, we argue that global funds (those that invest anywhere in the world) are not very well diversified, hold a very limited number of stocks (around 100), and seem to leave behind significant unexploited gains from international diversification. Thus, global funds might not constitute the optimal portfolio for individual investors. Moreover, there are significant challenges to the prospects for broad international diversification. To the extent that global funds continue expanding relative to the more specialized funds (those that invest in specific asset classes and regions), the forgone diversification gains could be significant, and the cost to investors, firms, and countries might be large as well, posing significant challenges to policymakers.
A woman works in a small shop in Ghana.
Photo by Arne Hoel
What will it take for the world to wake up and realize the advantages of supporting women entrepreneurs in the developing world?
If that sounds like an odd question to be asking in the 21st century, just consider some facts. We know that globally women make up almost half the world’s workforce. And we know that in developing economies, 30-40% of entrepreneurs running small or medium sized businesses are women.
But here’s something you may not know – at least 9 out of 10 women-owned businesses have no access to loans. So, just imagine the frustration of a woman in a developing country, who has started a small business, is attracting a good clientele, has a business plan to grow her business, but can’t get a loan to expand. That's not an isolated story. It’s a frustration shared by many women in the developing world. And the frustration of those women sounds echoingly similar to the frustration still lingering in the voices of older women from rich countries, telling how some three decades ago they were refused bank home loans, despite having a guaranteed income.
Is the world ready for the advice that governments can better balance the need for credit and emergency support for banks with measures to promote transparency and competition when crises erupt? Governments want every viable tool possible in their arsenal to fight crises, but a bit of 'less is more' and a cautionary re-examination of the role of the state in finance may be in order. This is the thrust of the new Global Financial Development Report (GFDR) 2013: Rethinking the Role of the State in Finance, released Thursday September 13, just ahead of the fourth anniversary of the collapse of Lehman Brothers, which marked the full onset of the financial crisis. The GFDR analyzes four characteristics of banks in over 200 economies since the 1960s and comes with a useful treasure trove of online data.
Check out the GFDR website here.
In the recently released Global Economic Prospects June 2012, World Bank experts warned of long period of volatility. Resurgence of the Euro Area tensions had eroded economic gains of first 4 months of 2012, said the report. And as the leaders of the 27 European Nations convened in Brussels yesterday to tackle the crisis, it was labeled as the “last chance” summit. The outcome: Up All Night, But Consensus Finally Reached, says a Time.com story. According to the story, published today, “Yet, despite what were described as tense and grinding negotiations, decisions announced early Friday morning appear to represent important steps towards the survival of the embattled euro zone—and in both the short- and long-term context of the crisis.” This much needed move comes at a crucial point and will hopefully have a positive impact on developing countries. However, a lot remains to be done. Following is a sampling of some interesting research and analysis by World Bank as well as others highlighting issues of current import to global economy and development.
Systemic financial crises require swift and comprehensive solutions by the government. In 2008 it quickly became clear that characterizing the U.S. securitization crisis as one of liquidity was inaccurate, and hoping that it would be cured by auctioning off increasingly poorly collateralized central bank loans to distressed firms was futile. That led to -TARP- a plan to repurchase troubled assets from banks, which quickly evolved into a bank recapitalization plan when it became clear pricing toxic assets was nearly impossible.
More recently, Spanish banking system has seen its situation worsen, partly because of Madrid’s failure to force an earlier cleanup of bad debts stemming from a real estate bust. Austerity measures to remedy the region’s debt crisis have since led to greater deterioration of Spanish bank balance sheets, as more and more Spanish businesses folded and homeowners went into foreclosure. Over the weekend Spain became the largest euro-zone nation to seek an international bailout, and the 17-nation currency area agreed to lend Madrid up to $125 billion for its bank rescue fund. At this point there is little disagreement that there needs to be a broad-based approach to resolve the Spanish bank insolvency problem, but not as much discussion over the form it should take.
On May 14-18 the World Bank held its annual Overview Course on Financial Sector Issues in Washington, DC. Geared towards mid-career financial sector policy-makers and practitioners, the objective of this one-week event was to discuss issues of current and long-run importance to the development of the financial sector. This year’s course focused on Lessons from Recent Crises and Current Priorities for Finance Practitioners and Policy-Makers. The timing was quite fitting—the course took place the same week that JP Morgan’s billion-dollar trading became public and the European crisis intensified as Greek banks suffered large deposit runs.
Perhaps not surprisingly in light of recent events affecting the financial sector in the US and Europe, three main broad themes resonated in many of the sessions of the course: (1) the need for more and better bank capital, (2) the importance of putting in place the right incentives for banks to limit the risks they take, and (3) the role of macroprodudential regulation in monitoring and limiting systemic risk.
The crisis in Greece and the Eurozone has escalated as depositors flee banks in fear not only of the consequences of sovereign default but also of Greece abandoning the Euro. Unfortunately, this development makes the crisis much deeper and more difficult to manage. As we (along with Eduardo Levy Yeyati) highlighted in a VoxEU piece in June 2011, the main risk of the Greek debt crisis was its potential spillover to the banking sector.
Shedding light on and engaging in debate regarding financial inclusion is important and we can now be more informed on the topic thanks to the release last month of the Global Financial Inclusion Database, or Global Findex. With this in mind, I want to react from my point of view as supervisor of the Global Findex project to a recent post by Milford Bateman on The Guardian’s Poverty Matters blog.
Global Findex makes a valuable contribution to our development work, because it means that now researchers and policymakers no longer have to rely on a patchwork of incompatible household surveys and aggregated central bank data for a comprehensive view of the financial inclusion landscape.
It also means debates about financial inclusion can be rooted in more solid facts.