Carmen Reinhart of the University of Maryland talks to Romesh Vaitilingam about the sequencing of the cycle of debt build-ups – from private debt surges to banking crises to sovereign debt crises – and the four ‘deadly D’s’ that once again threaten many governments as a consequence of the current crisis – deficits, debt, downgrade and default. The interview was recorded at the Royal Economic Society’s annual conference at the University of Surrey in March 2010.
Linking banking crises and sovereign defaults in emerging markets
Irina Balteanu, Aitor Erce12 November 2014
The feedback loop between banking crises and sovereign debt crises has been at the heart of recent problems in the Eurozone. This column presents stylised facts on the mechanisms through which banking and sovereign crises combine and become ‘twin’ crises. The results point to systematic differences not only between ‘single’ and ‘twin’ crises, but also between different types of ‘twin’ episodes. The timing of ‘twin’ crises – which crisis comes first – is important for understanding their drivers, transmission channels, and economic consequences.
The feedback loop between fiscal and financial instability has been at the core of the recent turmoil in Europe (Acharya et al. 2014). In some countries, systemic banking crises triggered fiscal distress due to the magnitude of bank rescue operations (for example, in Ireland). In others, substantial sovereign debt tensions, leading to successive sovereign downgrades, severely weakened domestic financial systems (for example, in Greece).
Charles A.E. Goodhart, Philipp Erfurth03 November 2014
There has been a long-term downward trend in labour’s share of national income, depressing both demand and inflation, and thus prompting ever more expansionary monetary policies. This column argues that, while understandable in a short-term business cycle context, this has exacerbated longer-term trends, increasing inequality and financial distortions. Perhaps the most fundamental problem has been over-reliance on debt finance. The authors propose policies to raise the share of equity finance in housing markets; such reforms could be extended to other sectors of the economy.
There has been a long-term downward trend in the share and strength of labour in national income, which is depressing both demand and inflation. This has prompted ever more expansionary monetary policies. While understandable, indeed appropriate, within a short-term business cycle context, this has exacerbated longer-term trends, increasing inequality and financial distortions. Perhaps the most fundamental problem has been over-reliance on debt finance (leverage).
Fergal McCann, Tara McIndoe-Calder23 September 2014
The role of credit-fuelled property booms in the Global Crisis has received much high-profile attention in recent years. Using data on Irish small and medium enterprises, this column highlights an additional channel through which such booms can impact post-crisis growth. Firms having difficulty repaying their property-related debts divert resources away from hiring and investment. Property booms thereby induce misallocation of resources in both the boom and the bust.
The detrimental impact of credit and property boom-bust cycles on consumption and growth has received much high-profile attention in the aftermath of the Global Crisis (Mian and Sufi 2013, 2014, Dynan et al. 2012). Separately, an empirical literature on non-financial corporates has shown that debt overhang can negatively impact firm investment (Aivazian et al. 2005, Cai and Zhang 2011, Coricelli et al. 2012).
Low interest rates and secular stagnation: Is debt a missing link?
Claudio Borio, Piti Disyatat25 June 2014
Real interest rates have fallen to historic lows, and some economists are concerned that an era of secular stagnation has begun. This column highlights the role of policy frameworks and financial factors – particularly debt – in linking low real interest rates and sluggish economic growth. Policies that do not lean against booms but ease aggressively and persistently in busts induce a downward bias in interest rates over time and an upward bias in debt levels – something akin to a debt trap. Low real interest rates may thus be self-reinforcing and not always ‘natural’.
Today, the US government can borrow for ten years at a fixed rate of around 2.5%. Adjusted for expected inflation, this translates into a real borrowing cost of under 0.5%. A year ago, real rates were actually negative. With low interest rates dominating the developed world, many worry that an era of secular stagnation has begun (Summers 2013).
The debt-growth link is essential to today's marcoeconomic policy choices. This Vox Talk discusses new evidence based on data on total public debt for 105 economies between 1972 and 2009 and two centuries of data for the UK, US, Sweden and Japan. There is no convincing proof that austerity works and that it is dangerous for policy makers to pretend otherwise.
Stijn Claessens talks to Viv Davies about the recent IMF book titled 'Global Crises: Causes, Consequences and Policy Responses', co-edited with M Ayhan Kose, Luc Laeven, and Fabian Valencia. The book provides a comprehensive overview of current research into financial crises and the policy lessons learned. They discuss crisis prevention and management, and the crisis in the Eurozone. The interview was recorded in April 2014.
Fiscal adjustment and growth: Beware of the credit constraints
Emanuele Baldacci, Sanjeev Gupta, Carlos Mulas-Granados31 March 2014
The recent debate on the link between austerity and growth has focused on the short run. This column discusses recent research into the link between fiscal consolidation and medium-term growth under different financial conditions. If credit is not available to consumers and investors, private demand is less able to compensate for cutbacks in public demand, so large spending cuts can have a negative effect on growth. Difficult financial conditions probably explain why fiscal adjustments that worked in the 1990s have not produced similar beneficial effects on growth in recent years.
In the aftermath of the recent financial crisis, the discussion of the effects of fiscal adjustment on economic growth has intensified. While some scholars have focused on the characteristics of the fiscal consolidation needed to bring public debt down from historically high levels, others have examined the effects of alternative strategies on economic performance. The VoxEU debate aptly covered in “Has Austerity Gone Too Far?” (Corsetti 2012) sums up the conflicting positions.
Marco Buti, Maria Demertzis, João Nogueira Martins30 March 2014
Although progress has been made on resolving the Eurozone crisis – vulnerable countries have reduced their current-account deficits and implemented some reforms – more still needs to be done. This column argues for a ‘consistent trinity’ of policies: structural reforms within countries, more symmetric macroeconomic adjustment across countries, and a banking union for the Eurozone.
As argued in an earlier commentary, the financial crisis exposed important economic inconsistencies in the way that EMU operated.1 Although progress has been made, the reality is that more needs to be done. A number of countries still need to consolidate their public finances further, and also implement structural reforms to promote growth and sustain satisfactory welfare systems. At the same time, there is a need for vulnerable countries to ensure consistency between regaining competitiveness and the sustainability of private and public debts.
Privatisation and debt: Lessons from Greece’s fiasco
Paolo Manasse31 January 2014
Sales of state-owned assets have been proposed as a way for highly-indebted countries to ease the pain of fiscal consolidation. This column argues that, despite the potential merits of privatisation in terms of long-run efficiency, in practice it is unlikely to improve short-run fiscal solvency. Since governments rarely alienate control rights, the efficiency gains from privatisations are often small. Moreover, financial markets may not fully reflect these gains – particularly during a financial crisis. The implication is that the Troika policy of linking financial assistance to privatisations is inappropriate and self-defeating.
In the midst of the European debt crisis, it is tempting to think that high-debt countries could alleviate the recessionary impact of the budget-consolidation process by selling (poorly managed) assets and stakes in their state-owned enterprises (SOEs), and by using the proceeds to buy back their debts (Hope 2011). In addition to providing a cushion for ongoing adjustment programmes and improving solvency, privatisations are deemed to entail long-term efficiency and welfare gains by attracting foreign direct investment and managerial expertise, thus spurring competition and growth.