Wednesday, October 1, 2014

1/10/2014: IMF's out of Ideas, but still full of Analysis: WEO Chapter 4

IMF WEO October update is steadily creeping toward its main denouement, the release of the database update at the very end of the process that normally starts with releases of analytical chapters of the WEO - bigger thematic pieces dealing with the core topics relating to the global economy.

This week, IMF released its Chapter 4, covering the issue of current accounts imbalances across the world.

Per IMF, "Global current account (“flow”) imbalances have narrowed significantly since their peak in 2006, and their configuration has changed markedly in the process. The imbalances that used to be the main concern—the large deficit in the United States and surpluses in China and Japan—have more than halved. But some surpluses, especially those in some European economies and oil exporters, remain large, and those in some advanced commodity exporters and major emerging market economies have since moved to deficit."

You don't need to say. Just see this post from earlier today:

But IMF shows some pretty interesting data on composition and levels of imbalances across the globe. Chart below details these:

The IMF argues that "the reduction of large flow imbalances has diminished systemic risks to the global economy." Sounds happy-all-around.

But as usual, there is a kicker, or rather two:
"First, the nature of the flow adjustment—mostly driven by demand compression in deficit economies or growth differentials related to the faster recovery of emerging market economies and commodity exporters after the Great Recession—has meant that in many economies, narrower external imbalances have come at the cost of increased internal imbalances (high unemployment and large output gaps).

This straight into the teeth of the EU, where 'internal devaluations' (beggar thy own consumers and households) policies are all the rage. But it is also a warning to the emerging markets, where the latest stage of economic growth is translating into falling commodities prices, threatening to unravel their own economic 'recoveries' based on beggar-thy-trading-partners economic environment of elevated commodities prices in the past.

"The contraction in these external imbalances is expected to last as the decrease in output due to lowered demand has likely been matched by a decrease in potential output." Which means a Big Boom! Potential output is the stuff economies supposed to produce once the effects of the business cycle (recession-to-expansion) is netted out. In other words, the stuff that is somewhat long-term 'sustainable'. And the above statement says it is down.

"However, there is some uncertainty about the latter, and there is the risk that flow imbalances will
widen again." Which means 'choose your poison' - either risks are materialising in structural growth slowdown or risk will be materialising in current account imbalances returning once again. Rock. Hard place. The world stuck in-between.

"Second, since flow imbalances have shrunk but not reversed, net creditor and debtor positions (“stock imbalances”) have widened further. In addition, weak growth has contributed to increases in the ratio of net external liabilities to GDP in some debtor economies.These two factors make some of these economies more vulnerable to changes in market sentiment. To mitigate these risks, debtor economies
will ultimately need to improve their current account balances and strengthen growth performance."

And here we have the usual bangers-n-mash dish from the IMF. What it says is that debt overhang is not getting better, but might be getting worse. And with that, the IMF runs out of any solutions other than go back to 'internal devaluations'. Which, of course, gets us back to the first kick in teeth. Bigger rock. And an even harder place. And Euro area is now wedged in-between.

"Stronger external demand and more expenditure switching (from foreign to domestic goods and services) would help on both accounts," says IMF. And this is the statement of surrender. Basically IMF says that if more people were to buy stuff from the countries with weak external balances and loads of debt, things will improve. No sh*t Sherlocks. And if money was growing on trees in Sahara Desert, things would improve even more.

IMF's out of idea. But IMF is still full of analysis. QED.
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