Tag Archives: imf

Would Another European Managing Director At The IMF Be The Answer For Greece?

By Simon Johnson; for more on related issues, see my new Bloomberg column on the IMF succession.  For more background on the IMF, see Tuesday’s Planet Money Podcast.

Greece has no good options. Without question, Greece brought debt problems on itself – this is the consequence of politicians using irresponsible fiscal policy to win elections.

As the International Monetary Fund put it when Greece became the first eurozone country to borrow from the fund in May 2010, “Even with the lower deficits envisaged under the program, the debt as share of GDP will continue to peak at almost 150 percent of GDP in 2013 before declining thereafter.” The situation has not improved in recent months – even under the most optimistic scenario, the debt-GDP ratio will peak above this number.

The problem is that loose talk among European leadership of potentially “restructuring” or “reprofiling” Greek debt creates more problems than it solves. Financial markets fear another Lehman moment, in which authorities decide to let a significant borrower fail – without fully understanding the consequences. Continue reading

The Race For The IMF

By Simon Johnson (this post comprises the first two paragraphs of a column now running on Bloomberg)

Even before the shocking events of the past few days, the international policy community had been contemplating a successor to Dominique Strauss-Kahn at the International Monetary Fund.

Strauss-Kahn, the IMF managing director, was expected to begin campaigning soon for the presidency of France. Now, whatever happens in the New York legal system as he defends himself against attempted rape allegations, it seems likely that the IMF will be searching for a new head sooner rather than later.

To read the rest of this column, please follow this link: http://www.bloomberg.com/news/2011-05-17/emerging-markets-might-name-strauss-kahn-heir-simon-johnson.html

An Underfunded Program For Greece

By Peter Boone and Simon Johnson

The EU, led by France and Germany, appears to have some sort of financing package in the works for Greece (probably still without a major role for the IMF).  But the main goal seems to be to buy time – hoping for better global outcomes – rather than dealing with the issues at any more fundamental level.

Greece needs 30-35bn euros to cover its funding needs for the rest of this year.  But under their current fiscal plan, we are looking at something like 60bn euros in refinancing per year over the next several years – taking their debt level to 150 percent of GDP; hardly a sustainable medium-term fiscal framework.

A fully credible package would need around 200bn euros, to cover three years.  But the moral hazard involved in such a deal would be immense – there is no way the German government can sell that to voters (or find that much money through an off-government balance sheet operation). Continue reading

Greece Should Approach The IMF

By Simon Johnson

European Union pressure is growing for Greece to “do the right thing” – which means, to the EU’s leaders, a massive and sudden cut in the Greek budget deficit.  Greece, without doubt, has gotten itself into a fine mess; still, it is now time for the Greek government push back more effectively.

Fuming at EU arrogance will accomplish nothing.  And, while global investment banks may have helped hide the evidence, it seems unlikely they actually designed the great blunder of eurozone admission (and broken Greek promises).  It’s time to stop blaming others and get crafty.

Greece should open a semi-official channel to the IMF and talk discretely about taking out a loan. Continue reading

Recession and Recovery: How Long?

I’ve commented earlier that many economic forecasts seem to assume reversion to the mean – here, meaning average economic growth over the last two decades. For a great example, go to the Wall Street Journal and admire the GDP growth rates projected for Q3 2009 through Q2 2010, marching happily up and to the right. (The numbers are 0.6%, 1.8%, 2.3%, and 2.8%.) This recession is different, however, and even if there is a mean to revert to after U.S. households decide how much they want to save, there’s no telling how long it will take.

For one perspective, the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace had a session at the end of April featuring a few IMF economists. Marco Terrones (link to PowerPoint at the bottom of the page) looked at the typical duration of a recession and the ensuing recovery. The duration of recovery is measured to the point at which the economy reaches its previous peak output (the output level when the recession began – December 2007 in our case). He looked at 122 recessions since 1960. 

Continue reading

Is The Crisis Over Yet? The CBO Weighs In

Confidence is returning to most credit markets, consumer spending is likely to rebound for some items (autos and housing repair are leading contenders), and firms in the US are starting to sound more optimistic.  On NYT.com’s Economix yesterday, Peter Boone and I suggested that we are out of the panic phase of the crisis – in large part because the US fiscal stimulus has reassured people worldwide, but also because President Obama has had a broader calming effect.

Today, the Congressional Budget Office is pointing out that it would be premature to congratulate ourselves too much (disclosure: I’ve joined the CBO’s Panel of Economic Advisers, but none of the information here comes from them).  As you likely know, the administration is proposing to lend $100bn to the IMF, as part of that organization’s increase in resources following the G20 summit.  Peter Orszag, head of OMB, argued that there was zero probability of this money being lost, so $100bn should be “scored” for budget purposes as $0bn – which is how this kind of transaction has been handled in the past.  As the IMF likes to say, it is “the lender of last resort, but the first to be repaid.”

After considerable back and forth, the scoring issue was refered to the CBO.  The CBO has reportedly decided there is a 5 percent probability of default by the IMF.  This is an extraordinarily important statement.  Most informed people just assume that the risk of IMF default is zero, because that would essentially constitute a complete breakdown of the global economy and payments system.  But nothing is zero probability, particularly in a world of massive financial panics, incipient protectionism, and improvised global governance. Continue reading

Can The US Save The World? (House Testimony)

Yesterday I testified to the House Subcommittee on International Monetary Policy and Trade (part of the House Financial Services Committee).  The hearing’s title was “Implications of the G-20 Leaders Summit for Low Income Countries and the Global Economy,” and the main topic was whether Congress should support an extra $100bn for the IMF that the Obama Administration agreed at the G20 summit in early April (witness list, webcast, and written testimony).

The committee was mostly in favor of the US continuing to play a leading role in supporting the IMF, but pressed the witnesses to explain whether the IMF could lose this money (highly unlikely), how this would protect American jobs (definitely, but hard to quantify precisely), and if the broader package of IMF reform should also be supported (e.g., the proposed gold sales are being reassessed, to see they could generate more resources for aid to developing countries).

Politico is reporting that US funding for the IMF is likely to be attached to the war supplemental spending bill.  The subcommittee’s chairman, Gregory Meeks, seemed positive – as did all the Democrats who spoke, along with Gary Miller, the Ranking Member/Senior Republican.  But, based on remarks made by at least two Republican members of the subcommittee, there is likely to be a big public fight at some point.  My guess is that the Democratic side will press hard for President Obama to more publicly explain why supporting the IMF (and the G20) is very much in the US interest.

The main points from my written testimony are below.  While Treasury represents the US vis-a-vis the IMF and traditionally has considerable scope for action, the views of Congress on IMF details are very important as both guidance and constraints.  In our advice on the wide range of IMF-related issues below, both I and the other witnesses laid out broadly similar views with varying emphasis – there was actually much more disagreement among committee members than at the witness table. Continue reading