Most resources for IMF loans are provided by member countries, primarily through their payment of quotas. Borrowing provides a temporary supplement to quota resources and has played a critical role in enabling the Fund to meet members’ needs for financial support during the global economic crisis. Concessional lending and debt relief for low-income countries are financed through separate contribution-based trust funds.
The quota system
Each member of the IMF is assigned a quota, based broadly on its relative size in the world economy, which determines its maximum contribution to the IMF’s financial resources. Upon joining the IMF, a country normally pays up to one-quarter of its quota in the form of widely accepted foreign currencies (such as the U.S. dollar, euro, yen, or pound sterling) or Special Drawing Rights (SDRs). The remaining three-quarters are paid in the country’s own currency.
Quotas are reviewed at least every five years. In 2010, the 14th General Review of Quotas was completed, and the IMF’s members agreed that the Fund’s quota resources should be doubled to SDR 476.8 billion.
The Fourteenth General Review of Quotas was completed two years ahead of the original schedule in December 2010, with a decision to double the IMF’s quota resources to SDR 476.8 billion.
The IMF’s gold holdings amount to about 90.5 million troy ounces (2,814.1 metric tons), making the IMF the third largest official holder of gold in the world. However, the IMF’s Articles of Agreement strictly limit the use of this gold. If approved by an 85 percent majority of voting power of member countries, the IMF may sell or accept gold as payment by member countries but it is prohibited from buying gold or engaging in other gold transactions.
In December 2010, the IMF sold 403.3 metric tons of gold—about one-eighth of its holdings The limited gold sale was conducted under strong safeguards to avoid market disruption and all gold sales were at market prices, including direct sales to official holders.
SDR 4.4 billion of profits from the sale of its gold were used to establish an endowment as part of the IMF’s new income model, designed to put the institution’s finances on a sustainable footing.A proportion of the gold sales is used to subsidize financing for low-income countries.
The IMF’s lending capacity
The IMF can use its quota-funded holdings of rrencies of financially strong economies to finance lending. The Executive Board selects these currencies every three months. Most are issued by industrial countries, but the list has also included currencies of countries such as Botswana, China, and India. The IMF’s holdings of these currencies, together with its own SDR holdings, make up its own usable resources. If needed, the IMF can temporarily supplement these resources by borrowing (see below).
The amount the IMF has readily available for new (non-concessional) lending is indicated by its forward commitment capacity (FCC). This is determined by its usable resources—including unused amounts under loan and note purchase agreements and amounts available under the IMF’s two standing multilateral borrowing arrangements (see below)— plus projected loan repayments over the subsequent twelve months, less the resources that have already been committed under existing lending arrangements, less a prudential balance.
The IMF maintains two standing multilateral borrowing arrangements—the expanded New Arrangements to Borrow (NAB) and the General Arrangements to Borrow (GAB)—currently with a total borrowing capacity of SDR 370.0 billion (about $560 billion). If the IMF believes that its quota resources might fall short of the needs of its member countries—for example, in the event of a major financial crisis—it can activate these arrangements.
In April 2010, the Executive Board adopted a proposal for an expanded and more flexible NAB, by which the NAB was expanded to SDR 367.5 billion, with the addition of 13 new participating countries, including a number of emerging market countries who made significant contributions to this large expansion. The expanded NAB came into effect on March 11, 2011 and was activated shortly afterwards. The expanded NAB has been activated seven times for the maximum period of six months and for the full amount, with the most recent activation starting on April 1, 2014.
Since the onset of the global crisis, the IMF has signed a number of bilateral loan and note purchase agreements to supplement its quota resources. The first round of bilateral borrowing took place in 2009–10. The use of 2009–10 bilateral borrowing has been discontinued since April 1, 2013 and the remaining undrawn balances under pre-NAB commitments are financed with quota resources.
In 2012, as economic and financial conditions worsened in the Euro Area, 38 countries committed to increase IMF resources further by US$461 billion through bilateral borrowing agreements. As of September 4, 2014, 32 agreements are now effective for $418 billion. These resources will serve as a second line of defense to the Fund’s quota and NAB resources.
IMF concessional lending and debt relief
The IMF provides two primary types of financial assistance to low-income countries: low-interest loans under the Poverty Reduction and Growth Trust (PRGT), and debt relief under the Heavily Indebted Poor Countries (HIPC) Initiative, the Multilateral Debt Relief Initiative (MDRI), and Post-Catastrophe Debt Relief (PCDR). These resources come from member contributions and the IMF itself, rather than from the quota subscriptions.
In July 2009, the Executive Board approved far-reaching reforms of the concessional facilities, including temporarily providing zero interest payments on concessional loans to all low-income countries (subsequently extended through end-2014), to help them cope with the crisis. Along with these reforms, the Fund also sought to boost its concessional lending capacity over 2009–14 by mobilizing an additional SDR 10.8 billion (about $16 billion) in new financing commitments and SDR 1.5 billion (about $2.3 billion, in end-2008 present value terms) in new subsidy resources.
In September 2012, the Fund adopted a strategy to make the PRGT self-sustaining and to support concessional lending of about SDR 1¼ billion (about $2.0 billion) a year, on average, over the longer term. To provide the PRGT with the financial resources needed to sustain this strategy, the Executive Board also approved a partial distribution of the Fund’s general reserve of SDR 1.75 billion (about $2.7 billion) attributed to windfall profits from gold sales. The proviso for this distribution was that it would become effective only once satisfactory assurances were received that members would contribute at least SDR 1.575 billion (equivalent to at least 90 percent of the distribution) in subsidy resources to the PRGT, either from their share in the distribution of reserves or from other, new contributions. Such assurances were achieved on October 10, 2013, with 151 members having pledged contributions corresponding to 92.43 percent of the distribution.
The PRGT-HIPC Trust was established to provide debt relief under the HIPC Initiative and to subsidize PRGT lending. The resources available to the Trust consist of grants and deposits pledged from 93 member countries and contributions from the IMF itself. The bulk of the IMF’s contribution comes from off-market gold transactions made during 1999–2000.
Debt relief under the MDRI-I and MDRI-II Trusts were established in early 2006 and financed from the IMF’s own resources of SDR 1.5 billion in the Special Disbursement Account (SDA). The MDRI-I Trust provided debt relief to countries (both HIPCs and non-HIPCs) with per capita incomes at, or below $380 a year (on the basis of 2004 gross national income). The MDRI-II Trust provided debt relief to HIPCs with per capita incomes above $380 a year, with financing from bilateral resources of SDR 1.12 billion transferred from the PRGT.
The PCDR Trust was established in June 2010 to provide post-catastrophe debt relief. The Trust was initially financed by SDR 280 million (equivalent to around $422 million) of the IMF’s own resources. It is expected to be replenished through future donor contributions, as necessary.
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