Typical street scene in Santa Ana, El Salvador. (Photo: iStock)

Typical street scene in Santa Ana, El Salvador. (Photo: iStock)

IMF Survey: IMF Urges Action to Strengthen Global Financial System

March 12, 2008

  • Risks of further escalation of crisis rising
  • Decisive action needed to put global financial system on firmer footing
  • First priority to reverse spreading strains in global financial markets

The IMF called for "decisive policy action" to strengthen the global financial system, buffeted by fallout from the subprime crisis, noting that authorities worldwide must also "think the unthinkable" so that they can better anticipate and react to potential global economic risks.

IMF Urges Action to Strengthen Global Financial System

Lipsky welcomed central bank action to ensure market liquidity, pointing to spreading financial market strains. (photo: IMF)

Lipsky speech

"By now, there is little doubt that risks of further escalation of this crisis are rising and decisive policy action will be required to put the global financial system and global economy on a firmer footing," said John Lipsky, First Deputy Managing Director of International Monetary Fund (IMF).

"The first priority must be to reverse the spreading strains in global financial markets, and to restore the normal functioning of the financial system in advanced economies," he stated in an address at the Peterson Institute for International Economics in Washington, DC.

"The actions taken yesterday [March 11]," Lipsky added, "by several central banks are helpful, as they reflect a recognition of this critical need to assure market liquidity."

Review of IMF thinking

Lipsky's speech "Dealing with the Financial Turmoil: Contingent Risks, Policy Challenges, and the Role of the IMF," outlines current IMF thinking on global economic and financial developments with the aim of focusing public attention on the importance of policy makers and regulators in advanced, emerging and developing countries taking steps to guard against contingent risks that could further deepen already significant policy challenges.

Though advanced economies are taking steps in the right direction, integration of financial markets globally implies more rapid and potent spillovers to other economies, Lipsky warned. Policy actions worldwide, so far, "may not prove to be adequate" to deal with the "low probability but high impact events" that may materialize and undermine global financial stability. "Policymakers as a matter of course need to `think the unthinkable,' and to consider how they would plan to react if contingencies arise. The need to prepare systematically for potential risks has been demonstrated amply during the past few months."

Lipsky pointed to the potential for a "global financial decelerator" that could amplify the impact of financial turmoil on the real economy.

"A downward credit spiral, driven by rising defaults or margin calls that forces asset sales even as the value of collateral deteriorates could produce new rounds of deleveraging and asset price deflation," he explained.

The senior IMF official underscored the role of the IMF in the current global environment, noting that that Fund has the expertise to help countries determine whether they have space for countercyclical policies. "At the IMF, we are giving serious thought to what can be done if contingent risks materialize," he said, adding that "we are using our expertise and many years of experience in helping our member countries weather crises to think about what policies might prove most effective."

Countercyclical policies

Lipsky stated that in the current environment, monetary policy may be less effective than in past episodes. For that reason, he explained, the IMF has looked at the role of countercyclical fiscal policy. "In the United States, where growth has slowed significantly, the temporary and targeted fiscal stimulus already enacted should help to support demand.

"Of course, the rest of the world will not be immune to the slowdown in the United States, especially if it becomes serious. In these circumstances, contingency planning is also required...we are advising our members to consider whether they have room to adopt temporary fiscal measures, if needed."

The financial crisis started in a relatively small part of the U.S. financial system—the subprime mortgage market—but has now become a global problem, he said. And even though the problem is essentially financial in origin, the complex interlinkages between financial markets and economic activity have put the global economy at risk.

The IMF has said that it expects global growth, affected by recent financial market turbulence and a weakening U.S. performance, will slow to 4.1 percent in 2008, down from an estimated 4.9 percent last year. But Lipsky said the world should be ready for a further deterioration.

Other key points:

    • Monetary policy is the first line of defense, especially in advanced economies. The U.S. Federal Reserve has appropriately taken aggressive action to help support the economy, and central banks in Canada and the United Kingdom have also reduced policy rates. The European Central Bank has kept rates on hold, but would respond flexibly if circumstances shift.

    • The Fund's preliminary assessment suggests that several major advanced and emerging economies—accounting for two thirds of global GDP—could let automatic stabilizers operate fully in the event of a deeper downturn and that a smaller number—accounting for nearly one half of global GDP—would be able to implement a discretionary stimulus.

    • The policy plans developed in the context of the Fund's Multilateral Consultation on Global Imbalances are still relevant, and policies that are adopted should be consistent with the dual goals of sustaining growth while reducing global imbalances. In China, for example, a change in the policy mix to allow for tighter monetary policy through exchange rate appreciation and looser fiscal policy with an appropriate emphasis on social safety net spending reflects sensible macroeconomic management for a country facing rising inflation pressures. Fiscal stimulus in the United States must be strictly temporary—the longer-term fiscal problems are too significant to give up on the progress that has been made in recent years.

Comments on this article should be sent to imfsurvey@imf.org