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

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

IMF Survey: IMF Develops Framework to Manage Capital Inflows

April 5, 2011

  • IMF looks at country experience with capital inflows, policy responses
  • Develops conceptual framework to weigh different measures
  • Open to use of capital controls in appropriate circumstances

The IMF is developing a framework to help countries manage large capital inflows as part of its ongoing work to assess the risks facing economies as they recover from the global crisis.

IMF Develops Framework to Manage Capital Inflows

The latest IMF research is part of work begun over a year ago to develop a pragmatic approach to help countries manage large capital flows (photo: IMF)


The framework helps countries

• Weigh the benefits of different policy responses on their economies.

• Choose from a menu of policy options to respond to capital inflows.

• Determine the appropriate circumstances to consider taxes, certain prudential measures, and capital controls, which together comprise “capital flow management” measures.

This latest research is part of work begun over a year ago, and now endorsed by the IMF’s Executive Board, to develop a pragmatic, experience-based approach to help countries manage large capital inflows. Until last year, capital controls were not seen as part of the policy toolkit, now they are.

The Fund released two studies this week: Recent Experiences in Managing Capital Inflows—Cross-Cutting Themes and Possible Policy Framework, which looks at country cases and suggests a framework of measures available to manage inflows, including macroeconomic policies, tax and prudential measures, and capital controls. The second paper, Managing Capital Inflows: What Tools to Use, provides analytical underpinning to the Fund’s research on the topic.

This work on capital flows is part of a broader work agenda to enhance the coverage, candor, and evenhandedness of IMF policy advice. In the process, the organization is looking at ways to strengthen how it evaluates advanced economies, where the global crisis began.

The IMF is studying the originators of capital flows, known as the “push” forces. Reports on the effects that policies in one country or group of countries might have on others, known as spillovers, are being prepared for the world’s five largest systemic economies—China, the euro area, Japan, the United Kingdom, and the United States.

Choices, choices, choices

While capital flows are generally beneficial for receiving countries, surges in inflows carry risks for their economies and financial systems. IMF research finds that policy responses to inflows have varied considerably, in part because of the differences between countries and the nature of the capital inflows in each case.

Surges in inflows can pose challenges such as rapid currency appreciation and a buildup in financial sector fragilities, such as those stemming from asset price bubbles or rapid credit growth, or the risk of a sudden stop or reversal of inflows.

The management of capital inflows “covers a whole swath of economic policies,” said IMF Managing Director Dominique Strauss-Kahn in his statement to the Executive Board. These issues are central to the role of the IMF.

IMF research: common ground and lessons

The following key principles form the foundation of an organizing framework around which national authorities can formulate policies:

1. No “one-size-fits-all”. The right policy mix will depend on each country’s circumstances, including the state of the domestic economy and the nature and magnitude of the capital inflows.

2. Structural reforms are always encouraged. Policies designed to increase the capacity of the economy to absorb capital inflows for example, by creating deeper domestic capital markets should be pursued under all circumstances.

3. There are no substitutes for the right macro policies. Any response has to give primacy to macroeconomic policies. Measures specifically designed to influence inflows cannot be a substitute for the implementation of appropriate macroeconomic policies.

4. Capital controls are part of the policy toolkit. As explained recently by the Managing Director, capital controls can be used on a case-by-case basis, in appropriate circumstances.

5. Design the medicine to treat the ailment. Capital flow management measures should match the specific macroeconomic or financial stability concerns in question. In general, these measures should maximize efficiency and minimize distortions, and should be withdrawn when risks recede.

6. Think of others. Policies that might affect the external stability of other countries and, by extension, global financial stability or growth prospects, should be discouraged. In this regard, the framework suggests giving preference to measures that do not discriminate on a residency basis. This reflects the Fund’s multilateral mandate to promote systemic stability and foster global policy coordination.

The effectiveness of the policy framework will be analyzed and adjusted over time, particularly in light of the impact that policies in one country or group of countries might have on others.

Country experiences in managing capital flows will also be covered in forthcoming IMF research and in the upcoming Regional Economic Outlooks, to be issued in late April and May this year.