The Second IMF Statistical Forum—Statistics for Policymaking by Christine Lagarde, Managing Director, International Monetary Fund

November 18, 2014

Welcoming Remarks by Christine Lagarde
Managing Director, International Monetary Fund
Washington, D.C., Tuesday, November 18, 2014

As prepared for delivery

Good morning, and thank you very much, Louis Marc, for your kind introduction.

Thank you all for being here, and thank you to our Statistics Department for organizing the Second IMF Statistical Forum!

Let me start with a quote from Kipling:

If history were taught in the form of stories it would never be forgotten.”

So, today I would like to start by sharing a few stories or “factoids” with you.

First, did you know that all the gold ever mined is estimated to fit in the Fund’s HQ2 atrium—in a space of 21 cubic meters to be exact—and that it has a current market value of about 7 trillion U.S. dollars? And did you know that roughly 20 percent of that amount is held as official reserves by governments and central banks around the world?

How did we know that? Through our regular publication of the IMF International Financial Statistics, or IFS. Almost every member country now subscribes to it, with our two newest members, Myanmar and South Sudan, recently being included in the pages of the IFS. The IFS is a key public good that the IMF provides and it is an important pillar of its surveillance activities.

But why is this factoid important? Because it tells us that despite the seemingly large number of gold reserves, the demand for non-gold reserves—or reserve currencies—continues to grow at a faster pace than that of gold, with implications for the global monetary system.

Here is another factoid: did you know that in Kenya, mobile money accounts surpassed the number of commercial bank deposits, providing access to financial services to 75 percent of its population?

How did we know that? Through the IMF’s Financial Access Survey which collects geographic and demographic data on access to basic financial services by households and nonfinancial corporations worldwide. This is an annual survey and available free-of-charge on our website.

Why is this important? Because it tells us that we can leverage improvements in technology to expand access to finance to previously “unbanked” people—we can increase financial inclusion. Thanks to mobile money technology, Kenya is now the most financially inclusive country in Africa!

So if you are wondering why the IMF cares so much about statistics and hosting such forums—I would say the reason is obvious.

The quest for understanding and making sense of the real world—by recording tasks and counting objects—has anchored economic development and social behavior over the past several millennia. Data has gained prominence as a vital building block for making sound policy. Without reliable and timely economic data, we would be wandering in the dark, making decisions on the basis of anecdotes, gut feelings, or worse.

However, the world of economic and financial statistics is not “static.” Markets evolve, and policy needs adapt. There needs to be continuous dialogue between the users and suppliers of data on relevant economic and financial issues.

This is precisely the objective of our forum today. It provides a unique setting for discussing cutting-edge statistics among a broad range of stakeholders: academics, private sector analysts, data compilers, and decision makers.

The theme for this year’s forum is identifying macroeconomic and financial vulnerabilities. To do this, we need to touch upon a broad range of topics, including cross-border linkages, key market indicators, and survey data, and even “Big Data.”

We need to bring all relevant information to the service of macroeconomic policymaking.

I would like to use this opportunity to offer a few thoughts on three key activities under way at the Fund:
(i) the IMF/FSB G-20 Data Gaps Initiative;
(ii) the IMF Data Standards Initiatives; and
(iii) our Data Publication Initiative.

1. IMF/FSB G-20 Data Gaps Initiative

Let me start with the IMF/FSB G20 Data Gaps Initiative.

The global financial crisis revealed the risks posed by inter-linkages across institutions and markets to the national and global financial systems. This theme was echoed in our recently completed Surveillance Review, where risks and spillovers are seen as a first order issue for the Fund.

This includes a more systematic analysis of outward spillovers and spillbacks in systemic countries. One consequence is that staff will be giving a greater focus to national balance sheets. For this, high-quality, comparable, and timely data, are essential.

Work is also underway under the IMF/FSB G-20 Data Gaps Initiative, which includes 20 recommendations covering data on the financial sector, cross-border interconnections, and domestic vulnerabilities. As part of this initiative, we revised the list of Financial Soundness Indicators (or FSIs) and expanded coverage to about 100 countries at present.

2. Data Standards Initiatives

While we are trying to close gaps, we are also trying to increase the overall quality of our data, and make them more widely available.

You may recall that the IMF’s Data Standards Initiatives were introduced in the wake of the crises in the 1990s to enhance data dissemination to the public. Virtually the whole membership of the IMF participates in either the General Data Dissemination System (GDDS) or the Special Data Dissemination Standard (SDDS), which is more demanding.

We of course aim to have many of our members join the more comprehensive standard, and I am very pleased that China’s President Xi Jinping announced during the G20 Leader’s Summit this past weekend that his country intends to graduate from the GDDS to the SDDS. Our staff will be working closely with the Chinese authorities to facilitate early subscription to the SDDS.

Given the data gaps revealed by the financial crisis, we realized a few years back that these two standards need to be enhanced. In February 2012, we therefore established a third tier of the IMF’s Data Standards Initiatives—the SDDS Plus. The SDDS Plus further expands data coverage to include sectoral balance sheets and data on cross-border interconnections through securities markets.

And I am very pleased to report that the first cluster of nine countries has committed to adhere to the SDDS Plus, including France, Germany, Italy, the Netherlands, the Philippines, Portugal, Spain, Sweden, and the United States. We look forward to other countries joining them very soon.

3. Data Publication Initiative

Finally, let me turn to another very important aspect of the IMF’s statistical work—data publication.

We very much recognize the importance of data as a public good. In this context, we are upgrading our data platforms and improving the way we distribute data and statistics to our membership throughout the world.

Think of the One African Data Hub that the IMF has recently launched in collaboration with the African Development Bank. This is a “cloud-based” data reporting tool that makes it less onerous for reporters to provide economic data, and much easier for users to share data.

Much of our data is already freely available. This is especially true of the data that supports our main forecasts for the global economy in the World Economic Outlook.

And I have an important announcement to make—starting January 1, 2015 we will provide all our online data free-of-charge to everyone.

This will help all those who draw on our data make better use of this vital statistical resource—from budget numbers to balance of payments data, debt statistics to critical global indicators.

The IMF will continue to be a vital source of public information that is needed to underpin sound policy decisions.

Thank you.


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