Category Archives: IMF WEO

7/4/15: IMF WEO on Global Investment Slump: Part 2: It’s Demand, Not Supply ..

IMF released Chapter 4 of the April 2015 World Economic Outlook update. The chapter covers the issue of lagging growth in private investment (

IMF findings focus on 5 questions:

  1. "Is there a global slump in private investment?"
  2. "Is the sharp slump in advanced economy private investment due just to weakness in housing, or is it broader?"
  3. "How much of the slump in business investment reflects weakness in economic activity?"
  4. "Which businesses have cut back more on investment? What does this imply about which channels—beyond output—have been relevant in explaining weak investment?"
  5. "Is there a disconnect between financial markets and firms’ investment decisions?"

I covered chapter’s main findings for questions 1-2 in the earlier post here:

Now, onto the remaining questions and the core conclusions:

Q3: "The overall weakness in economic activity since the crisis appears to be the primary restraint on business investment in the advanced economies. In surveys, businesses often cite low demand as the dominant factor. Historical precedent indicates that business investment has deviated little, if at all, from what could be expected given the weakness in economic activity in recent years. …Although the proximate cause of lower firm investment appears to be weak economic activity, this itself is due to many factors. And it is worth acknowledging that, as explained in Chapter 3 [of the WEO], a large share of the output loss compared with pre-crisis trends can now be seen as permanent."

Here's a handy chart showing as much:

Figure 4.6. Real Business Investment and Output Relative to Forecasts: Historical Recessions versus Global Financial Crisis (Percent deviation from forecasts in the year of recession, unless noted otherwise; years on x-axis, unless noted otherwise)

Q4: "Beyond weak economic activity, there is some evidence that financial constraints and policy uncertainty play an independent role in retarding investment in some economies, including euro area economies with high borrowing spreads during the 2010–11 sovereign debt crisis. …In particular, firms in sectors that rely more on external funds, such as pharmaceuticals, have seen a larger fall in investment than other firms since the crisis. This finding is consistent with the view that a weak financial system and weak firm balance sheets have constrained investment. Regarding the effect of uncertainty, firms whose stock prices typically respond more to measures of aggregate uncertainty have cut back more on investment in recent years, even after the role of weak sales is accounted for."

Here is an interesting set of charts documenting that financial and policy factors played more significant role in depressing investment in the euro area 'peripheral' states:

Figure 4.10. Selected Euro Area Economies: Accelerator Model—Role of Financial Constraints and Policy Uncertainty (Log index).

Note: in Ireland's case, financial constraints (quality of firms' balance sheets) is the only explanatory factor beyond demand side of the economy for investment collapse in 2013-present, as uncertainty (blue line) strongly diverged from the actual investment dynamics.

Q5: "Finally, regarding the apparent disconnect between buoyant stock market performance and relatively restrained investment growth in some economies, the chapter finds that this too is not unusual. In line with much existing research, it finds that the relationship between market valuations and business investment is positive but weak. Nevertheless, there is some evidence that stock market performance is a leading indicator of future investment, implying that if stock markets remain buoyant, business investment could pick up."


  • So IMF finds no need for any systemic the supply-side adjustments on capital/credit side.
  • It finds no imbalances in the capital markets and finds that demand is the main driver for collapse in investment. 
Where is the need for more 'integration' of the capital markets that the EU is pushing forward as the main tool for addressing low investment levels? Where is the need for more bank credit to support investment? Ah, right, nowhere to be seen…

Meanwhile, the IMF does note the role of debt overhang (legacy debts) in corporate sector as one of the drivers for the current investment slump. "Although this chapter does not further investigate the separate roles of weak firm balance sheets and impaired credit supply, a growing number of studies do so and suggest that both channels have been relevant." In particular, "For example, Kalemli-Ozcan, Laeven, and Moreno (forthcoming) investigate the separate roles of weak corporate balance sheets, corporate debt overhang, and weak bank balance sheets in hindering investment in Europe in recent years using a firm-level data set on small and medium-sized enterprises in which each firm is matched to its bank. They find that all three of these factors have inhibited investment in small firms but that corporate debt overhang (defined by the long-term debt-to-earnings ratio) has been the most

Thus, once again, how likely is it that low cost and abundant credit supply unleashed onto SMEs - as our policymakers in Ireland and the EU are dreaming day after day - will be able to repair investment collapse? Err… not likely.

7/4/15: IMF WEO on Global Investment Slump: Part 1: It’s Private Sector Issue..

IMF released Chapter 4 of the April 2015 World Economic Outlook update. The chapter covers the issue of lagging growth in private investment.

Titled "PRIVATE INVESTMENT: WHAT’S THE HOLDUP?", IMF paper starts with a simple, yet revealing summary:
"Private fixed investment in advanced economies contracted sharply during the global financial crisis, and there has been little recovery since. Investment has generally slowed more gradually in the rest of the world. Although housing investment fell especially sharply during the crisis, business investment accounts for the bulk of the slump, and the overriding factor holding it back has been the overall weakness of economic activity. In some countries, other contributing factors include financial constraints and policy uncertainty. These findings suggest that addressing the general weakness in economic activity is crucial for restoring growth in private investment."

So the key message is simple: investment contraction is not driven primarily by the failures of the financial system, but rather by the weak growth - a structural, systemic slowdown in growth. Full text available here:

Let's take a closer look at IMF findings that focus on 5 questions:

  1. "Is there a global slump in private investment?"
  2. "Is the sharp slump in advanced economy private investment due just to weakness in housing, or is it broader?"
  3. "How much of the slump in business investment reflects weakness in economic activity?"
  4. "Which businesses have cut back more on investment? What does this imply about which channels—beyond output—have been relevant in explaining weak investment?"
  5. "Is there a disconnect between financial markets and firms’ investment decisions?"

The chapter’s main findings are as follows (in this post, I will cover questions 1-2 with remaining questions addressed in the follow up post):

Q1: "The sharp contraction in private investment during the crisis, and the subsequent weak recovery, have primarily been a phenomenon of the advanced economies." Across advanced economies, "private investment has declined by an average of 25 percent since the crisis compared with pre-crisis forecasts, and there has been little recovery. In contrast, private investment in emerging market and developing economies has gradually slowed in recent years, following a boom in the early to mid-2000s."

Figure 4.1. Real Private Investment (Log index, 1990 = 0)

Q2: "The investment slump in the advanced economies has been broad based. Though the contraction has been sharpest in the private residential (housing) sector, nonresidential (business) investment—which is a much larger share of total investment—accounts for the bulk (more than two-thirds) of the slump. There is little sign of recovery toward pre-crisis investment trends in either sector."

Figure 4.2. Real Private Investment, 2008–14 (Average percent deviation from pre-crisis forecasts)

Spot Ireland in this…

And per broad spread of contraction, see next:

Figure 4.3. Categories of Real Fixed Investment (Log index, 1990 = 0)

But here's an interesting chart breaking down investment contraction by public v private investment sources:

Figure 4.4. Decomposition of the Investment Slump, 2008–14 (Average percent deviation from spring 2007 forecasts)

This, sort of, flies in the face of those arguing that Government investment should be the driver for growth, as it shows that public investment contraction had at most a mild negative impact on some euro area states (Ireland is included in the above under "Selected euro area").

Next post will cover Questions 3-5 and provide top-level conclusions.

23/1/2015: Russian Economy Growth Downgrades

On top of downgrades by the rating agencies, Russia also got downgraded by the host of international agencies - in terms of country growth prospects for 2015-2016. The IMF downgrade took 2015-2016 forecast for growth of 0.5% and 1.5% for 2015 and 2016 respectively published in October 2014 down to a contraction of -3.0% in 2015 and -1.0% in 2016. The Fund estimates 2014 GDP growth of 0.6% for the full year and Q4 2014 growth of zero percent compared to Q4 2013. Not bad for the economy going though a massive, multi-dimensional crisis. But a poor outlook for 2015-2016. IMF estimates are based on assumed oil price (full-year average weighted of 3 spot prices) at below USD60 but above USD55 (see, so closer to USD57.

The World Bank outlook, released on January 14th is a bit less gloomy when it comes to 2016. Per World Bank, "sustained low oil prices will weaken activity in exporting countries. For example, the Russian economy is projected to contract by 2.9 percent in 2015, getting barely back into positive territory in 2016 with growth expected at 0.1 percent." World Bank oil price assumption is USD66 per bbl.

EBRD notes that "Geopolitical risks from the Ukraine/Russia crisis remain significant, although they are contained for the time being." According to the bank, "Russia is projected to slip into recession, with GDP contracting by close to 5 per cent."  On more detailed assessment, EBRD says that: "In Russia, lower oil prices have compounded the effect of deep-seated structural problems, increased uncertainty and low investor confidence, along with the increasing impact of economic sanctions imposed since March 2014. In the first three quarters of 2014 investment continued to decline, consumption growth decelerated to below 1 per cent, and imports dropped by 6 per cent in real terms. Capital outflows more than doubled to an estimated US$ 151 billion in 2014. As a result, the rouble has lost almost half of its value in 2014 vis-à-vis the US dollar and Russia lost about a quarter of its international reserves, ending the year at around US$ 380 billion (including the less liquid National Welfare Fund). Markets were particularly shaken in late November/early December 2014, and the central bank had to raise its policy rate to 17 per cent to stem pressure on the currency. The government provided additional capital to a number of banks, temporarily relaxed certain prudential requirements for banks, and introduced measures to increase the supply on the foreign exchange markets by state-owned companies and put in place additional incentives for de-offshorisation."

An interesting footnote to the analysis is covering remittances from Russia. "Remittances from Russia to Central Asia and the EEC continued to decline (see Chart below). Partial data for the fourth quarter in 2014 suggest that the decline is likely to have accelerated in recent months, entering two-digit percentage rate territory, as the Russian economy weakened and the sharp drop in the value of the rouble reduced the US dollar (and also local currency) value of the remitted earnings. Lower remittances inflows will affect consumption adversely and likely add to downward pressures on a number of currencies in EEC and Central Asia, which also face reduced export demand and investment flows from Russia."

Crucially, EBRD forecasts also reflect downgrades on September 2014 outlook. EBRD now estimates 2014 growth to be at 0.4% (more gloomy than IMF estimate and down on 9.6% estimate at the end of Q3 2014), with a contraction of 4.8% in 2015, which represents a downgrade of 4.6 percentage points from September forecast. EBRD oil price assumption is around USD57-59 per bbl.

Chart below summarises unemployment trend 2013-2014:

21/1/2015: Global Trade Indicators Flashing Red

Two very interesting charts reflecting upon the same macroeconomic reality: world trade is slowing down. Big time…

First, IMF revisions of the global trade growth rates forecasts for 2015 - now at their lowest in 12 months (chart courtesy of the @zerohedge):

And next, Baltic Dry Index series printing 753,000 currently, a level consistent with depths of 2009 crisis and 2012-2013 slump (chart courtesy of @Schuldensuehner) :

All in, the above highlights the powerless nature of large scale advanced economies' QE measures when it comes to reigniting global demand.