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Global Trade Data
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World Economics, December 2019
There are serious problems with official trade statistics since according to the IMF in 2016 the world imported US$339 billion more than it exported. The Ricardian concept of comparative advantage in final goods is no longer fully relevant to explain trade between countries and the solution is to operate a paradigm shift in the packaging and interpretation of trade data. The accuracy and reliability of data is affected by a number of key biases separate from data quality issues and misreporting. The main problems are trade data asymmetries; the Rotterdam Effect and the impact of global value chains. Until this happens international trade statistics will be used as evidence of global trade imbalances and form the basis of potentially misguided policies aimed at their correction.
Measuring Greek Debt: The Difference between Market and Credit Perspectives
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Colin Ellis, World Economics, September 2018
It is likely to be several decades before data on government assets, off-balance sheet and contingent liabilities are consistently available across a wide range of countries. In the absence of data, GDP is a readily available scaling factor, but official sector agencies such as the IMF and private sector analysts recognise the insufficiency of debt–GDP ratios. Some commentators claim that, using international standards, Greek government debt could be only around 75% of GDP, compared with official figures of around 180%. Fundamentally, such discrepancies reflects debt valuation variations related to the difference between market risk and credit risk.
Debunking the Relevance of the Debt-to-GDP Ratio
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Arturo C. Porzecanski, World Economics, March 2018
Historical experience does not confirm the simplistic notion that the heavier the burden of the public debt relative to GDP, the greater is the risk that governments will encounter debt-servicing difficulties. In 25 government defaults that occurred during 1998-2017, the pre-default debt-to-GDP ratios ranged from a very low of 27% (Ecuador in 2008) to a very high of 236% (Nicaragua in 2003), with a sample median of 79%. As ratios of government debt rise, some societies manage to deliver more responsible fiscal behaviour. Low debt ratios, on the other hand, often mask dangerous currency or maturity mismatches, as well as contingent liabilities, capable of suddenly impairing banks and governments. The demand for government bonds can behave unpredictably, and governments with low or high debt ratios can suddenly find themselves cut off from needed financing. Official institutions like the IMF, European Commission, and World Bank have done themselves and their member states a great disfavour by obsessing about debt ratios which do not predict fiscal outcomes.
Making Data Measurement Errors Transparent: The Case of the IMF
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Peter A.G. van Bergeijk, World Economics, September 2017
In 1950 Morgenstern pointed out that absolute precision and certainty are impossible in economic observations, but estimates are often hampered by a substantial degree of measurement error. Unlike the natural sciences, economists in general do not report measurement errors for the key concepts such as prices, value or production that it seeks to define, measure and explain. For most macroeconomic concepts two approaches are available: the Implicit Minimal Measurement Error and the Maximum Ratio. Studying different vintages of the IMF World Economic Outlook data base it was found that the estimates on average have an implicit minimal measurement error of 4.3% and maximum ratio of 17.9%. An agenda is proposed for removing disincentives (creating incentives) for stakeholders (academics, data collectors and producers) since reporting measurement error will result in better research, better policy and ultimately better data.
Measuring The Americas GDP
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World Economics, March 2015
The Americas, comprising the USA and Canada, the Spanish speaking countries of South and Central America plus Brazil and the Caribbean, is a region displaying large differences in living standards. The availability of resources has an impact on the quality and reliability of economic statistics. Chile and Mexico, both OECD members, produce economic data that can be compared favourably with the USA, Canada and many European countries. In other countries out of date base years, outdated national income accounting standards and problems in recording the size of the informal economy mean that GDP figures are likely to be underestimated. The most insidious problem in the region arises from the political manipulation of economic data in Argentina which has led to a censure of the government by the IMF.
Government Accounting
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Ian Ball & Gary Pflugrath, World Economics, March 2012
As the current sovereign debt crisis engulfing Europe broadens and threatens to bring down more governments and lead the world into another, potentially very serious, economic slowdown, minimal commentary and public debate has focused on a fundamental problem, and the need to address it. That problem is the deficient – and sometimes fraudulent – accounting practices employed by many governments around the world. A major shortcoming of many governments has been highlighted by the crisis – that is, the poor quality of public financial management and the lack of public accountability. And, while robust public-sector financial management would not alone solve the crisis, it is clear that the problems presented by the crisis will not be solved without it. Shareholders, debt providers and regulators of publicly listed companies would not tolerate for a minute the poor levels of reporting and disclosure evidenced by governments. Yet while governments recognise the need to impose stringent regulations on companies accessing funds from the public, many – indeed most – make little or no effort to meet such high standards in their own reporting. This is despite the fact that governments seek to raise hundreds of billions – indeed trillions – of dollars from the public. Improved financial reporting, disclosure and financial management of the public sector cannot be achieved until there is recognition that the incentives faced by politicians promote decision-making that works contrary to the public interest and appropriate institutional reforms are implemented.
International Comparisons of GDP
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Ian Castles & David Henderson, World Economics, March 2005
When it comes to making international comparisons of real GDP, different views, conventions and practices are still in evidence. The authors set out the case for using purchasing power parity (PPP) converters for this purpose, rather than conversions based on exchange rates, and give reasons for rejecting various arguments that are still widely made to the contrary. In doing so, they provide instances of the differing current practices of international agencies, and argue the case for greater uniformity and consistency on their part. They make a number of suggestions, general and specific, for improving the quality and presentation of cross-country comparative data.

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