World Economics

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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.
How Accurate Are the National Balance Sheets for China?
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James L. Chan, World Economics, September 2017
The accuracy of data on China’s national balance sheets has attracted much less attention than that of the Gross Domestic Product reports. China’s Bureau of National Statistics has not released official national balance sheets, but two Chinese research teams have produced estimates for recent years. A detailed analysis of these reports by the author reveals varying degrees of discrepancies for the whole Chinese economy and its components, and for different types of assets and liabilities. The System of National Accounts was claimed by researchers as a common framework, but non-standard classifications and disclosures of assets and liabilities from diverse data sources mean that many issues must be resolved before China’s wealth can be measured accurately.
Risk Exposures in International and Sectoral Balance Sheet Data
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Philip R. Lane, World Economics, December 2015
This paper outlines the opportunities and pitfalls for risk analysts in interpreting the information embedded in international and sectoral balance sheets. It places an emphasis on the different risks posed by net financial stock imbalances and the cross-holding of large stocks of gross financial assets and gross financial liabilities. It argues that it is important to supplement sectoral-level data with more disaggregated levels of data, in view of the importance of intra-sectoral financial linkages and the heterogeneity in portfolios and funding mechanisms within sectors. Finally, the growing internationalisation of financial balance sheets means that it is important to take a unified approach to the joint analysis of international and sectoral balance sheets.
Discount Rate Set Too High
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Angus Hanton, World Economics, September 2012
The size of government liabilities is only now becoming apparent, but the choice of discount rate is crucial in estimating these. Historically this has been set using Green Book methods and FRS17 accounting standards, but now government is moving to using a rate based on hoped-for economic growth of 3% plus inflation. The more prudent rate to use would be the much lower gilt rate of under 1% – the government’s long-term index-linked cost of borrowing. Use of the 1% rate would show liabilities more than £2 trillion higher, and these will increase as the effects of using the higher discount rate ‘unwind’. Furthermore, the overoptimism from using a high discount rate can lead to poor policy decisions in pensions, government spending and strategic planning.
America’s Dangerously Opaque Public Accounting Systems
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Avantika Chilkoti, World Economics, March 2012
The current global economic crisis has highlighted the problems that result from governments’ archaic and erroneous accounting practices. The Financial Report of the United States Government is scrutinised with the same pedantry that an auditor or long-term investor uses when studying the financial statements of a listed company. What emerges is an all too clear picture of the extent and the root of America’s economic crisis. USA Inc. is found to have a net worth of minus $44 trillion, a symptom of unfunded liabilities that have grown as entitlement expenditure has rocketed. As well as changes in policy, it is the external auditing of government accounts that is suggested as a potential panacea for this global epidemic.
Re-thinking Economic Progress
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Giles Atkinson, World Economics, March 2000
Most national governments have pledged a commitment to sustainable development. The transformation of these pledges into policy is a formidable challenge. Of particular interest are proposals for the construction of green alternatives to Gross Domestic Product (GDP), which it is hoped will provide policy-makers with a consistent and summary signal of "true" trends in the economy both now and into the future. This paper reviews the green accounting debate over the past decade. the author argues that, while initial expectations have, at times, been overstated, there are encouraging signs for policy-makers attempting to make sense of their commitments to sustainable development. One such indication is the increasing emphasis on improved measures of saving, providing a better link between actions in the present and their implications for the future.

Displaying: 1-7 of 7