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International Monetary Fund: Global Financial Stability Report

The Quest for Lasting Stability

Director: José Viñals
April 19, 2012

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The April 2012 Global Financial Stability Report from the International Monetary Fund states that although the global financial regulatory framework is being strengthened, no asset is truly risk-free. It highlights longevity risk as a pressing economic issue and analyzes its fiscal implications.

Recent important policy steps have brought some much-needed relief to euro area financial markets. As discussed in Chapters 1 and 2, sovereign spreads have declined, bank funding markets have partly reopened, and equity prices have recovered. Nevertheless, pressures on European banks remain, including from sovereign risks, weak euro area growth, high rollover requirements, and the need to strengthen capital cushions to regain investor trust. Together, these pressures have induced a broader drive to reduce balance sheet size. Analysis in this Global Financial Stability Report suggests that large EU-based banks could shrink their combined balance sheet by as much as $2.6 trillion (€2.0 trillion) through end-2013, or almost 7 percent of total assets. Although subject to considerable uncertainty, our estimate is that about one-fourth of this deleveraging could occur through a reduction in lending, with the remainder coming largely from sales of securities and noncore assets. Under the baseline, the impact on euro area credit supply is estimated at about 1.7 percent of present credit outstanding. Some balance sheet reduction by individual banks is necessary because high leverage is no longer supported by either markets or regulators and some activities are no longer viable. But the potential consequences of a synchronized and large-scale deleveraging warrant supervisory efforts to avoid serious damage to asset prices, credit supply, and economic activity in Europe and beyond.

Against this backdrop, European policymakers need to build on recent improvements to implement the agreed reforms swiftly. Avoiding fresh setbacks will be critical, especially on the difficult path ahead, which is fraught with political and implementation risk. The recent decision to combine the European Stability Mechanism with the European Financial Stability Facility is welcome and, along with other recent European efforts, will strengthen the European crisis mechanism and support the IMF's efforts to bolster the global firewall. But to achieve lasting stability and move to a path that inspires confidence, these crisis management policies need to be anchored with a road map of further financial and fiscal integration of the Economic and Monetary Union.

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