G20

Chris Giles

Policy makers perform U-turns only at times of no alternative. Though there was a lot of talk about growth here in Busan, South Korea, the big news was that the global community now thinks fiscal stimulus is yesterday’s idea.

All in all, it is pretty sobering stuff. Fiscal stimulus has been ditched, not because the G20 thinks the private sector is surging ahead in Europe, but because there is no other option.

As recently as April, the G20 communique concluded:

“In economies where growth is still highly dependent on policy support and consistent with sustainable public finances, it should be maintained until the recovery is firmly driven by the private sector and becomes more entrenched.”

But today, all talk of continued policy support until recovery is entrenched has disappeared and the tone is very different:

“The recent events highlight the importance of sustainable public finances and the need for our countries to put in place credible, growth-friendly measures, to deliver fiscal sustainability, differentiated for and tailored to national circumstances. Those countries with serious fiscal challenges need to accelerate the pace of consolidation. We welcome the recent announcements by some countries to reduce their deficits in 2010 and strengthen their fiscal frameworks and institutions”.

Although Britain, in particular, claimed credit for the change of tone and some deficit hawks such as Jean Claude Trichet, president of the European Central Bank, seemed genuinely pleased, many other ministers and officials worried that  Read more

Chris Giles

There is no doubt that the international wrangle over new banking regulations is hotting up. Standards for capital, liquidity and leverage are due to be settled by November and this is the big bone of contention here in Busan where G20 finance ministers are meeting. There does not seem to be a resolution in sight yet.

Everyone agrees that banking regulations need to be beefed up, but that is where consensus ends and the dissent starts. That this is difficult and threatens to blow up is clear from the delay to the higher capital requirements for banks’ trading books, which was due to be introduced in January and has now been postponed. There are disagreements over: Read more

By James Lamont in New Delhi

A possible emergency interest rate hike in India is back on the cards.

Data showing India had recorded 8.6 per cent economic growth in the quarter to the end of March has reignited expectations that the Reserve Bank of India might not wait for the July quarterly policy review to tighten monetary policy.

Comments by Pranab Mukherjee, the finance minister, on his arrival in South Korea for G20 talks will have only emboldened the hawks. India, after only Australia, has tightened monetary policy most aggressively in the G20. More is to come soon.

Mr Mukherjee said India would continue to raise interest rates in spite of uncertainty surrounding the wider effects of the eurozone’s debt woes to the global economy. In his view, India’s largely domestically-driven economy has very little exposure to Greece.

What Mr Mukherjee says about monetary policy counts. Read more

By James Lamont

India has kept its hand well hidden at the table of the G20’s deliberations over how to prevent another global financial crisis. So the acknowledgement by Pranab Mukherjee, the country’s finance minister, that a bank tax is no alternative to better regulation is illuminating.

Senior Indian policymakers have been non-committal about International Monetary Fund-backed proposals for a global banking tax. They were similarly muted when Gordon Brown, the former UK prime minister, claimed to have gained wide support among the G20 countries for a global banking tax to fund future bail outs. The UK Treasury was seeking out India as a key ally.

Part of the reason for India’s reticence is that it experienced the financial crisis very differently from the west, and even some of its Asian peers. India’s banks suffered no threat of collapse, nor earned a reputation for excessive risk or returns. Policymakers are confident of India’s own prudent regulation. They are less sure of regulation elsewhere. Read more

Chris Giles

Here in Busan, South Korea, a port city which seems to double as the Blackpool of Korea, it is already clear that finance ministers and central bank governors will agree that growth is good for the world economy. Yes, really.

Is this surprising? No. Growth, like education and justice is generally a good thing. Everyone wants it. But no one is sure how best to achieve it when it comes to fiscal policy.

They are still unsure whether the global economy is best served by fiscal stimulus or prudence.

Everyone also agrees that the world economy is fragile and fiscal consolidation should be growth enhancing rather than detracting. But, in briefings before tomorrow’s Group of 20 meeting, few were willing to define exactly what they meant. Read more

Alan Beattie

By Alan Beattie and Tom Braithwaite in Washington

The proposal for a levy on banks’ balance sheets and profits was high on the agenda of the G20 grouping of nations after recommendations in a feasibility report by the International Monetary Fund, released earlier this week. Read more

Alan Beattie

Here in DC waiting for the G20 central bank governors and finance ministers meeting to end. There have been no actual cries of pain and bodies thrown out of the room as yet, but I think it’s safe to say that agreement over the vexed issue of taxes on banks’ balance sheets and/or profits is not going to be resolved this weekend. The Canadians at least have some moral authority on their side when they point out that their banks didn’t fail during the crisis, so why should they adopt the preferred solution of those whose banks did?

One thing strikes me, though. As we all know, the baton of global governance has passed from the G7 to the G20, sign of the rising power of Asia and Latin America, etc, etc. But this subject – the one that is most vexing and dividing them at the moment, except perhaps exchange rates – is a pure G7 issue. Few other countries’ banking sectors are big and developed enough to try to steal business from London or New York or Frankfurt or Paris or Tokyo as a result of new bank taxes, and those that might conceivably be – Singapore, Switzerland – aren’t in the G20 either.  The G20: not a governance panacea. Who’d a thought it?

Chris Giles

Should we feel sorry for the International Monetary Fund? Quite often the answer is yes. The Fund gets passed an international hot potato to write a report about because countries cannot agree; it then writes an equivocal report; and then gets it in the neck when – surprise, surprise – countries do not like the findings.

On the international tax on banks two of these three features apply. The Fund was asked by the Group of 20 to investigate how to make banks contribute to the taxpayer support they enjoyed when there was no consensus at all last September; and countries such as Canada and Japan hate the Fund’s report. But in this instance, the Fund did not write an equivocal report. The leadership of the IMF are fully signed up to the principle of an international tax on banks and have been staunch advocates of taxing banks for some time.

As the report says:

“Expecting taxpayers to support the sector during bad times while allowing owners, managers, and/or creditors of financial institutions to enjoy the full gains of good times misallocates resources and undermines long-term growth. The unfairness is not only objectionable, but may also jeopardize the political ability to provide needed government support to the financial sector in the future.”

The big question is whether a new tax on banks (or two new taxes as the IMF is proposing) will ever happen. Read more

Alan Beattie

So now it looks like the April 15 deadline for the US Treasury’s currency report is conveniently going to slip, largely because it would look a bit churlish to welcome Hu Jintao to Washington for the April 12-13 nuclear talks and then hang a big scarlet sign saying “MANIPULATOR” round his neck as soon as he steps off the plane. Most likely it will also slip beyond the “strategic and economic dialogue” meeting that the US is having with China in May. And then maybe beyond the G20 at the end of June? Or perhaps, if the US has piped down about the currency for a couple of months, China might announce a float, or a crawling revaluation, some time in June.

But one question is whether Congress is prepared to wait that long. Charles Schumer (Dem, NY, not a fan of China) wants to introduce his bill allowing a limited form of currency retaliation against China by the end of May. The key question for the coming weeks is how much patience Capitol Hill has with waiting both for the currency report and for Beijing to move. Congress might secretly be paragons of patience. But they sure don’t look like it.

Alan Beattie

This letter the other day from Barack Obama, Gordon Brown, Nicolas Sarkozy, Lee Myung-Bak and Stephen Harper looks at first sight like the usual bland exhortations for everyone to do better. (Why didn’t Angela Merkel sign, btw? Too busy with Greece?) But the semiotics are a bit more complex. The bit about “We all understand that ongoing trade, fiscal and structural imbalances cannot lead to strong and sustainable growth” looks pretty much like a pointed jab at China.

So does this mean the currency wars are going to break out in the G20? Since the grouping is supposed to work on consensus, it has generally shied away from arguments about exchange rates, which have the potential to blow up any meeting or institution in which they take place. Throwing them into the mix will make G20 meetings a lot livelier, at least. I’m not convinced it’s wise, though, for a joint letter apparently aimed at China to be signed exclusively by a gang of rich countries. If the US wants to use the G20 to put pressure on the Chinese, it will have to get on board emerging market countries also suffering from renminbi undervaluation, Brazil being the obvious example. The last thing the US wants is to replicate the unhelpfully rigid rich-country-vs.-poor-country divisions that have blocked progress in the WTO.