Friday, January 16, 2015

Tracking a Budgetary Revolution

Public financial management (PFM)—the fine art of budgeting, spending, and managing public monies—has undergone a “revolution” since the late 1980s. This uniquely interdisciplinary combination of economics, political science, public administration, and accounting has seen an influx of innovative ideas and reforms that have sought to address some of the perennial challenges of managing public finances.

To constrain the likely temptation to increase expenditure and spend, rather than save, in times of plenty, countries have introduced fiscal rules and fiscal responsibility laws. To understand and plan for the impact of today’s policy choices on finances in the years ahead, governments have adopted medium-term budget frameworks. To help guard against over-optimistic economic and budgetary estimates, some countries have established independent fiscal councils. To shift the focus of decision making from how much money programs receive to the results they can achieve, many governments have introduced performance budgeting and management initiatives. To better understand the true state of public finances and underlying risks, some governments have sought to increase the comprehensiveness and coverage of fiscal reporting and accounting and have introduced risk management techniques.

This profound wave of change in the ways public spending is managed largely started in Australia, New Zealand, and the United Kingdom and has since then passed through virtually all advanced economies, and to some extent, has also reached emerging market economies and low-income countries.

Dramatic change

While the field of PFM has changed dramatically over the last two decades, very little has been written about this revolution, with the exception of a few specialized articles. In filling this gap in the literature, this book takes advantage of the unique perspectives provided by IMF public financial management experts, who, over the last two decades, have gained practical experience with many if not all of these reforms and are well placed to draw lessons, make sense of the PFM revolution, and share their cross-country experiences of what has worked in practice and what has not.

The book poses critical questions about these reforms and evaluates what they have accomplished and the issues and challenges they have encountered, including with the global financial and economic crisis.

Critical importance

The 2008-09 crisis highlighted the critical importance of a sound public financial management framework in ensuring that well-designed fiscal policies are effectively implemented. But it also demonstrated the underlying limitations of some countries’ PFM frameworks and the flawed design and weak implementation of some PFM innovations, as well as their failure to entrench themselves. Based on these experiences, this book draws general lessons to help guide reformers in their pursuit of the next generation of PFM reforms.

This publication can help countries, policymakers, and those interested in public finances meet the challenges of managing public finances in an increasingly complex and uncertain global environment.

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Tuesday, January 6, 2015

Testing the Soundness of Banks

The global financial crisis placed a spotlight on the stress testing of financial systems. Although weaknesses in stress tests were exposed by the devastating 2007-09 crisis, the recent experience of several countries has conversely provided a stark illustration of their potential benefit in examining the resilience of bank balance sheets when performed credibly and transparently. Nonetheless, the large menu of stress testing approaches, methods, and models raises questions about their appropriate application under different situations and, consequently, the comparability and reliability of the associated analyses.

The International Monetary Fund has had a long and detailed involvement in the stress testing of financial systems. Since the introduction of its Financial Sector Assessment Program more than a decade ago, IMF staff have conducted stress tests of banking sectors in over 120 countries, typically in close collaboration with country authorities.

Stress testing is also playing an increasingly important role in the IMF’s multilateral economic surveillance, through the analysis in its Global Financial Stability Report. Separately, member countries are increasingly requesting IMF technical assistance in stress testing as they develop their own expertise in this area. As a result, IMF economists have amassed a wealth of hands-on experience with stress testing techniques and their practical application.

Compendium of models

This book represents a compendium of stress testing methods, models, and tools developed or adapted by IMF staff over the years. Almost all the methods and models that are included in this volume have, at one time or another, been applied in its surveillance of, or technical assistance to, member countries. To guide users, each chapter offers a summary describing the application of a method or model, its strengths and weaknesses, and the data requirements. Where available, the stress testing tools or program codes are also provided for wider public use.

Although this volume will provide a valuable resource for policymakers, supervisors, academics, and private sector participants alike, caveats still apply. The crisis has underscored that stress tests, irrespective of their level of sophistication, are not fail-safe, stand-alone diagnostic tools.

Assessments of the soundness of any financial system cannot and should not be based solely on a “model” and must be complemented by other quantitative analyses, qualitative information, and, most important, expert judgment. Especially in light of evolving market practices, risks, and regulatory requirements, stress testing will necessarily continue to be art rather than science.

Ongoing work

Jose Vinals, head of the IMF's Monetary and Capital Markets Departments, says in a Foreword IMF staff are continually working to strengthen the analytical underpinnings of its stress testing, in ways that will help bolster its consistency and comparability and hence its credibility.

Key areas of focus, according to Vinals, include extending the analysis to better cover nonbank financial institutions and infrastructures; to take account of spillovers between institutions and across borders; to consider the interaction between liquidity and solvency risks; and to address data gaps. In addition, IMF economists are developing the policy-related aspects of stress testing, namely, “best practice” principles, concepts, and frameworks, to complement and strengthen the application of the models. "These efforts represent a challenging and exciting part of the IMF’s broader support of global efforts to improve financial surveillance and promote sound macroprudential frameworks," Vinals writes.

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