Saturday, September 24, 2011

The New IMF and Argentina


There has been a certain view, that was already quite popular around the time Strauss-Kahn still managed the IMF, that with Christine Lagarde the Fund has become less orthodox, not just regarding capital controls, but now also supposedly on fiscal issues. See for example the article in the NYTimes by Liz Alderman.

In the last World Economic Outlook, the Fund argues (WEO, p. 110) that Argentina's inflation results from excessively expansionary policies (no analysis backs this claim and the effects of a more devalued currency and commodity prices are not discussed) and suggests (p. 42) that monetary tightening is necessary. Also, the report continues the tone of the previous WEO, suggesting that in developed countries fiscal adjustment should continue to reduce the debt burden, and in developing ones, like Argentina, to avoid overheating.

So fiscal and monetary contraction is their policy advice. The IMF forecasts a significant slowdown next year for Argentina (4.6% for 2012 down from 8% this year). The logic is that Argentina's growth is not sustainable and perhaps a crisis is around the corner.

Andrés Velasco, ex-finance minister of Chile, suggests so much in his last column for project syndicate. This notion that Argentina is close to an external crisis is peculiar to say the least. Velasco had published a paper with Ricardo Hausmann after the 2001-2 crisis that recognized that the problems were not fiscal, but related to exchange rate misalignments, export performance and access to international financial markets.

Although shrinking, Argentina still has a current account surplus, has not depended on international financial inflows (but on its own exports), and the ratio of short term external obligations to reserves is relatively small. So if the whole world economy sinks into lower growth, Argentina, that is forecasted to be the second fastest growing economy after China in 2011, will probably slowdown, but there is no reason for the macroeconomic policy to push for a slowdown for fears of an external crisis.

In that sense, it seems that the default position at the Fund, and in mainstream academic circles (Velasco was at Harvard, before returning to Chile) is that fiscal adjustment is needed in Argentina. And apparently almost anywhere in the world. The New IMF looks a lot like the old one to me!

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