BRIEF

Economic Monitoring


The World Bank's Prospects Group conducts in-depth analysis of key global macroeconomic developments and their impact on World Bank member countries. The Prospects Group leads the World Bank’s forecasting work and produces the semi-annual Global Economic Prospects flagship report. It also produces the Commodity Markets Outlook, policy-relevant research on topical issues, and timely updates on global economic developments.

Periodicals
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This semi-annual report analyzes economic developments and prospects globally, regionally, and nationally. Each edition contains special focus reports on economic developments relevant to policy-making and planning.
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This study is the first comprehensive analysis of the extent of informality and its implications for a durable economic recovery and for long-term development.
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An analysis of major trends affecting the global economy. Highlights important data points and analyzes an important current topic.
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Market analysis of major commodity groups -- energy, metals, agriculture, precious metals, and fertilizers. The report provides price forecasts for 46 key commodities, including oil.
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This book presents the first comprehensive analysis of the evolution and drivers of productivity growth, examines the effects of COVID-19 on productivity, and discusses a wide-range of policy options.
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This book presents the first in-depth analysis of the main features of global and national debt accumulation episodes, analyzes the linkages between debt accumulation and financial crises, and draws policy lessons.
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This book provides the first comprehensive stock-taking of the decade since the global recession from the perspective of emerging market and developing economies.
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The book provides the first comprehensive and systematic analysis of inflation in emerging market and developing economies.

Prospect Group Policy Research Working Papers -- Recent Issues
Archive (2004-) | View by Author

The Technology-Employment Trade-Off: Automation, Industry, and Income Effects (January 2021)

New technologies can both substitute for and complement labor. Evidence from structural vector autoregressions using a large global sample of economies suggests that the substitution effect dominates in the short-run for over three-quarters of economies. A typical 10 percent technology-driven improvement in labor productivity reduces employment by 2 percent in advanced economies in the first year and 1 percent in emerging market and developing economies (EMDEs). Advanced economies have been more affected by employment-displacing technological change in recent decades but the disruption to the labor market in EMDEs has been more persistent. The negative employment effect is larger and more persistent in economies that have experienced a larger increase, or smaller fall, in industrial employment shares since 1990. In contrast, economies where workers have been better able to transition to other sectors have benefited more in the medium run from the positive "income effect'' of new technologies. This corresponds with existing evidence that industrial jobs are most at risk of automation and reduced-form evidence that more industrially-focused economies have tended to create fewer jobs in recent decades. EMDEs are likely to face increasing challenges from automation as their share of global industry and production complexity increases.

Technology and Demand Drivers of Productivity Dynamics in Developed and Emerging Market Economies (January 2021)

Frequently, factors other than structural developments in technology and production efficiency drive changes in labor productivity in advanced and emerging market and developing economies (EMDEs). This paper uses a new method to extract technology shocks that excludes these influences, resulting in lasting improvements in labor productivity. The same methodology in turn is used to identify a stylized example of the effects of a demand shock on productivity. Technology innovations are accompanied by higher and more rapidly increasing rates of investment in EMDEs relative to advanced economies, suggesting that positive technological developments are often capital-embodied in the former economies. Employment falls in both advanced economies and EMDEs following positive technology developments, with the effect smaller but more persistent in EMDEs. Uncorrelated technological developments across economies suggest that global synchronization of labor productivity growth is due to cyclical (demand) influences. Demand drivers of labor productivity are found to have highly persistent effects in EMDEs and some advanced economies. Unlike technology shocks, however, demand shocks influence labor productivity only through the capital deepening channel, particularly in economies with low capacity for counter-cyclical fiscal policy. Overall, non-technological factors accounted for most of the fall in labor productivity growth during 2007-08 and around one-third of the longer-term productivity decline after the global financial crisis.

Productivity Convergence: Is Anyone Catching Up? (September 2020)

Labor productivity in EMDEs is just under one-fifth of the advanced economy average, while in LICs, it is just 2 percent. Average productivity growth in EMDEs has picked up rapidly since 2000, renewing interest in the convergence hypothesis, which predicts that economies with low productivity should close productivity gaps over time. However, the average rate of convergence remains low, with current growth differentials halving the productivity gap only after over 100 years. Behind the low average pace of convergence lies considerable diversity among groups of countries converging toward different productivity levels (convergence clubs). Many EMDEs have moved into higher-level productivity convergence clubs since 2000, with 16 joining the highest club, primarily consisting of advanced economies. These transitioning EMDEs have been characterized by systematically better initial education levels, greater institutional quality, and high or deepening economic complexity relative to their income level, frequently aided by policies to encourage participation in global value chains. Countries seeking to replicate successes, or continue along rapid convergence paths, face a range of headwinds, including a more challenging environment to gain market share in manufacturing production or to increase global value chain integration.

Implications of Cheap Oil for Emerging Markets (September 2020)

The COVID-19-triggered collapse in oil prices in March and April 2020 was the seventh, and by far the most severe, in a series of such collapses since 1970. This paper, first, compares this most recent collapse and its drivers with previous ones in an event study. It finds that it was associated with an exceptionally severe plunge in oil demand. Second, in a local projections model, this paper estimates the implications of demand- and supply-driven oil price collapses for growth in emerging markets and developing economies (EMDEs). The paper finds that steep oil price collapses were associated with significant and lasting output losses in energy-exporting EMDEs but no meaningful output gains in energy-importing EMDEs. These results are robust to multiple robustness checks.

Adding Fuel to the Fire: Cheap Oil during the COVID-19 Pandemic (July 2020)

The outbreak of COVID-19 and the wide-ranging measures needed to slow its advance triggered an unprecedented collapse in oil demand, a surge in oil inventories, and a record one-month decline in oil prices in March 2020. This paper examines the likely implications of the 2020 oil price plunge for emerging market and developing economies. It presents four main results. First, the record plunge in oil prices was predominantly driven by demand factors as wide-ranging measures to stem the pandemic precipitated an unprecedented collapse in oil demand, but the surge in oil inventories also exerted downward pressure on oil prices. Second, this latest oil price decline was preceded by six previous plunges over the past half-century, during which energy exporters and importers suffered similar initial output losses (about 0.5 percent) that were unwound within three years. Third, the current episode of low oil prices holds limited promise to boost the global economy amid widespread restrictions and narrow room for fiscal support in energy-exporting emerging market and developing economies. Fourth, many emerging market and developing economies entered the current public health crisis with precarious fiscal positions; current low oil prices are thus an opportunity to review energy-pricing policies, including remaining energy subsidies, to mobilize domestic resources.

A Decade after the 2009 Global Recession: Macroeconomic and Financial Sector Policies (June 2020)

Unprecedented monetary policy accommodation in advanced economies and a large, coordinated fiscal stimulus by G20 countries helped to support a solid rebound in global output right after the 2009 Global Recession. However, global growth subsequently slowed to a sluggish pace by pre-recession standards, and many emerging market and developing economies (EMDEs) have been struggling to unwind their fiscal stimulus and contain a buildup of debt. The experience of the global recession in 2009 highlights the need for well-timed, appropriately calibrated domestic stabilization policies, but also the benefits of international cooperation and coordination in support of strong and sustained global growth and financial system stability. Sound policy frameworks can help create room for stabilization policies, such as fiscal rules to safeguard fiscal sustainability or macroprudential policies and capital flow management measures to better manage systemic risks.

A Decade after the 2009 Global Recession: Macroeconomic Developments (June 2020)

Emerging markets and developing economies (EMDEs) weathered the 2009 global recession relatively well. However, the impact of the global recession varied across economies. EMDEs with stronger pre-crisis fundamentals -- such as large foreign exchange reserves, sound fiscal positions, and low inflation -- suffered milder growth slowdowns, in part due to their greater capacity to engage in monetary and fiscal stimulus. Low-income countries were also resilient, as foreign aid and inflows of remittances remained relatively stable. In contrast, EMDEs that were heavily dependent on short-term capital flows -- such as portfolio investment and cross -- border bank lending—fared less well, especially those in Europe and Central Asia. A key lesson for EMDEs is the need to strengthen macroeconomic frameworks and create policy space to prepare for future global downturns.

Tax Competition: Is It a Source of the Corporate Savings Glut? (June 2020)

This paper examines the determinants of corporate savings in a cross-country panel setting. Specifically, it employs firm-level data covering more than 540,000 firm-year observations for 12 advanced and emerging market economies. Panel regression results suggest that reductions in statutory corporate income tax rates can explain one-third of the rise in corporate savings (defined as net financial assets) in 2003-17. This finding is supported by a propensity scores matching analysis of the effects of changes in corporate income tax rates.

Debt Intolerance: Threshold Level and Composition (June 2020)

Fiscal vulnerabilities depend on both the level and composition of government debt. This study examines the role of debt thresholds and debt composition in driving the non-linear behavior of long-term interest rates through a novel approach, a panel smooth transition regression with a general logistic model. The main findings are threefold. First, the impact of the expected public debt level on interest rates rises exponentially when the share of foreign private holdings exceeds approximately 20 percent of government debt denominated in local currency. Second, when the share of foreign private investors is 30 percent, an increase in the share of foreign private holdings of government debt could raise long-term interest rates once the public debt-to-GDP ratio exceeds 60 percent of GDP, offsetting the downward pressure on long-term interest rates from higher market liquidity. Third, out-of-sample forecasts of this novel non-linear model are more accurate than those of previous methods. 

Determinants of Social Distancing and Economic Activity during COVID-19: A Global View (May 2020)

The paper uses Google mobility data to identify the determinants of social distancing during the 2020 COVID-19 outbreak. The findings for the United States indicate that much of the decrease in mobility is voluntary, driven by the number of COVID-19 cases and proxying for greater awareness of risk. Non-pharmaceutical interventions such as closing nonessential businesses, sheltering in place, and school closings are also effective, although with a total contribution dwarfed by the voluntary actions. This suggests that much social distancing will happen regardless of the presence of non-pharmaceutical interventions and that restrictions may often function more like a coordinating device among increasingly predisposed individuals than repressive measures per se. These results are consistent across country income groups, with only the poorest countries showing limited effect of non-pharmaceutical interventions and no voluntary component, consistent with resistance to abandon sources of livelihood. The paper also confirms the direct impact of the voluntary component on economic activity, by showing that the majority of the fall in restaurant reservations in the United States and movie spending in Sweden occurred before the imposition of any non-pharmaceutical interventions. Widespread voluntary de-mobilization implies that releasing constraints may not yield a V-shaped recovery if the reduction in COVID risk is not credible.

Price Controls: Good Intentions, Bad Outcomes  (April 2020)

The use of price controls is widespread across emerging markets and developing economies, including for food and key imported and exported commodities. Although they are sometimes used as a tool for social policy, price controls can dampen investment and growth, worsen poverty outcomes, cause countries to incur heavy fiscal burdens, and complicate the effective conduct of monetary policy. Replacing price controls with expanded and better-targeted social safety nets, coupled with reforms to encourage competition and a sound regulatory environment, can be pro-poor and pro-growth. Such reforms need to be carefully communicated and sequenced to ensure political and social acceptance. Where they exist, price control regimes should be transparent and supported by well-capitalized stabilization funds or national hedging strategies to ensure fiscal sustainability. 

Prospects, Risks, and Vulnerabilities in Emerging and Developing Economies: Lessons from the Past Decade (March 2020)

Growth in emerging markets and developing economies (EMDEs) has generally disappointed since the 2009 global recession, with sizable forecast downgrades in most years. EMDEs continue to face downside risks to growth outlook over the next couple of years. These include heightened global policy uncertainty, trade tensions, spillovers from weaker-than-expected growth in major economies, and disorderly financial market developments. These risks are accompanied by region-specific risks, including geopolitical tensions, armed conflict, and severe weather events. If risks materialize, their impact on EMDEs depends on the magnitude of spillovers and domestic vulnerabilities. Since the 2009 global recession, external, corporate sector and sovereign vulnerabilities have risen in most EMDEs, leaving them less well-prepared for future shocks. Low-income countries, in particular, face elevated vulnerabilities, with about 40 percent of them currently in debt distress. Over the longer run, EMDEs also face weakening potential growth, reflecting decelerations in capital accumulation and productivity growth, as well as demographic headwinds. These constraints are likely to hamper growth in the next decade unless they are mitigated by ambitious and credible reform agendas.

Policy Challenges for Emerging and Developing Economies: Lessons from the Past Decade (March 2020)

The 2009 global recession demonstrated, once again, the importance of crisis prevention as well as the critical need for preserving policy room so that emerging market and developing economies (EMDEs) can act when their economies are hit by shocks. And now, with the global growth outlook still weak and vulnerabilities rising, these lessons underscore the need for comprehensive policies to improve EMDEs' resilience to shocks and lift long-term growth prospects. On the macroeconomic front, priorities include shoring up fiscal positions, keeping adequate foreign reserves, and strengthening policy frameworks. Financial sector policies to adapt to a changing global financial environment include strengthening home-host supervisor coordination and establishing prudential authorities with the appropriate tools and mandates to mitigate systemic risks. Structural policy priorities include investment in human capital and infrastructure to offset the decline in potential growth that is expected to continue over the next decade. Renewed reform momentum is needed to create the environment that generates private sector-led, productivity-driven growth supported by measures to improve governance and business climates. 

Can This Time Be Different? Policy Options in Times of Rising Debt (March 2020)

Episodes of debt accumulation have been a recurrent feature of the global economy over the past fifty years. Since 2010, emerging and developing economies have experienced another wave of historically large and rapid debt accumulation. Similar past debt buildups have often ended in widespread financial crises in these economies. This paper examines the factors that are likely to determine the outcome of the most recent debt wave, and considers policy options to help reduce the likelihood that it ends again in widespread crises. It reports two main results. First, the rapid increase in debt has made emerging and developing economies more vulnerable to shifts in market sentiment, notwithstanding historically low global interest rates. Second, policy options are available to lower the likelihood of financial crises, and to help manage the adverse impacts of crises when they do occur. These include sound debt management, strong monetary and fiscal frameworks, and robust bank supervision and regulation. The post-crisis debt buildup has coincided with a period of subdued growth as well as the emergence of non-traditional creditors. As a result, policy priorities also need to ensure that debt is spent on productive purposes to improve growth prospects and that all debt-related transactions are transparently reported.

Subdued Potential Growth: Sources and Remedies (March 2020)

Global potential output growth has been flagging. At 2.5 percent in 2013-17, post-crisis potential growth is 0.5 percentage point below its longer-term average and 0.9 percentage point below its average a decade ago. Compared with a decade ago, potential growth has declined 0.8 percentage point in advanced economies and 1.1 percentage point in emerging market and developing economies. The slowdown mainly reflected weaker capital accumulation but is also evidence of decelerating productivity growth and demographic trends that dampen labor supply growth. Unless countered, these forces are expected to continue and to depress global potential growth further by 0.2 percentage point over the next decade. A menu of policy options is available to help reverse this trend, including comprehensive policy initiatives to lift physical and human capital and to encourage labor force participation by women and older workers.

Global Recessions (March 2020)

The world economy has experienced four global recessions over the past seven decades: in 1975, 1982, 1991, and 2009. During each of these episodes, annual real per capita global gross domestic product contracted, and this contraction was accompanied by weakening of other key indicators of global economic activity. The global recessions were highly synchronized internationally, with severe economic and financial disruptions in many countries around the world. The 2009 global recession, set off by the global financial crisis, was by far the deepest and most synchronized of the four recessions. As the epicenter of the crisis, advanced economies felt the brunt of the recession. The subsequent expansion has been the weakest in the post-war period in advanced economies, as many of them have struggled to overcome the legacies of the crisis. In contrast, most emerging market and developing economies weathered the 2009 global recession relatively well and delivered a stronger recovery than after previous global recessions.

Benefits and Costs of Debt: The Dose Makes the Poison (February 2020)

Government debt has risen substantially in emerging market and developing economies (EMDEs) since the global financial crisis. The current environment of low global interest rates and weak growth may appear to mitigate concerns about elevated debt levels. Considering currently subdued investment, additional government borrowing might also appear to be an attractive option for financing growth-enhancing initiatives such as investment in human and physical capital. However, history suggests caution. Despite low interest rates, debt was on a rising trajectory in half of EMDEs in 2018. In addition, the cost of rolling over debt can increase sharply during periods of financial stress and result in financial crises; elevated debt levels can limit the ability of governments to provide fiscal stimulus during downturns; and high debt can weigh on investment and long-term growth. Hence, EMDEs need to strike a careful balance between taking advantage of low interest rates and avoiding the potentially adverse consequences of excessive debt accumulation.

Emerging and Developing Economies: Ten Years after the Global Recession (February 2020)

Although emerging market and developing economies (EMDEs) weathered the global recession a decade ago relatively well, they now appear less well placed to cope with the substantial downside risks facing the global economy. In many EMDEs, the room for monetary and fiscal policies to respond to shocks has eroded; underlying growth potential has slowed; and the momentum for improving policy frameworks, institutions, and business climates seems to have slackened. The experience of the 2009 global recession highlights once again the critical role of policy room in shielding economic activity during adverse shocks. The subsequent decade of anemic growth underlines the need for sound policy frameworks, institutions, and business environments to promote sustained growth. With the global growth outlook weakening and vulnerabilities rising, the policy priority for EMDEs is now to improve resilience to shocks and to lift long-term growth prospects.

Understanding the Cost of Achieving the Sustainable Development Goals (February 2020)

This paper presents a review of studies that estimate the cost of achieving the Sustainable Development Goals. Although the Sustainable Development Goals provide useful benchmarks for fiscal authorities and donors, typical cross-country costing exercises can be misleading, for a variety of reasons: double counting, sensitivity to underlying assumptions, downplaying the critical role of policy and institutions in advancing toward the goals, failure to discount costs or consider operation and maintenance costs in a consistent manner, and overlooking the tendency for different types of Sustainable Development Goal—related spending to have distinct effects. Recent costing studies by the World Bank Group have been developed to minimize the drawbacks of earlier studies. The paper also briefly reviews how the World Bank Group engages with stakeholders on the Sustainable Development Goals agenda.

Inflation and Public Debt Reversals in Advanced Economies (January 2020)

This paper quantitatively assesses the effects of inflation shocks on the public debt-to-GDP ratio in 19 advanced economies using simulation and estimation approaches. The simulations based on the debt dynamics equation and estimations of impulse responses by local projections both suggest that a 1 percentage point shock to the inflation rate reduces the debt-to-GDP ratio by about 0.5 to 1 percentage points. The results also suggest that the impact is larger and more persistent when the debt maturity is longer, but the difference from the benchmark case is not significant. These results imply that modestly higher inflation, even if accompanied by some financial repression, could reduce the public debt burden only marginally in many advanced economies.

The Role of Income and Substitution in Commodity Demand (January 2020)

This paper presents estimates of time-varying income elasticities of demand for energy and metal commodities. The analysis finds that the elasticities are close to unity, evaluated at world median per capita income levels. Furthermore, the estimates confirm that as income rises, demand growth for industrial commodities slows and eventually plateaus. Indeed, estimates for aggregate metals and energy differ by an order of magnitude throughout the income spectrum: from a low of 0.2 for advanced economies to nearly 2 for low-income countries. The analysis, which accounts for substitutability by estimating group aggregates as well as individual commodities with cross-price effects, is based on a panel autoregressive distributed lag model covering 1965–2018, for up to 63 countries.

Debt and Financial Crises (January 2020)

Emerging market and developing economies have experienced recurrent episodes of rapid debt accumulation over the past fifty years. This paper examines the consequences of debt accumulation using a three-pronged approach: an event study of debt accumulation episodes in 100 emerging market and developing economies since 1970; a series of econometric models examining the linkages between debt and the probability of financial crises; and a set of case studies of rapid debt buildup that ended in crises. The paper reports four main results. First, episodes of debt accumulation are common, with more than 500 episodes occurring since 1970. Second, around half of these episodes were associated with financial crises which typically had worse economic outcomes than those without crises — after 8 years output per capita was typically 6–10 percent lower and investment 15–22 percent weaker in crisis episodes. Third, a rapid buildup of debt, whether public or private, increased the likelihood of a financial crisis, as did a larger share of short-term external debt, higher debt service cover, and lower reserves cover. Fourth, countries that experienced financial crises frequently employed combinations of unsustainable fiscal, monetary and financial sector policies, and often suffered from structural and institutional weaknesses.

Last Updated: Feb 28, 2021


Fiscal Space Data
Access comprehensive cross-country data on fiscal space. The database covers 202 countries over the period 1990-2020, and includes 28 indicators of fiscal space.
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Monthly and annual commodity price data and indexes since 1960. Semi-annual report also available.
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Monthly and annual data since 1990 on exchange rates, equity markets, interest rates, and debt markets, as well as monthly data on consumer prices, industrial production, and merchandise trade.
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