Thursday, June 7, 2012

Policies for Macrofinancial Stability: How to Deal with the Credit Booms

Policies for Macrofinancial Stability: How to Deal with the Credit Booms. By Dell'Ariccia, Giovanni; Igan, Deniz; Laeven, Luc; Tong, Hui; Bakker, Bas B.; Vandenbussche, Jérôme
IMF Staff Discussion Notes No. 12/06
June 07, 2012


Executive summary

Credit booms buttress investment and consumption and can contribute to long-term financial deepening. But they often end up in costly balance sheet dislocations, and, more often than acceptable, in devastating financial crises whose cost can exceed the benefits associated with the boom. These risks have long been recognized. But, until the global financial crisis in 2008, policy paid limited attention to the problem. The crisis—preceded by booms in many of the hardest-hit countries—has led to a more activist stance. Yet, there is little consensus about how and when policy should intervene. This note explores past credit booms with the objective of assessing the effectiveness of macroeconomic and macroprudential policies in reducing the risk of a crisis or, at least, limiting its consequences.

It should be recognized at the onset that a more interventionist policy will inevitably imply some trade-offs. No policy tool is a panacea for the ills stemming from credit booms, and any form of intervention will entail costs and distortions, the relevance of which will depend on the characteristics and institutions of individual countries. With these caveats in mind, the analysis in this note brings the following insights.

First, credit booms are often triggered by financial reform, capital inflow surges associated with capital account liberalizations, and periods of strong economic growth. They tend to be more frequent in fixed exchange rate regimes, when banking supervision is weak, and when macroeconomic policies are loose.

Second, not all booms are bad. About a third of boom cases end up in financial crises. Others do not lead to busts but are followed by extended periods of below-trend economic growth.  Yet many result in permanent financial deepening and benefit long-term economic growth.  Third, it is difficult to tell “bad” from “good” booms in real time. But there are useful telltales. Bad booms tend to be larger and last longer (roughly half of the booms lasting longer than six years end up in a crisis).

Fourth, monetary policy is in principle the natural lever to contain a credit boom. In practice, however, capital flows (and related concerns about exchange rate volatility) and currency substitution limit its effectiveness in small open economies. In addition, since booms can occur in low-inflation environments, a conflict may emerge with its primary objective.

Fifth, given its time lags, fiscal policy is ill-equipped to timely stop a boom. But consolidation during the boom years can help create fiscal room to support the financial sector or stimulate the economy if and when a bust arrives.

Finally, macroprudential tools have at times proven effective in containing booms, and more often in limiting the consequences of busts, thanks to the buffers they helped to build. Their more targeted nature limits their costs, although their associated distortions, should these tools be abused, can be severe. Moreover, circumvention has often been a major issue, underscoring the importance of careful design, coordination with other policies (including across borders), and close supervision to ensure the efficacy of these tools. 


Prolonged credit booms are a harbinger of financial crises and have real costs. Our analysis shows that, while only a minority of booms end up in crises, those that do can have longlasting and devastating real effects if left unaddressed. Yet it appears to be difficult to identify bad booms as they emerge, and the cost of intervening too early and running the risk of stopping a good boom therefore has to be weighed against the desire to prevent financial crises.

While the analysis offers some insights into the origins and dynamics of credit booms, from a policy perspective a number of questions remain unaddressed. In part this reflects the limited experience to date with macroprudential policies and the simultaneous use of multiple policy tools, making it hard to disentangle specific policy measures’ effectiveness.

First, while monetary policy tightening seems the natural response to rapid credit growth, we find only weak empirical evidence that it contains booms and their fallout on the economy.  This may be partly the result of a statistical bias. But there are several “legitimate” factors that limit the use and effectiveness of monetary policy in dealing with credit booms, especially in small open economies. In contrast, there is more consistent evidence that macroprudential policy is up to this task, although it is more exposed to circumvention.

All of the above raise important questions about the optimal policy response to credit booms.  Our view is that when credit booms coincide with periods of general overheating in the economy, monetary policy should act first and foremost. If the boom lasts and is likely to end up badly or if it occurs in the absence of overheating, then macroprudential policy should come into play. Preferably, this should be in combination and coordination with macroeconomic policy, especially when macroeconomic policy is already being used to address overheating of the economy.

Second, questions remain about the optimal mix and modality of macroprudential policies, also in light of political economy considerations and the type of supervisory arrangements in the country. Political economy considerations call for a more rules-based approach to setting macroprudential policy to avoid pressure from interest groups to relax regulation during a crisis. But such considerations have to be weighed against the practical problems and unintended effects of a rules-based approach, such as the calibration of rules with rather demanding data requirements and the risk of circumvention in the presence of active earnings management. The design of a macroprudential framework should also consider the capacity and ability of supervisors to enforce such rules so that unintended and potentially dangerous side effects can be avoided.

Third, the optimal macroprudential policy response to credit booms, as well as the optimal policy mix, will likely have to depend on the type of credit boom. Because of data limitations, our analysis has focused on aggregate credit. While it seems natural that policy response should adapt to and be targeted to the type of credit, additional analysis is needed to assess the effectiveness of policies to curtail booms that differ in the type of credit.

Fourth, policy coordination, across different authorities and across borders, may increase the effectiveness of monetary tightening and macroprudential policies. Cooperation and a continuous flow of information among national supervisors, especially regarding the activities of institutions that are active across borders, are crucial. Equally important is the coordination of regulations and actions among supervisors of different types of financial institutions. Whether and how national policymakers take into account the effects of their actions on the financial and macroeconomic stability of other countries is a vital issue, calling for further regional and global cooperation in the setup of macroprudential policy frameworks and the conduct of macroeconomic policies.

IMF Staff Notes: Externalities and Macro-Prudential Policy

Externalities and Macro-Prudential Policy. By De Nicoló, Gianni; Favara, Giovanni; Ratnovski, Lev
IMF Staff Discussion Notes No. 12/05
June 07, 2012


Executive Summary

The recent financial crisis has led to a reexamination of policies for macroeconomic and financial stability. Part of the current debate involves the adoption of a macroprudential approach to financial regulation, with an aim toward mitigating boom-bust patterns and systemic risks in financial markets.

The fundamental rationale behind macroprudential policies, however, is not always clearly articulated. The contribution of this paper is to lay out the key sources of market failures that can justify macroprudential regulation. It explains how externalities associated with the activity of financial intermediaries can lead to systemic risk, and thus require specific policies to mitigate such risk.

The paper classifies externalities that can lead to systemic risk as:

1. Externalities related to strategic complementarities, that arise from the strategic interaction of banks (and other financial institutions) and cause the build-up of vulnerabilities during the expansionary phase of a financial cycle;
2. Externalities related to fire sales, that arise from a generalized sell-off of financial assets causing a decline in asset prices and a deterioration of the balance sheets of intermediaries, especially during the contractionary phase of a financial cycle; and
3. Externalities related to interconnectedness, caused by the propagation of shocks from systemic institutions or through financial networks.

The correction of these externalities can be seen as intermediate targets for macroprudential policy, since policies that control externalities mitigate market failures that create systemic risk.

This paper discusses how the main proposed macroprudential policy tools—capital requirements, liquidity requirements, restrictions on activities, and taxes—address the identified externalities. It is argued that each externality can be corrected by different tools that can complement each other. Capital surcharges, however, are likely to play an important role in the design of macroprudential regulation.

This paper’s analysis of macroprudential policy complements the more traditional one that builds on the distinction between time-series and cross-sectional dimensions of systemic risk.


This paper has argued that the first step in the economic analysis of macroprudential policy is the identification of market failures that contribute to systemic risk. Externalities are an important source of such market failures, and macroprudential policy should be thought of as an attempt to correct these externalities.

Building on the discussion in the academic literature, the paper has identified externalities that lead to systemic risk: externalities due to strategic complementarities, which contribute to the accumulation of vulnerabilities during the expansionary phase of a financial cycle; and externalities due to fire sales and interconnectedness, which tend to exacerbate negative shocks especially during a contractionary phase.

The correction of these externalities can be seen as an intermediate targets for macroprudential policy, since policies that control externalities mitigate market failures that create systemic risk. This paper has studied how the identified externalities can be corrected by the main macroprudential policy proposals: capital requirements, liquidity requirements, restrictions on bank activities, and taxation. The main finding is that even though some of these policies can complement each other in correcting the same externality, capital requirements are likely to play an important role in the design of any macroprudential framework.

It has also been argued that although externalities can be proxied through a variety of risk measurements, the accumulation of evidence on the effectiveness of alternative policy tools remains the most pressing concern for the design of macroprudential policy.