The IMF’s Articles of Agreement call for it to oversee the international monetary system in order to ensure its effective operation, and to exercise firm “surveillance”—that is, oversight, including monitoring and analysis—over its member countries’ exchange rate policies. As decided by the Executive Board, this appraisal of a country’s exchange rate policies must involve a comprehensive analysis of the economic situation and policies of the country, including domestic as well as external policies.
The global economy went through a period of unprecedented financial instability in 2008-09, accompanied by the worst global economic downturn and collapse in trade in many decades. No country escaped the reach of this economic storm. The IMF played a leading role in helping the membership deal with the immediate challenges posed by the crisis and work toward a new, strengthened global financial system. To address these challenges, the Fund focused its efforts on (1) providing policy advice and timely financial support that met members’ needs, (2) analyzing what went wrong, with the aim of fortifying the financial system against a recurrence of crises down the road, and (3) assembling the building blocks of a new international financial architecture. At the same time, the crisis accelerated some elements of the Fund’s work program and redirected resources toward the following areas: advancing surveillance priorities, reforming the Fund’s lending framework, supporting low-income countries, increasing the Fund’s activities in the area of capacity building, reforming the Fund’s corporate governance, and augmenting the Fund’s resources. Work toward modernizing the IMF, which accelerated in FY2008 with the Fund’s restructuring exercise, continued in FY2009,1 and other institutional work focused on strengthening internal accountability and transparency, revamping the institution’s human resources function, and safeguarding the Fund’s finances and other operations, as well as putting the institution on a stronger financial footing.
The global economy faced a number of challenges during FY2008. As problems in the U.S. subprime mortgage market spilled over into other credit markets, growth prospects slowed in a number of the advanced economies; at the same time, prices for food and oil surged, adding to inflationary pressures worldwide and creating severe hardships for many low-income countries.1 The IMF’s Executive Board—in accordance with the Fund’s core mandate of safeguarding global macroeconomic and financial stability—responded to these developments immediately, strengthening the Fund’s analysis of financial sector issues, recommending policies that could help member countries mitigate the impact of turmoil in financial markets on their economies, and offering policy advice to low-income countries on macroeconomic management in the face of rising costs for food and fuel as well as financial assistance to members in this group experiencing balance of payments problems triggered by the higher cost of imports.2 FY2008 was also a year of reform in the IMF, as the Executive Board moved ahead with measures that will enable the IMF to better meet the evolving needs of its member countries, keep pace with changes in the global economy and financial markets, and adjust to a reduced budgetary envelope.
On the heels of a major financial crisis that originated in advanced country markets in 2007, the global economy sank in 2008-09 into the deepest recession since World War II.4 Although the IMF’s 2008 Annual Report had highlighted the risks from the spreading financial crisis, the crisis advanced further and faster during FY2009 than expected, despite strong policy efforts in key economies. Emerging markets and lowincome countries, which had been relatively sheltered from financial strains owing to their limited exposure to U.S. mortgage-related assets, were drawn into the storm, as international credit markets, trade finance, and many foreign exchange markets also came under heavy pressure.
The course of the global economy in FY2008 was shaped by the interaction of three powerful forces: an escalating financial crisis slowed growth in some of the advanced economies, growth in emerging market and developing economies continued at a brisk pace, and inflationary pressures intensified throughout the world, fueled in part by soaring commodity prices. Overall, global GDP measured at purchasing power parity exchange rates increased by 4.9 percent in 2007—well above trend for the fourth consecutive year (Figure 2.1). From the fourth quarter, however, activity decelerated in the advanced economies, particularly in the United States, where the crisis in the subprime mortgage market affected a broad range of financial markets and institutions. Although growth in emerging market and developing economies also slowed beginning in the fourth quarter of 2007, it remained robust, by historical standards, across all regions.
Surveillance lies at the heart of the IMF’s efforts to help prevent economic and financial crises. The Fund has taken a variety of measures in recent years to strengthen its surveillance, reflecting the changing global environment, including the increased importance of international capital flows, and drawing on the lessons of international financial crises. These initiatives aim to encourage members to adopt policies and institutional reforms that make their economies more resilient to potentially harmful developments and financial stress, support sustained and balanced global growth, and contribute to a more stable international financial system.
While crisis prevention has been the main focus of the IMF’s reform agenda, the Fund has also been working to improve the management and resolution of the financial crises that do occur, where it also has a central role. Indeed, a stronger and clearer framework for crisis resolution should make an important contribution to crisis prevention in addition to lessening the number and severity of crises. Evolving reforms of the framework for crisis resolution have been designed to reinforce incentives for countries and their creditors to reach voluntary, market-oriented solutions to their financing problems. To this end, the IMF has sought to combine a clearer policy on access to Fund resources and greater selectivity in its lending with an examination of possible approaches to strengthening the mechanisms for the restructuring of sovereign debt. This chapter describes progress made in these areas during the past financial year.
Surveillance is at the core of the IMF’s mandate. The IMF is responsible, under its Articles of Agreement, for overseeing the international monetary system to identify any vulnerabilities that could undermine its stability. It fulfills this responsibility in part by monitoring the macroeconomic policies of its 185 member countries and providing analysis and policy advice tailored to each member’s specific circumstances (referred to as bilateral surveillance) and monitoring economic conditions and developments in international capital markets and assessing the global effects of major economic and financial developments, such as oil market conditions or external imbalances (multilateral surveillance). These activities are supplemented by the Fund’s surveillance of regional institutions that conduct monetary and economic policy for groups of countries bound together in formal arrangements, such as currency unions (regional surveillance; see Box 3.1). As financial markets experienced exceptional turbulence, growth slowed dramatically in some of the advanced economies, and world prices for food and oil soared during FY2008, the IMF’s Executive Board intensified its efforts to further strengthen and modernize the Fund’s surveillance activities.15
The extraordinary global financial crisis posed a host of serious policy challenges to most Fund members, as well as systemic risks to the global economy. The full attention of the IMF was directed toward addressing the policy challenges raised by the crisis, including helping governments prepare a full policy framework in countries already in crisis, and for other vulnerable countries, strengthening contingency planning and crisis preparedness and intensifying surveillance. In collaboration with other international bodies and standard setters, the Fund immediately identified the core macroeconomic and financial policy response needed to help minimize the economic and social costs of the crisis. It then worked to encourage early action, promoted dialogue within the membership, and started the critical task of examining the causes of, and gleaning lessons from, the crisis. The Fund helped members directly with financing and policy advice, placing greater emphasis on macrofinancial linkages, contagion risks, financial safety nets, and crisis preparedness and management. It also advised countries to provide support to economic activity wherever space for such support was available.