Notwithstanding the deceleration in global activity in late 2011 and weaker growth prospects (see the April 2012 World Economic Outlook), fiscal deficits in most advanced economies are projected to continue to decline in 2012 (Table 1). Headline deficits will fall by almost 1 percentage point of GDP among the advanced economies, as countries unwind fiscal stimulus and, in a few cases, implement austerity measures in response to market pressures. At about 1 percentage point of GDP, deficit reduction in cyclically adjusted terms would be slightly higher than that implemented in 2011. In many cases, the challenge will be to ensure continued progress toward sound public finances while avoiding an excessive fiscal drag on activity. Gross financing needs are expected to decline only slightly, hovering around 25 percent of GDP per year over the coming three years in advanced economies, as lower deficits are offset by higher rollover requirements on a larger maturing debt stock (Table 2).
With increasing fiscal challenges in the aftermath of the global financial crisis, multilateral surveillance of fiscal developments, a key part of the IMF's surveillance responsibilities, has gained further importance. In response, the Fiscal Monitor was launched in 2009 to survey and analyze the latest public finance developments, update fiscal implications of the crisis and medium-term fiscal projections, and assess policies to put public finances on a sustainable footing. The Fiscal Monitor is prepared twice a year by the IMF's Fiscal Affairs Department. Its projections are based on the same database used for the IMF's World Economic Outlook (WEO) and Global Financial Stability Report (GFSR).
Overall, fiscal risks remain elevated, according to this issue, although there are signs that in some key respects they are less acute than six months ago. Past efforts with fiscal consolidation are beginning to bear fruit, particularly when buttressed by credible institutional commitments. Nevertheless, debt ratios in many advanced economies are at historical levels and rising, borrowing requirements remain very large, financial markets continue to be in a state of alert, and downside risks to the global economy predominate. In this uncertain environment, the challenge for fiscal policy is to find the right balance between exploiting short-term space to support the fragile recovery and rebuilding longer-term space by advancing fiscal consolidation. Against that background, this issue examines in more detail the concept of fiscal space, or the scope that policymakers have to calibrate the pace of fiscal adjustment without undermining fiscal sustainability. A number of conclusions emerge in regard to countries ongoing vulnerability to unexpected shocks, the potential for substantial negative impacts of fiscal adjustment on activity, possible overstatements of short-term pressures on the public finances in some countries as general government gross debt ratios have risen, the implications of countries having flexibility in the short term but not the longer term, and the monitoring and enforcement challenges raised by second-generation fiscal rules.
Continued progress in reducing advanced economy deficits and a gradually improving external environment have lowered short-term fiscal risks, according to this issue, but global prospects nevertheless remain subdued, and many advanced economies face a lengthy, difficult, and uncertain path to fiscal sustainability. Though many advanced economies are now close to achieving primary surpluses that will allow them to stabilize their debt ratios, this is only a first step, as merely stabilizing advanced economy debt at current levels would be detrimental to medium- and longer-term economic prospects. The key elements of the required policy package are well known: foremost among them is setting out—and implementing—a clear and credible plan to bring debt ratios down over the medium term. Debt dynamics have remained relatively positive in most emerging market economies and low-income countries, and most plan to continue to allow the automatic stabilizers to operate fully, while pausing the underlying fiscal adjustment process. Those with low general government debt and deficits can afford to maintain a neutral stance in response to a weaker global outlook. But countries with relatively high or quickly increasing debt levels are exposed to sizable risks, especially once effective interest rates rise as monetary policy normalizes in the advanced economies and concessional financing from advanced economies declines. The widespread use of energy subsidies makes commodity prices an additional source of vulnerability in many emerging market and low-income economies; subsidy reform, higher consumption taxes, and broadening of tax bases would help support consolidation efforts.
This appendix comprises four sections: fiscal policy assumptions, data and conventions, economy groupings, and statistical tables. The assumptions underlying the estimates and projections for 2012–17 are summarized in the first section. The second section provides a general description of the data and of the conventions used for calculating economy group composites. The classification of countries in the various groups presented in the Fiscal Monitor is summarized in the third section. The last section comprises the statistical tables on key fiscal variables. Data in these tables have been compiled on the basis of information available through April 2012.