Global Financial Stability Report

News Excerpt:

The International Monetary Fund (IMF) released the latest global financial stability report warning about the risks to the global financial system from persistent high inflation, rising lending in the unregulated credit market, and increasing cyber-attacks on financial institutions.

What is the IMF’s worry about inflation?

  • The IMF has flagged rising enthusiasm among investors that the fight against high inflation over the last few years has almost come to an end.
  • Investors have been pushing up the prices of financial assets such as stocks in recent months, hoping that central banks will soon begin lowering interest rates as inflation comes under control.
    • It should be noted that central banks generally try to lower interest rates by injecting more into the economy when inflation falls in an attempt to boost economic growth.
  • Although central banks have yet to lower interest rates, investors may take falling inflation as a cue that they will soon flush the markets with more money to lower interest rates.
    • So, they purchase financial assets in anticipation of greater demand when banks lower interest rates, thus pushing up the prices of these assets right now.
  • The IMF believes that investor enthusiasm about slowing inflation and a possible cut in interest rates by central banks may be quite premature.
  • It has been noted that the fall in inflation has probably stalled in some major advanced and emerging economies, where core inflation has been higher in the most recent three months than in the previous three months. 
  • The IMF has also warned that geopolitical risks, such as the ongoing wars in West Asia and Ukraine, could affect aggregate supply and lead to higher prices. 
    • This might stop central banks from lowering rates anytime soon.
  • If these risks persist, the IMF believes, investors who have been bidding up asset prices expecting fresh money from central banks to push up asset prices in the near future may change their minds.

What is core inflation?

  • Core inflation is the change in the costs of goods and services excluding the price variations in seasonal elements, such as those related to food and energy. 
    • Core inflation represents the long-term trend in the price level
  • Monetary policy measures are known to impact core inflation levels more than the non-core or food inflation, and hence considered a gauge for the success of monetary policy measures.

What is non-core inflation?

  • This component of inflation comprises the seasonal elements in inflation - food and fuel prices, for instance. 
  • This inflation is driven by supply side factors and hence there is very little that monetary policy measures can do to mitigate volatility in these sectors. 
  • However, some believe that if non-core or food inflation is persistent, then monetary policy measures can help contain inflation expectations.

What does it mean for India?

  • In 2023, India was the second-largest recipient of foreign capital after the U.S., according to Elara Capital. 
  • However, things could change quickly if Western central banks signal that they can keep interest rates high for a long time. 
    • This could cause investors to pull money out of emerging markets like India and increase pressure on their currencies. 
  • The Indian rupee has already depreciated and traded at a new low of 83.57 against the U.S. dollar recently despite likely intervention by the Reserve Bank of India (RBI). 
  • If Western central banks fail to lower interest rates, a severe outflow of capital could cause further depreciation of the rupee and affect the country’s financial system. 
  • In such a scenario, the RBI will likely defend the rupee by curbing liquidity to raise interest rates, which could cause the economy to slow down.

What about the private credit market?

  • In its report, the IMF noted that the growing unregulated private credit market, in which non-bank financial institutions lend to corporate borrowers, is a growing concern as troubles in the market might affect the broader financial system in the future. 
    • It estimates that the private credit market globally grew to $2.1 trillion last year
  • Non-bank financial institutions lending to corporate borrowers include institutional investors such as pension funds and insurance companies
    • Institutional investors are investing in the private credit market because they offer higher returns than normal investments. 
  • Meanwhile, the borrowers benefit as they cannot get convenient long-term funds through other venues.
  • The IMF is worried that the borrowers in the private credit market may not be financially sound and noted that many of them do not have current earnings that exceed even their interest costs. 
  • It also argues that since these loans rarely trade in an open, liquid market like many other securities do, it might be hard for investors to gauge the risk involved. 
    • Thus, private credit assets have significantly smaller markdowns in their mark-to-market value during times of stress, the IMF notes. 
  • In a highly liquid market where securities are traded frequently, the real risk behind a loan is priced more immediately and also more accurately by investors. 
  • It may be the case that institutional investors are fully willing to bear the risk in return for higher returns.
  • India has also seen the growth of a small private credit market with the rise of Alternative Investment Funds (AIFs)
    • These funds lend money to high-risk borrowers who are not catered to by the traditional banking system and non-bank financial companies. 
    • They have also invested in distressed assets that have come up for sale under the Insolvency and Bankruptcy Code regime. 
    • The Securities and Exchange Board of India (SEBI) notes that investments made through these funds, although still small, have more than tripled from ₹1.1 lakh crore in 2018-19 to ₹3.4 lakh crore in 2022-23.
    • As financial regulators, both the RBI and SEBI have been noticing this trend and tried to increase scrutiny over these funds.

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