Inflation a transitory relief to debt, warns IMF
CHRIS GILES — LONDON
The IMF has warned governments against relying on short-term improvements to their public finances stemming from higher inflation, saying these rarely provide lasting relief from fiscal pressures.
The fund’s Fiscal Monitor, published yesterday, showed the surge in inflation in the past year had lowered both borrowing and debt burdens in advanced and emerging economies. But this benefit was not sustainable, especially with higher food and energy prices adding to pressure on government budgets caused by Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, it said.
Vitor Gaspar, IMF head of fiscal policy, said “many countries are facing narrowing fiscal space”, with public budgets likely to come under more pressure as interest rates rise across the world.
The fund expects global prices to rise 7.4 per cent this year — far higher than the 3.2 per cent it forecast for 2022 in late 2020. The IMF’s report showed this unexpected resurgence in inflation had lowered both public debt and borrowing levels as a share of GDP, compared with expectations made in October 2020 when the fund expected no rise in global prices compared with normal trends.
Higher than expected inflation had already reduced the US debt-to-GDP ratio by 2 percentage points and 4.1 percentage points in emerging economies.
These drops in debt burdens occur because the amount of money owed remained constant while higher price levels pushed up measured GDP. Government borrowing was also lower than expected because inflation buoyed tax revenues more than it immediately increased public spending.
While the IMF predicts fiscal balances may benefit from higher inflation this year too, the price surge would soon lead to higher interest rates and a greater burden of servicing government debt.
“If you had a situation where high and volatile inflation were a permanent characteristic of the economy, the attraction of nominal bonds as an asset would be reduced and the financing conditions of treasuries would significantly deteriorate,” Gaspar said.
The type of inflation seen globally, he added, would put great pressure on government budgets because higher food and energy prices undermined living standards of poorer households.
He urged countries able to finance support to offer poorer households cash payments rather than subsidise prices, so that consumers still faced an incentive to cut back on goods that had become much more expensive.
Price surge would soon mean higher interest rates and a greater burden of servicing government debt
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Articolo tratto da “Financial Time” del 21/04/2022