Morgan Stanley
  • Thoughts on the Market Podcast
  • May 13, 2024

Spring IMF Meetings Spark Cautious Optimism

With Simon Waever and Neville Mandimika


Simon Waever: Welcome to Thoughts on the Market. I'm Simon Waever, Morgan Stanley's Global Head of Emerging Markets, Sovereign Credit and Latin America Fixed income strategy.

Neville Mandimika: And I'm Neville Mandimika from the Emerging Markets Credit Strategy team with a focus on Central and Eastern Europe, Middle East and Africa.

Simon Waever: And on this episode of Thoughts on the Market, we'll discuss what we believe investors should take away from the International Monetary Fund’s Spring Meetings in Washington, DC.

It's Monday, May 13th at 10am in New York.

Neville Mandimika: And it's 3 pm in London.

To give some context, every year, the Spring Meetings of the International Monetary Fund (IMF) and the World Bank provide a forum for country officials, private sector market participants and academics to discuss critical global economic issues. This time around, the meetings were held against a backdrop, as you might imagine, of rising geopolitical tensions, monetary policy pivots, and limited fiscal space.

Simon, we were both at the event, and I wanted to discuss what we took away from our own meetings, as well as discussions with other market participants. How would you describe the mood this time around compared to the annual meetings in October last year?

Simon Waever: So, I would say sentiment was cautiously optimistic. Of course, it did happen in the backdrop of inflation; the first quarter not being as well behaved as everyone had hoped for. So that really put the focus on central banks being more cautious in their easing paths, which is actually a point the IMF also made back in October.

But away from that, growth has held up better than expected. In the US for sure, but also more globally. So, I would say it could have been a lot worse.

Neville Mandimika: Was it just me or there was a particular focus on fiscals this time around? What did you make of this?

Simon Waever: No, there was for sure and interestingly it was focused on both developed economies and developing economies, which isn't usually the case. And I think it's clear that not only the IMF but also the markets are worried that we're still some distance away from stabilizing debt in most countries. And not only that but that it's going to be hard to close that gap due to lower growth and spending pressures. So that meant that there was a lot of discussions on how much term premier there needs to be in government bond curves and whether they need to be steeper.

Neville Mandimika: It's often very difficult to talk about, you know, the global economic dynamics without talking about AI, which seems to be the catchphrase this year. How is the fund viewing this in light of the potential for the global economy?

Simon Waever: So, the issue is that the IMF has often had to revise down medium-term growth outlook; something that it pretty much had to do every year since 2010, actually. And today it stands at only 2.8 globally. If you look at the IMF's publications, they attribute the key reasons to this to misallocation of capital and labor.

But what they also did this time around was look at what could turn it around; and maybe unsurprisingly structural reforms that reduces that misallocation would be the larger potential factor that could boost this up again. They estimate about around 1.2 per cent of GDP. But then to your point the adoption of AI is seen as another new driver.

Of course, it's also a lot more uncertain because there needs to be a lot of a lot more work done around it. But they think it could add nearly one percentage point to global growth in a positive scenario.

But Neville, with that, let's dig deeper into the issues of developing countries which, after all, is the focus of the meetings. The cost of debt is rising, which has led to some countries experience debt distress. But from our side, we've also frequently pushed back against the idea that there is a growing debt crisis. So, coming back from the meetings, what kind of debt restructuring progress has been made? And how do you see it playing out for the remainder of the year?

Neville Mandimika: Yeah, interestingly, there was still plenty of talk in the meetings about EM (emerging market) debt crisis, but the backdrop to the conversation was significantly better this time around compared to October 2023.

Since last year, we've seen progress from Suriname, which is a small part of the Emerging Market Bond Index, close its restructuring, Zambia reaching a deal with private bondholders with the expectation that all of this could be buttoned up by June this year, multiple proposals in Sri Lanka and Ukraine making some progress.

This gives me some hope that the number of sovereigns in default will be lower by the end of this year. And I think more importantly, we don't expect any country, any new country, to get into default -- as countries like Pakistan and Tunisia have made some progress in avoiding restructuring its own debt.

The other important thing that came out from my vantage point is that the Global Sovereign Debt Roundtable seems to be making some progress, particularly on outlining the structure of EM debt crises, which is, you know, emphasizing parallel negotiations between official and private creditors and, of course, timely sharing of information between stakeholders.

Simon Waever: Then another focus has been that the IMF has been making some concessions to try to increase financing for countries that need it. Do you think there was progress on this front?

Neville Mandimika: Yeah, it certainly seems so. You know, there seems to be some momentum on that front. You'd remember that last year, there was a resolution to increase the IMF's lending capacity by increasing country quotas by 50 per cent. Once this is buttoned up, heavy borrowers like Egypt and Argentina would greatly benefit, I think.

Until this is done, the fund extended its temporary higher access limits to allow countries to borrow more in the meantime. There was also increased dialogue on reducing surcharges, which is the additional interest payments the IMF imposes on borrowers. The reduction of these would greatly help the likes of Argentina and Ecuador. Unfortunately, not much concrete progress has been made on this front.

Simon Waever: And then finally, across all the meetings we held, which countries did you come away more positive on and which ones would still be of concern?

Neville Mandimika: Yeah, I certainly came out a lot more positive on Senegal, as fears of large policy changes like leaving the CFA franc were eased. Egypt was also another clear positive, given the commitment to reforms, despite large financing that was received earlier this year. Nigeria, there was also some momentum on this front as reforms is still very much front and center from the political authorities. And lastly, Turkey saw authorities affirming their commitment to fighting inflation and loosening the grip on the foreign exchange market.

And I'll throw the same question to you, Simon. Which countries are you positive on?

Simon Waever: Yeah, I mean, it was pretty hard to take away the excitement from Egypt, but I would say that Argentina is another country where people came away pretty positive. The imbalances are significant, but they're just making very good headway in unwinding them; and they have the support of the IMF to do so. Ecuador would be the other one where sentiment in general is positive. On the more cautious side, I would point towards those countries where fiscal deficits are heading in the wrong direction, which goes back to the worries about fiscals we spoke about earlier -- and Colombia is one such example.

But with that, let's wrap it up. Neville, thanks for taking the time to talk.

Neville Mandimika: Great speaking with you, Simon.

Simon Waever: And as a reminder, if you enjoy Thoughts on the Market, please take a moment to rate and review us wherever you listen to the podcast. It helps more people find the show.

Our experts highlight their biggest takeaways from the International Monetary Fund’s recent meetings, including which markets around the globe are on an upward trajectory.