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Kareem Ismail, Mr. Roberto Perrelli, and Jessie Yang
Are IMF growth forecasts systematically optimistic? And if so, what is the role of planned policy adjustments on this outcome? Are program forecasts as biased as surveillance forecasts? We try to answer these questions using a comprehensive database on IMF forecasts of economic growth in surveillance and program cases during 2003–2017. We find that large planned fiscal and external adjustments are associated with optimistic growth projections, with significant non-linearities for both program and surveillance cases. Specifically, we find evidence that larger planned fiscal adjustment is associated with higher growth optimism in IMF non-concessional, non-precautionary financial arrangements. Our results show the tendency for optimism has persisted in the period after the Global Financial Crisis. Moreover, the strong correlation between the magnitude of the optimism and expected fiscal consolidation provides a cautionary signal for the post-COVID IMF projections as countries embark on a path of fiscal adjustment.
Kareem Ismail, Mr. Roberto Perrelli, and Jessie Yang

each vintage of the IMF’s World Economic Outlook (WEO). The use of vintage-specific data is warranted to control for information not available at the time the forecasts were made. What differentiate this work from others in this area as we explain below is the wide scope of coverage of Fund forecasts, as well as the close investigation of the association between growth optimism and planned policy adjustments, including evidence of non-linearity. Our goal is to better understand the role of planned policy adjustments on unveiling systematic errors in IMF forecasts

International Monetary Fund. Independent Evaluation Office

Abstract

This evaluation assesses how well IMF-supported programs helped to sustain economic growth while delivering adjustment needed for external viability over the period 2008–19. The evaluation finds that the Fund’s increasing attention to growth in the programs has delivered some positive results. Specifically, it does not find evidence of a consistent bias towards excessive austerity in IMF-supported programs. Indeed, programs have yielded growth benefits relative to a counterfactual of no Fund engagement and boosted post-program growth performance. Notwithstanding these positive findings, program growth outcomes consistently fell short of program projections. Such shortfalls imply less protection of incomes than intended, fuel adjustment fatigue and public opposition to reforms, and jeopardize progress towards external viability. The evaluation examines how different policy instruments were applied to support better growth outcomes while achieving needed adjustment. Fiscal policies typically incorporated growth-friendly measures but with mixed success. Despite some success in promoting reforms and growth, structural conditionalities were of relatively low depth and their potential growth benefits were not fully realized. Use of the exchange rate as a policy tool to support growth and external adjustment during programs was quite limited. Lastly, market debt operations were useful in some cases to restore debt sustainability and renew market access, yet sometimes were too little and too late to deliver the intended benefits. The evaluation concludes that the IMF should seek to further enhance program countries’ capacity to sustain activity while undertaking needed adjustment during the program and to enhance growth prospects beyond the program. Following this conclusion, the report sets out three recommendations aimed at strengthening attention to growth implications of IMF-supported programs, including the social and distributional consequences.