78th BIS Annual Report

30 June 2008

The 78th Annual Report of the Bank for International Settlements for the financial year which began on 1 April 2007 and ended on 31 March 2008 was submitted to the Bank's Annual General Meeting held in Basel on 30 June 2008.

Overview:

78th Annual Report 2007/08: an overview

78th Annual Report by chapter

Table of contents, letter of transmittal
I. Introduction: the unsustainable has run its course
After a number of years of strong global growth, low inflation and stable financial markets, the situation deteriorated rapidly in the period under review. Most notable was the onset of turmoil in the US market for subprime mortgages, which rapidly affected many other financial markets and eventually called into question the adequacy of capital at a number of large US and European banks. At the same time, US growth slowed markedly, reflecting setbacks in the housing market, while global inflation rose significantly under the particular influence of higher commodity prices. More...
II. The global economy
The global economy has slowed since the second half of 2007 against the backdrop of the financial turmoil and a deepening US downturn. At the same time, global inflation has risen, led by rapid increases in prices of energy and key food items. The current consensus view is still that the global economy will slow only modestly further in 2008. Developments up to the first quarter have been broadly consistent with this view as growth in the euro area, Japan and major emerging market economies continued to be strong. More...
III. Emerging market economies
Growth in emerging market economies (EMEs) last year once again significantly exceeded that in the rest of the world. Foreign currency inflows were large, reflecting continued growth in current account surpluses and capital inflows in 2007. Nevertheless, the potential knock on effects of financial market turmoil in the major centres increased the risk of a slowdown in EMEs. At the same time, recent increases in headline inflation have caused inflation targets to be breached in many EMEs, reflecting the impact of steep increases in oil and food prices. As in the advanced industrial economies, these conflicting forces have created a major dilemma for monetary policy. Efforts to resist currency appreciation have introduced additional complications, having been associated with a sharp increase in foreign reserves and in credit growth in a number of EMEs. More...
IV. Monetary policy in the advanced industrial economies
Monetary policy in the advanced industrial economies faced two conflicting challenges during the period under review. On the one hand, tensions in financial markets threatened to spill over into the real economy by way of tighter credit conditions and a loss in confidence. On the other hand, inflationary pressures that stemmed from rising commodity prices, together with high capacity utilisation and tight labour markets in many economies, threatened to feed into longer-term inflation expectations. Differences in the manifestation of these challenges across countries and regions can explain, at least in part, why central banks dealt with them in different ways. For example, the Federal Reserve reacted forcefully by cutting its policy rate from 5.25% to 2%, whereas the ECB and the Bank of Japan kept their policy rates unchanged. More...
V. Foreign exchange markets
Foreign exchange market volatility picked up sharply in the latter half of 2007 and has remained at elevated levels since. This was associated with a faster rate of decline of the US dollar as well as a substantial appreciation of the euro, yen and Swiss franc. As carry trades became less attractive, expected growth differentials became more of a focal point for market sentiment than prevailing levels of interest rates. While exchange rate policies continued to shape the behaviour of some emerging market currencies, developments in commodity prices and specific trends in capital flows also exerted a considerable influence on exchange rates. More...
VI. Financial markets
During the period from June 2007 to mid-May 2008, concerns over losses on US subprime mortgage loans escalated into widespread financial stress. What initially appeared to be a contained problem quickly spread across other credit segments and broader financial markets to the point where sizeable parts of the financial system became largely dysfunctional. Surging demand for liquidity, coupled with growing concerns about counterparty risk, led to unprecedented pressures in major interbank markets, while bond yields in advanced industrial economies tumbled as investors sought safe havens amid fears that economic growth would weaken. Equity markets in advanced industrial countries were also weak, with financial shares selling off particularly sharply. A brighter spot was emerging financial markets, which in contrast to previous episodes of broad-based asset market weakness proved to be more resilient than those in the advanced industrial economies. More...
VII. The financial sector in the advanced industrial economies
Several years of growth and enhanced profitability for financial firms came to an abrupt halt during the period under review as strains stemming primarily from exposures to residential real estate spread throughout the financial system. What had started as a problem specific to the US subprime mortgage market became a source of outsize losses for financial firms worldwide on their holdings of related securities. Uncertainty about the size and distribution of losses was exacerbated by the complexity of the new structures used in the securitisation process. Retrenchment from risk-taking led to illiquidity, exposing weaknesses in the funding arrangements of many financial firms. Indeed, the situation was punctuated by the near failure of sizeable financial firms, prompting intervention by the public sector to avert potential systemic repercussions from a disorderly collapse. More...
VIII. Conclusion: the difficult task of damage control
In the aftermath of a long credit-driven boom, it would not be surprising to see turmoil in financial markets, slowing real growth and temporarily rising inflation. The crucial questions at the present juncture have to do with the severity of these individual trends as they now appear and how they might interact. While difficult to predict, their interaction does appear to point to a deeper and more protracted global downturn than the consensus view seems to expect. At the same time, inflationary forces, particularly in emerging market economies, could also prove unexpectedly strong and persistent. A major factor in inflation prospects everywhere is likely to be the behaviour of wages, but in some countries the effect of a depreciating exchange rate on domestic prices could also play an unwelcome role. More...
Organisation, governance and activities
This chapter provides an overview of the internal organisation and governance of the Bank for International Settlements. It also reviews the activities of the Bank, and of the international groups it hosts, over the past financial year. These activities focus on promoting cooperation among central banks and other financial authorities, and on providing financial services to central bank customers. More...