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FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
February 3, 2010
4:40 PM

CONTACT: CEPR

Dan Beeton, (202) 239-1460

Fixed Exchange Rate Has Produced World's Worst Recession In Latvia, Says New CEPR Report

Recovery Hampered by Peg to Euro

WASHINGTON - February 3 - The Latvian economy has suffered the worst two-year decline in output on record and will have trouble recovering with its currency tied to the euro, according to a new report from the Center for Economic and Policy Research.

The report, "Latvia's Recession: The Cost of Adjustment With An 'Internal Devaluation'", argues that maintaining the fixed exchange rate has prevented the government from adopting the necessary macroeconomic policies to exit from the world's worst recession.

"The European Union and the IMF are going to have to reconsider their economic strategy for Latvia," said economist Mark Weisbrot, CEPR Co-Director and lead author of the report. "The social and economic cost has been staggering, and this can't go on indefinitely."

Weisbrot added that the Western European banks that made bad loans in Latvia during the bubble years preceding the crash are going to have to accept some of the losses that would come with a devaluation. Western European banks, led by Austria and Sweden, and including Belgium, the Netherlands, and France, have hundreds of billions of dollars in loans in Central and Eastern Europe.

A devaluation in Latvia, if followed by other countries, could have implications for their loans throughout the region.

Latvia's economy has already shrunk more than 25 percent in two years.  The IMF projects another 4 percent drop this year, and predicts that the total loss of output from peak to bottom will reach 30 percent. This would make Latvia's loss more than that of the U.S. Great Depression downturn of 1929-1933.

The current IMF program, which the government has signed on to, calls for a fiscal tightening of 6.5 percent of GDP for 2010. This would be accomplished through a combination of spending cuts and tax increases. The IMF acknowledges that this fiscal tightening "will likely cause continued demand weakness through early 2010."

Expansionary monetary policy also runs counter to the need to maintain the fixed exchange rate. The end result, the authors argue, is that the economy is trapped in a deep recession in which all of the major macroeconomic policy variables - the exchange rate, fiscal policy, and monetary policy - are either pro-cyclical or cannot be utilized to help stimulate the economy. This makes it very difficult for Latvia to get out of its recession.

For the executive summary and the full report (PDF), click here.

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