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Statistical implications
of the crisis
Marco Mira d’Ercole
Counsellor, OECD Statistics Directorate
Working Party on International Trade in Goods and
Trade in Services, 16-17 November 2009
Context: OECD initiatives
Premise: if the crisis does not call into question our statistical system, it does
provide an opportunity to assess its adequacy to identify structural
weaknesses, to value assets and to monitor performance
This premise has provided the context for a range of initiatives undertaken
by the OECD Statistics Directorate to:
• Gather statisticians and policy analysts across the house (i.e. Horizontal Group
on Statistics on the Crisis)
• Organise workshops with experts in specific fields (e.g. social statistics)
• Bring together these strands of work in a paper for CSTAT, discussed in June
2009, revised now
Main features of the crisis
Both the size and qualitative features of the crisis justify this initiative
 Starts at the centre of developed world rather than at its periphery, as had been
the case with crises of Mexico in early-80s; Sweden and Japan in early-90s;
South-East Asia and Russia in late-90s; Argentina in early-2000s
 Focal point in the financial sector (“shadow banking”), with high leverage,
maturity mismatches between assets and liabilities, contagion to other financial
markets through securitisation
 Overstretched household sector, which accumulated debt to sustain private
consumption, in context characterised by stagnant income for most households
 Rapid spread from US to other countries, due to interconnectedness of markets
and regions, made the crisis truly global. Globalisation, beyond its benefits,
implies new vulnerabilities
Statistical implications are specific to each field
Focus of the paper on financial and social statistics
Financial statistics. Existing data did not record full expose of financial sector
to real estate and mortgages. Further, aggregation of data for subcomponent of
financial sector showed only moderate rise in leverage and maturity mismatch. Last,
balance sheets need to be “stressed tested” to assess extent of risks
Social statistics. Existing social statistics built on premise that social change
occurs slowly and can be monitored through low-frequency surveys. Increasing
frequency of existing OECD collection of income distribution. Large gaps on
distribution of household wealth, over-indebtedness and payment arrears
Statistical implications for international trade
Crisis affected trade flows disproportionately, both historically and relative to
domestic output. Issue about the adequacy of statistics in identifying the factors at
work: changes in structural features of trade flows (e.g. linked to vertical
specialisation), financial factors (e.g. collapse of “letter of credits”)
Crisis reflected the existence of global imbalances. Capital inflows to deficit
countries fuelled asset price inflation and debt expansion. Despite some easing of
these imbalances over past two years, little indications that yesterday’s “trade
champions” are ready to forego their role.
Cross-cutting statistical implications
Coverage. In financial field, data on balance sheets and asset prices are
inadequate to assess sustainability of debt accumulation, especially for households
and financial corporations
Timeliness. Time lags for availability of financial statistics exceeds 2 years, even
longer for social statistics. Greater investments in statistical capacity but also lowcosts steps to ease trade-off between timeliness and accuracy
Access to micro-data. Much of our statistical information is in the form of
measures of central tendency. Considering the full distribution for a range of key
variables would have allowed indentifying risks in part of the system, and better
managing the consequences of the crisis
“Story telling”. Warning signals were not picked up partly because of reluctance
by statisticians in engaging in “story telling”
Broader implications for OECD statistical work
Changed political discourse, domestically and internationally. Domestically,
discussions on “exit from” emergency measures raise questions but on type of
development paths (more balanced and sustainable ) that we want to enter.
Internationally, G20 process and OECD efforts to feed that process with relevant
outputs: importance of dialogue with EE countries
Beyond-GDP agenda. The crisis give salience to the importance of alternative
metrics for our information system, shifting from system focused on market
production to one that recognises importance of people’s well-being. From and
academic discussion to a policy process (Stigltiz Commission, G20 leaders’
statement, OECD follow-up). Importance of discussing with various subsidiary bodies
of the Organisation how they could best contribute to that agenda