The International Monetary Fund or IMF is the central institution of the international monetary system (the international system of exchange rates and payments between countries). The primary purpose of the Fund is to maintain international financial stability and prevent crisis in the system. It does this through the provision of advice and financial assistance to countries that experience serious balance of payment difficulties. The Fund is often criticized for the terms and conditions it attaches to these loans, which frequently include internal changes (such as cutting social expenditures, privatisation and anti-corruption measures) as well as external ones, in particular, the reduction of trade barriers.
The Fund monitors economic and financial developments and policies and collects detailed macro-economic data on all its member countries. It produces four major databanks:
- International Financial Statistics
- Government Finance Statistics
- Balance of Payments Statistics
- Direction of Trade
These four databanks contain data on national accounts, trade, the balance of payments and government spending for around 190 countries. Collectively, they provide a global picture of economic development and international trade over the last 50 years.
The International Financial Statistics (IFS) is the IMF's principal statistical publication and is the standard source for all aspects of international and domestic finance. It was first published in 1948 and is updated every month. It covers over 200 countries and reports time series data on exchange rates, balance of payments, international liquidity, money and banking, interest rates, prices, production, international transactions, government accounts, national accounts and population. It also contains prices of internationally traded commodities such as coffee, oil and gold.
The IFS is split in three parts: country tables, world tables are commodity prices. Data are reported in a mixture of indexes, national currencies, US Dollars, SDRs (the basket currency the Fund uses as a unit of account) and other units. As the database is primarily used for countries to benchmark their own progress, you need to take extra care if using the IFS to make cross national comparisons. For example, countries may use different base years to reporting indexes and many of the series in the country tables are in local currencies. The IMF pulls the more comparable series together to form the world tables.
The Balance of Payments Statistics contains time series data covering the standard balance of payment components and international investment positions of countries worldwide. Balance of payment data record of the flows of goods, services and finance between an economy and the rest of the world. Since one of the primary functions of the IMF is to prevent financial crises and assist countries in balance of payment difficulties, the collection of standardised, comparable balance of payment data is seen as a core task. A country's Balance of Payments (BOP) is a statistical statement that summarizes, for a specific period (typically a year or quarter), the economic transactions of an economy with the rest of the world. It covers:
- all the goods, services, factor income and current transfers an economy receives from or provides to the rest of the world
- capital transfers and changes in an economy's external financial claims and liabilities
The Balance of Payments methodology uses a double-entry accounting system. This means that every recorded item should have a debit and a credit, and there should be a net balance of zero. In practice, the figures rarely balance to the point where they cancel each other out. This is the result of errors or omissions in the compilation of statements.
Balance of Payments credits denote a reduction in assets or an increase in liabilities; debits denote an increase in assets or a reduction of liabilities, summarized in the table below:
|Balance of Payments credit and debit table|
The Government Finance Statistics database was introduced by the IMF to provide current and internationally comparable data on the finances and fiscal policies of Fund member governments. The database contains information on government income and expenditure i.e. how governments raise revenue (tax, lending, bonds, etc), and how they spend it (on defence, education, health, financing debt repayments etc) for all levels of government (national, state, local).
In April 2004, the IMF introduced a new classification system for the Government Finance Statistics that only supports data from 1990 onwards. The IMF now split the GFS into 2 databases: - the Government Finance Statistics Current (1990 - ) contains data using the new classification system from 1990 onwards, and the Government Finance Statistics Historical (1972 - 2003) contains data using the old classification system.
The Direction of Trade Statistics database contains data on the value of merchandise exports and imports between each country and all its trading partners. Total bilateral and multilateral exports and imports are aggregated at national or regional group level. For each reporting country or group, all the trading partners are listed. The corresponding monetary values of total imports and total exports are then provided as time series for each country / trading partner pair. Along with data from reporting countries, estimates are provided by partner countries for non-reporting countries or for those that are slow to report.
All the data in the Direction of Trade are expressed in $US. Data originally reported in national currencies are converted by the IMF using the exchange rates published in the IMF International Financial Statistics.
This example shows Iraqi trade with the rest of the world during the period 1981-2005.