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IMF Warns Over Stimulus Dependence, U.S. Financial Stability Risks

NEW YORK (TheStreet) -- The International Monetary Fund urged nations to move beyond their dependence on stimulus programs and warned of financial stability risks, as investors look to the release of Federal Reserve minutes Wednesday for clues on central bank decision-making

In its global financial stability report, the body called for "strong action" from policymakers to facilitate a shift from markets driven by low interest rates in advanced nations to self-sustaining growth.

"[Advanced] economies will need to reduce their reliance on monetary and liquidity supports if they are to create an environment of self-sustaining growth, marked by increased corporate investment and growing employment," Jose Vinals, financial counselor and head of the IMF's Monetary and Capital Markets Department, said in a statement on Wednesday.

The Federal Reserve wound down its stimulus program for the third time to $55 billion a month in March. All eyes Wednesday will be on the release of meeting minutes at 2 p.m. Wednesday for clues on its likely policy path.

The IMF pointed to several perceived risks in the U.S., highlighting high-yield bonds and leveraged loans, where it said underwriting standards had weakened.

It said the rapid growth of credit-focused mutual funds and exchange-traded funds (ETFs) could also amplify any shocks. "These investment vehicles are more prone to sudden redemptions from investors than other traditional holders of leveraged loans," the IMF said. "The concern is that if investors seek to withdraw massively from investment vehicles focused on relatively illiquid high-yield bonds or leveraged loans, the pressure could lead to fire sales in credit markets and rapid increases in yields."

While the U.S. winds back its bond-buying program, further stimulus is widely expected in Japan. The Bank of Japan held off on bolstering the size of its stimulus program this month, but many believe the bank stands ready to act at any signs of prolonged weakness as it attempts to rid the economy of deflation. There are concerns over the impact of a raised sales tax -- to 8% this month from 5% -- just as the economy is beginning to recover.

Some believe Japan's economic recovery may yet prove self-sustaining. Tom Elliott, international investment strategist at deVere Group, said factors to watch included ongoing growth in household consumption and wage growth at or above inflation.

"If both these hurdles are met, there is no reason why growth will not resume and become self-sustaining without further central bank activity," he said.

Elsewhere, the IMF pointed to pressures in emerging markets such as Brazil, Indonesia, India, and Turkey, as a backdrop of easy monetary conditions was tightened globally.

"Higher debt loads and lower debt servicing capacity make corporates (in these nations) more sensitive to tighter external financing conditions and a potential reversal of capital flows that could trigger a rise in borrowing costs and a drop in earnings," Vinals said.

The IMF warned that China needs to take prudential measures to guard banks and non-banks, given growth in non-bank lending had boosted corporate leverage.

In Europe, policymakers face the challenge of accelerating the repair of bank and corporate balance sheets without disrupting the recovery in market sentiment. "It is not enough to fix the banks," Vinals said. "Policymakers also need to finish the job of repairing corporates."

ING U.S. Investment Management chief market strategist Doug Cote said Europe still appeared to be "urning the corner."

"Yes, inflation is painfully low and unemployment is dangerously high but the feared risk of total financial collapse looks more remote each day," he told clients.

-- Written by Jane Searle in New York

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