Even after one of the most severe multi-year crisis on record in the advanced economies, the received wisdom in policy circles clings to the notion that high-income countries are completely different from their emerging market counterparts. The current phase of the official policy approach is predicated on the assumption that debt sustainability can be achieved through a mix of austerity, forbearance and growth. The claim is that advanced countries do not need to resort to the standard toolkit of emerging markets, including debt restructurings and conversions, higher inflation, capital controls and other forms of financial repression. As we document, this claim is at odds with the historical track record of most advanced economies, where debt restructuring or conversions, financial repression, and a tolerance for higher inflation or a combination of these were an integral part of the resolution of significant past debt overhangs.
This paper offers a “panoramic” analysis of the history of financial crises dating from England’s fourteenth-century default to the current United States sub-prime financial crisis. Our study is based on a new dataset that spans all regions. It incorporates a number of important credit episodes seldom covered in the literature, including for example, defaults and restructurings in India and China. As the first paper employing this data, our aim is to illustrate some of the broad insights that can be gleaned from such a sweeping historical database. We find that serial default is a nearly universal phenomenon as countries struggle to transform themselves from emerging markets to advanced economies. Major default episodes are typically spaced some years (or decades) apart, creating an illusion that “this time is different” among policymakers and investors. A recent example of the “this time is different” syndrome is the false belief that domestic debt is a novel feature of the modern financial landscape. We also confirm that crises frequently emanate from the financial centers with transmission through interest rate shocks and commodity price collapses. Thus, the recent US sub-prime financial crisis is hardly unique. Our data also documents other crises that often accompany default: including inflation, exchange rate crashes, banking crises, and currency debasements.
The Federal Reserve's mandate has evolved considerably over the organization's hundred-year history. It was changed from an initial focus in 1913 on financial stability, to fiscal financing in World War II and its aftermath, to a strong anti-inflation focus from the late 1970s, and then back to greater emphasis on financial stability since the Great Contraction. Yet, as the Fed's mandate has expanded in recent years, its range of instruments has narrowed, partly based on a misguided belief in the inherent stability of financial markets. We argue for a return to multiple instruments, including a more active role for reserve requirements.
The historical frequency of banking crises is similar in advanced and developing countries, with quantitative parallels in both the run-ups and the aftermath. We establish these regularities using a dataset spanning from the early 1800s to the present. Banking crises weaken fiscal positions, with government revenues invariably contracting. Three years after a crisis, central government debt increases by about 86%. The fiscal burden of banking crisis extends beyond the cost of the bailouts. We find that systemic banking crises are typically preceded by asset price bubbles, large capital inflows and credit booms, in rich and poor countries alike.
We identify the major public debt overhang episodes in the advanced economies since the early 1800s, characterized by public debt to GDP levels exceeding 90 percent for at least five years. Consistent with Reinhart and Rogoff (2010) and most of the more recent research, we find that public debt overhang episodes are associated with lower growth than during other periods. The duration of the average debt overhang episode is perhaps its most striking feature. Among the 26 episodes we identify, 20 lasted more than a decade. The long duration belies the view that the correlation is caused mainly by debt buildups during business cycle recessions. The long duration also implies that the cumulative shortfall in output from debt overhang is potentially massive. These growth-reducing effects of high public debt are apparently not transmitted exclusively through high real interest rates, as in eleven of the episodes, interest rates are not materially higher.
This paper uses a data set of over two hundred years of sovereign debt, banking and inflation crises to explore the question of how long it takes a country to “graduate” from the typical pattern of serial crisis that most emerging markets experience. We find that for default and inflation crises, twenty years is a significant market, but the distribution of recidivism has extremely fat tails. In the case of banking crises, it is unclear whether countries ever graduate. We also examine the more recent phenomenon of IMF programs, which sometimes result in “near misses” but sometimes end in default even after a program is instituted. The paper raises the important theoretical question of why countries experience serial default, and how they might graduate.
There is a rich scholarly literature on sovereign default on external debt. Comparatively little is known about sovereign default on domestic debt. Even today, cross-country data on domestic public debt remains curiously exotic, particularly prior to the 1980s. We have filled this gap in the literature by compiling a database on central government public debt (external and domestic). The data span 1914 to 2007 for most countries, reaching back into the nineteenth century for many. Our findings on debt sustainability, sovereign defaults, the temptation to inflate, and the hierarchy of creditors only scratch the surface of what the domestic public debt data can reveal. First, domestic debt is big—for the 64 countries for which we have long time series, domestic debt accounts for almost two-thirds of total public debt. For most of the sample, this debt carries a market interest rate (except for the financial repression era between WWII and financial liberalization). Second, the data go a long way toward explaining the puzzle of why countries so often default on their external debts at seemingly low debt thresholds. Third, domestic debt has largely been ignored in the vast empirical work on inflation. In fact, domestic debt (a significant portion of which is long term and non-indexed) is often much larger than the monetary base in the run-up to high-inflation episodes. Last, the widely held view that domestic residents are strictly junior to external creditors does not find broad support.
Newly developed long historical time series on public debt, along with modern data on external debts, allow a deeper analysis of the cycles underlying serial debt and banking crises. The evidence confirms a strong link between banking crises and sovereign default across the economic history of a great many countries, advanced and emerging alike. The focus of the analysis is on three related hypotheses tested with both “world” aggregate levels and on an individual country basis. First, private debt surges are a recurring antecedent to banking crises; governments quite often contribute to this stage of the borrowing boom. Second, banking crises (both domestic ones and those emanating from international financial centers) often precede or accompany sovereign debt crises. Indeed, we find they help predict them. Third, public borrowing accelerates markedly ahead of a sovereign debt crisis; governments often have “hidden debts” that far exceed the better documented levels of external debt. These hidden debts encompass domestic public debts (which prior to our data were largely undocumented).
We show that "commodity currency" exchange rates have remarkably robust power in predicting global commodity prices, both in-sample and out-of-sample, and against a variety of alternative benchmarks. This result is of particular interest to policymakers, given the lack of deep forward markets in many individual commodities, and broad aggregate commodity indices in particular. We also explore the reverse relationship (commodity prices forecasting exchange rates) but find it to be notably less robust. We offer a theoretical resolution, based on the fact that exchange rates are strongly forward looking, whereas commodity price fluctuations are typically more sensitive to short-term demand imbalances.
There are three great challenges facing researchers in modern macroeconomics today, all brought into sharp relief by the recent financial crisis. The first is to find more realistic, and yet tractable, ways to incorporate financial market frictions into our canonical models for analyzing monetary policy. The second is to rethink the role of countercyclical fiscal policy, particularly in the response to a financial crisis where credit markets seize. A third great challenge is to achieve a better cost‐benefit analysis of financial market regulation.
We study economic growth and inflation at different levels of government and external debt. Our analysis is based on new data on forty-four countries spanning about two hundred years. The dataset incorporates over 3,700 annual observations covering a wide range of political systems, institutions, exchange rate arrangements, and historic circumstances. Our main findings are: First, the relationship between government debt and real GDP growth is weak for debt/GDP ratios below a threshold of 90 percent of GDP. Above 90 percent, median growth rates fall by one percent, and average growth falls considerably more. We find that the threshold for public debt is similar in advanced and emerging economies. Second, emerging markets face lower thresholds for external debt (public and private)—which is usually denominated in a foreign currency. When external debt reaches 60 percent of GDP, annual growth declines by about two percent; for higher levels, growth rates are roughly cut in half. Third, there is no apparent contemporaneous link between inflation and public debt levels for the advanced countries as a group (some countries, such as the United States, have experienced higher inflation when debt/GDP is high). The story is entirely different for emerging markets, where inflation rises sharply as debt increases.
This paper offers empirical evidence that real exchange rate volatility can have a significant impact on the long-term rate of productivity growth, but the effect depends critically on a country’s level of financial development. For countries with relatively low levels of financial development, exchange rate volatility generally reduces growth, whereas for financially advanced countries, there is no significant effect. Our empirical analysis is based on an 83-country data set spanning the years 1960–2000; our results appear robust to time window, alternative measures of financial development and exchange rate volatility, and outliers. We also offer a simple monetary growth model in which real exchange rate uncertainty exacerbates the negative investment effects of domestic credit market constraints. Our approach delivers results that are in striking contrast to the vast existing empirical exchange rate literature, which largely finds the effects of exchange rate volatility on real activity to be relatively small and insignificant.
The literature on the benefits and costs of financial globalization for developing countries has exploded in recent years, but along many disparate channels with a variety of apparently conflicting results. There is still little robust evidence of the growth benefits of broad capital account liberalization, but a number of recent papers in the finance literature report that equity market liberalizations do significantly boost growth. Similarly, evidence based on microeconomic (firm- or industry-level) data shows some benefits of financial integration and the distortionary effects of capital controls, while the macroeconomic evidence remains inconclusive. At the same time, some studies argue that financial globalization enhances macroeconomic stability in developing countries, while others argue the opposite. We attempt to provide a unified conceptual framework for organizing this vast and growing literature, particularly emphasizing recent approaches to measuring the catalytic and indirect benefits to financial globalization. Indeed, we argue that the indirect effects of financial globalization on financial sector development, institutions, governance, and macroeconomic stability are likely to be far more important than any direct impact via capital accumulation or portfolio diversification. This perspective explains the failure of research based on cross-country growth regressions to find the expected positive effects of financial globalization and points to newer approaches that are potentially more useful and convincing.
This paper examines the depth and duration of the slump that invariably follows severe financial crises, which tend to be protracted affairs. We find that asset market collapses are deep and prolonged. On a peak-to-trough basis, real housing price declines average 35 percent stretched out over six years, while equity price collapses average 55 percent over a downturn of about three and a half years. Not surprisingly, banking crises are associated with profound declines in output and employment. The unemployment rate rises an average of 7 percentage points over the down phase of the cycle, which lasts on average over four years. Output falls an average of over 9 percent, although the duration of the downturn is considerably shorter than for unemployment. The real value of government debt tends to explode, rising an average of 86 percent in the major post-World War II episodes. The main cause of debt explosions is usually not the widely cited costs of bailing out and recapitalizing the banking system. The collapse in tax revenues in the wake of deep and prolonged economic contractions is a critical factor in explaining the large budget deficits and increases in debt that follow the crisis. Our estimates of the rise in government debt are likely to be conservative, as these do not include increases in government guarantees, which also expand briskly during these episodes.