Tag Archives: capital flows

The Coming Debt Crisis

After the 2008-09 global financial crisis, economists were criticized for not predicting its coming. This charge was not totally justified, as there were some who were concerned about the run-up in asset prices. Robert Schiller of Yale, for example, had warned that housing prices had escalated to unsustainable levels. But the looming debt crisis in the emerging market economies has been foreseen by many, although the particular trigger—a pandemic—was not.

Last year the World Bank released Global Waves of Debt: Causes and Consequences, written by M. Ayhan Kose, Peter Nagle, Franziska Ohnsorge and Naotaka Sugawara. The authors examined a wave of debt buildup that began in 2010. By 2018 total debt in the emerging markets and developing economies (EMDE) had risen by 54 percentage points to 168% of GDP. Much of this increase reflected a rise in corporate debt in China, but even excluding China debt reached a near-record level of 107% of GDP in the remaining countries.

The book’s authors compare the recent rise in the EMDE’s debt to other waves of debt accumulation during the last fifty years. These include the debt issued by governments in the 1970s and 1980s, particularly in Latin America; a second wave from 1990 until the early 2000s that reflected borrowing by banks and firms in East Asia and governments in Europe and Central Asia; and a third run-up in private borrowing via bank loans in Europe and Central Asia in the early 2000s. All these previous waves ended in some form of crisis that adversely affected economic growth.

While the most recent increase in debt shares some features with the previous waves such as low global interest rates, the report’s authors state that it has been “…larger, faster, and more broad-based than in the three previous waves…” The sources of credit shifted away from global banks to the capital markets and regional banks. The buildup included a rise in government debt, particularly among commodity-exporting countries, as well as private debt. China’s private debt rise accounted for about four-fifths of the increase in private EMDE debt during this period. External debt rose, particularly in the EMDEs excluding China, and much of these liabilities were denominated in foreign currency.

The World Bank’s economists report that about half of all episodes of rapid debt accumulation in the EMDEs have been associated with financial crises. They (with Wee Chian Koh) further explore this subject in a recent World Bank Policy Research Paper, “Debt and Financial Crises.” They identify 256 episodes of rapid government debt accumulation and 263 episodes of rapid private debt accumulation in 100 EMDEs over the period of 1970-2018. They test their effect upon the occurrence of bank, sovereign debt and currency crises in an econometric model, and find that such accumulations do increase the likelihood of such crises. An increase of government debt of 30 percentage points of GDP raised the probability of a debt crisis to 2% from 1.4% in the absence of such a build-up, and of a currency crisis to 6.6% from 4.1%. Similarly, a 15% of GDP rise in private debt doubled the probability of a bank crisis to 4.8% if there were no accumulation, and of a currency crisis to 7.5% from 3.9%. (For earlier analyses of the impact of external debt on the occurrence of bank crises see here and here.)

Kristin J. Forbes of MIT and Francis E. Warnock of the University of Virginia’s Darden Business School looked at episodes of extreme capital flows in the period since the global financial crisis (GFC) in a recent NBER Working Paper, “Capital Flows Waves—or Ripples? Extreme Capital Flow Movements Since the Crisis.”  They update the results reported in their 2012 Journal of International Economics paper, in which they distinguished between surges, stops, flights and retrenchments. They reported that before the GFC global risk, global growth and regional contagion were associated with extreme capital flow episodes, while domestic factors were less important.

Forbes and Warnock update their data base in the new paper. They report that has been a lower incidence of extreme capital flow episodes since 2009 in their sample of 58 advanced and emerging market economies, and such episodes occur more as “ripples” than “waves.” They also find that as in the past the majority of episodes of extreme capital flows were debt-led. When they distinguish between bank versus portfolio debt, their results suggest a substantially larger role for bank flows in driving extreme capital flows.

Forbes and Warnock also repeat their earlier analysis of the determinants of extreme capital flows using data from the post-crisis period. They find less evidence of significant relationships of the global variables with the extreme capital flows. Global risk is significant only in the stop and retrenchment episodes, and contagion is significantly associated only with surges. They suggest that these results may reflect changes in the post-crisis global financial system, such as greater use of unconventional tools of monetary policy, as well as increased volatility in commodity prices.

Corporations can respond to crises by changing how and where they raise funds. Juan J. Cortina, Tatiana Didier and Sergio L. Schmukler of the World Bank analyze these responses in another World Bank Policy Research Working paper, “Global Corporate Debt During Crises: Implications of Switching Borrowing across Markets.” They point out that firms can obtain funds either via bank syndicated lending or bonds, and they can borrow in international or domestic markets. They use data on 56,826 firms in advanced and emerging market economies with 183,732 issuances during the period 1991-2014, and focus on borrowing during the GFC and domestic banking crises. They point out that the total amounts of bonds and syndicated loans issued during this period increased almost 27-fold in the emerging market economies versus more than 7 times in the advanced economies.

Cortina, Didier and Schmukler found that the issuance of bonds relative to syndicated loans increased during the GFC by 9 percentage points from a baseline of 52% in the emerging markets, and by 6 percentage points in the advanced economies from a baseline probability of 28%. There was also an increase in the use of domestic debt markets relative to international ones during the GFC, particularly by emerging economy firms. During domestic banking crises, on the other hand, firms turned to the use of bonds in the international markets. When the authors used firm-level data, they found that this switching was done by larger firms.

The authors also report that the debt instruments have different characteristics. For example, the emerging market firms obtained smaller amounts of funds with bonds as compared to bank syndicated loans. Moreover, the debt of firms in emerging markets in international markets was more likely to be denominated in foreign currency, as opposed to the use of domestic currency in domestic markets.

Cortina, Didier and Schmukler also investigated how these characteristics changed during the GFC and domestic bank crises. While the volume of bond financing increased during the GFC relative to the pre-crisis years, syndicated bank loan financing fell, and these amounts in the emerging market economies fully compensated each other. In the advanced economies, on the other hand, total debt financing fell.

The global pandemic is disrupting all financial markets and institutions. The situation of banks in the advanced economies is stronger than it was during the GFC (but this could change), and the Federal Reserve is supporting the flow of credit. But the emerging markets corporations and governments that face falling exports, currency depreciations and enormous health expenditures will find it difficult to service their debt. Kristalina Georgieva, managing director of the IMF, has announced that the Fund will come to the assistance of these economies, and next week’s meeting of the IMF will address their needs. The fact that alarm bells about debt in emerging markets had been sounding will be of little comfort to those who have to deal with the collapse in financial flows.

Capital Controls in Theory and Practice

It has been a decade since the global financial crisis effectively ended opposition to the use of capital controls. The IMF’s drive towards capital account deregulation had been blunted by the Asian financial crisis of 1997-98, but there was still a belief in some quarters that complete capital mobility was an appropriate long-run goal for emerging markets once their financial markets sufficiently matured. The meltdown in financial markets in advanced economies in 2008-09 ended that aspiration. Several recent papers have summarized subsequent research on the justification for capital controls and the evidence on their effectiveness.

Bilge Erten of Northeastern University, Anton Korinek of the University of Virginia and José Antonio Ocampo of Columbia University have a paper, “Capital Controls: Theory and Evidence,” that was prepared for the Journal of Economic Literature and summarizes recent work on this topic. In this literature, the micro-foundations for the use of capital controls to improve welfare are based on externalities that private agents do not internalize. The first type of externality is pecuniary, which can lead to a change in the value of collateral and a redistribution between agents. In such cases, private agents may borrow more than is optimal for society, which suffers the consequences in the event of a financial shock. Policymakers can restrict capital flows to limit financial fragility.

The second justification of capital controls is due to aggregate demand externalities, which are associated with unemployment. Private agents may borrow in international markets and fuel a domestic boom that leaves the domestic economy vulnerable to a downturn. If there are domestic frictions and constraints on the use of monetary policy that limit the response to an economic contraction, then capital controls may be useful in mitigating the downturn.

Alessandro Rebucci of Johns Hopkins and Chang Ma of Fudan University also summarize this literature in “Capital Controls: A Survey of the New Literature,” prepared for the Oxford Research Encyclopedia of Economics and Finance. They discuss the use capital controls in the case of both pecuniary and demand externalities, and capital controls in the context of the trilemma. In their review of the empirical literature on capital controls, they summarize two lines of research. The first deals with the actual use of capital controls, and the second their relative effectiveness.

Whether or not capital controls are used as a countercyclical instrument together with other macroprudential tools has been an issue of dispute.  Rebucci and Ma report there is recent evidence that indicates that such instruments have been utilized in this manner, as the recent theoretical literature proposes. There are also cross-country studies of capital control effectiveness that are consistent with the theoretical justification for the use of such measures. For example, capital controls can limit financial vulnerability by shifting the composition of a country’s external balance sheet away from debt.

Some recent papers from the IMF investigate the actual use of capital controls and other policy tools in emerging market economies. Atish R. Ghosh, Jonathan D. Ostry and Mahvash S. Qureshi of the IMF investigated the response of emerging markets to capital flows in a 2017 working paper, “Managing the Tide: How Do Emerging Markets Respond to Capital Flows?” They report that policymakers in a sample of 51 countries over the period of 2005-13 used a number of instruments to deal with capital flows. In addition to foreign exchange market intervention and central bank policy rates, capital controls were utilized, particularly when the inflows took the form of portfolio and other flows. Tightening of capital inflow controls was more likely during periods of credit growth and real exchange rate appreciation. The authors’ finding that several major emerging markets have used capital controls to deal with risks to financial and macroeconomic stability is consistent with the theoretical literature cited above. However, the authors caution that their results do not indicate whether managing capital flows actually prevents or dampens instability.

This subject has been addressed by Gaston Gelos, Lucyna Gornicka, Robin Koepke, Ratna Sahay and Silvia Sgherri  in their new IMF working paper, “Capital Flows at Risk: Taming the Ebbs and Flows.” They examine the policy responses to sharp portfolio flow movements in 35 emerging market and developing economies during the 1996-2018 period, using a rise in BBB-rated U.S. corporate bond yields as a global shock. The authors look at the structural characteristics and policy frameworks of the countries as well as their policy actions. Among their results they find that more open capital accounts at the time of the shock are associated with fewer large inflows after the shock. Moreover, a tightening of capital flow measures is linked to larger outflows in the short-run. They also find that monetary and macroprudential policies have limited effectiveness in shielding countries from the risks associated with global shocks.

Capital controls have become an important tool for many developing economies, and there are ample grounds to justify their implementation. Recent empirical literature seems to show that the actual implementation of such measures is undertaken in a manner that meets the criteria outlined in the theoretical literature. However, whether regulatory limits on capital mobility actually achieve their financial and macroeconomic goals is still not proven. The Federal Reserve has signaled its intention to maintain the Federal Funds Rate at its current level, but shocks can come from many sources. Policymakers may find themselves drawing upon all the tools available to them in the case of a new global disruption to capital flows.

The Rise and Fall of FDI

After the global financial crisis,  international capital flows contracted, especially bank lending in Europe. Foreign direct investment (FDI) by multinational firms, however, provided a steady source of external finance, particularly for emerging market economies. The McKinsey Global Institute has calculated that the global stock of FDI increased from 46% of world GDP in 2007 to 57% in 2016 ($25 trillion to $41 trillion). But FDI flows fell by 27% in 2018 according to the Organization of Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD), and this drop followed a decline of 16% in the previous year. We have entered a new period of contraction by multinational firms, and in particular, U.S.-based multinationals.

A significant amount of the decline is due to firms based in the U.S. responding to changes in U.S. tax law. The U.S.-based firms repatriated earnings that had been kept abroad to avoid U.S. taxes. As a result, the U.S. recorded a negative FDI outflow of $50 trillion in 2018, down from a positive outflow of $379 billion in the previous year. By the latter half 2018, the acquisition of foreign assets had returned to positive levels, but the long-run changes of the tax code revision on the foreign operations of U.S. firms will only become clear over time.

Ireland and Switzerland were particularly hard-hit by the disinvestments, since these countries had often attracted FDI because of generous tax provisions. There were also reversals of investment in Special Purpose Entities (SPE), which allow the multinationals to channel funds through countries with favorable regulatory and tax practices to their ultimate destination. The OECD reported that FDI flows to SPEs in Luxembourg and the Netherlands fell to negative levels last year.

But the alteration in U.S. tax law is only part of a wider change in policy in the U.S.  President Trump seeks to undo expansion by multinationals by persuading U.S. firms to return their operations to the U.S. During the last several decades, these firms and other multinationals used technological advances in communication and transportation to establish global supply chains of production. They located the production of intermediate goods in those countries where they were cheapest to produce before assembling them and exporting them to their final markets.

This expansion was facilitated by the establishment of stable macroeconomic and political conditions in the host countries where the production facilities were located. In many cases, these were emerging market nations, and their governments welcomed the investments of the multinationals, as the firms hired local labor and transferred capital and technology. Singapore, for example, has used its position as a financial hub and its reputation for pro-business regulatory policies to become a major recipient of FDI flows.

The establishment of production facilities in different countries has benefits and costs for home and host countries. But President Trump views this expansion only through the criterion of its impact on U.S. jobs, and he sees losses. He wants the U.S. firms to base their production in the U.S. where they will hire American workers. The President has frequently claimed that his use of tariffs and other tactics will re-establish manufacturing in the U.S.

Some U.S. firms were already responding to higher costs in China by shifting their supply chains elsewhere. But they often switch their operations to Vietnam and other low-wage countries, not the U.S. A policy of nationalism that forced firms to only operate here would require massive expenditures and higher costs for consumers. It would affect the ability of U.S. firms to export, since our exports often contain foreign components.

The Trump administration’s hostility to trade and outward FDI also affects inward FDI by foreign multinationals. These firms are often courted by state governments that want the high-paying jobs that they provide. Theodore H. Moran and Lindsay Oldenski of the Peterson Institute for International Economics and Georgetown’s School of Foreign Service have calculated that in 2013 the wages paid to the U.S. employees of foreign-owned multinationals exceeded those of U.S. workers of U.S. multinationals, which in turn exceeded those paid to workers in all firms by more than 10%. The U.S. and foreign multinationals accounted for 30 million workers, who in 2013 represented 22% of all jobs in the U.S.

But foreign firms have cut down on further expansion in the U.S.  Foreign capital inflows to the U.S. fell from $509 billion in 2015 to $267 billion in 2018. Some of this downturn may have been cyclical, but foreign firms also have to consider the effect of tariffs on U.S. production. Adam Posen of the Peterson Institute for International Economics has warned “…that this shift of corporate investment away from the U.S. will decrease long-term U.S. income growth, reduce the number of well-paid jobs available, and accelerate the shift of global commerce away from the U.S.”

The decline in FDI last year reflected other factors than U.S. policy measures. While 2018 initially was characterized as a period of widespread growth, this expansion slowed during the year in response to instability in Turkey and Argentina, credit tightening in China, and other developments. This global slowdown in growth is expected to persist and the IMF forecasts economic growth in 2019 of 3.3%, down from 3.6% in 2018.

There is evidence that the rapid pace of expansion of the pre-global crisis has come to an end. The return on equity of multinationals has fallen from its pre-crisis peak. The ability of firms such as Apple to continue to post continued growth in global sales is being questioned. Governments such as India’s seek to protect domestic firms from foreign competition. Moreover, as pointed out above, China no longer is a source of cheap labor, and firms need to adapt to changing cost structures.

The immediate impact of the change in the U.S. tax provisions on FDI has most likely ended. But the fall-off in corporate expansion over the last two years is also a response to the changes in international trade and finance. The Trump administration has made clear that it wants to reverse the globalization of recent years, and the imposition of tariffs on Chinese and other goods will lead to a reorientation of business models. Over time this may be seen as the last gasp of a reactionary regime that was reversed under a future president. But the President’s Democratic challengers seem equally reluctant to support trade and expansion by U.S. firms. Until the status of trade in the global economy is clarified, multinationals will be reluctant to commit to foreign expansion.

Global Firms, National Policies

Studies of international transactions often assume that national economies function as separate “islands” or “planets.” Each has its own markets and currency, and international trade and finance occurs when the residents of one economy exchange goods and services or financial assets with those of another. The balance of payments keeps track of the transactions. But in reality firms treat the differences across nations as opportunities to increase their profits, and their decisions on basing the location of their activities–or how they report the basing of the activities–reflect this.

Multinational companies are not new entities; they can be traced back to the European trading companies that colonized the Americas, Asia and Africa. In the twentieth century, firms expanded across borders to get around trade barriers, to obtain access to raw materials, and to produce their goods more cheaply using foreign labor. Advances in the technology of shipping (container ships) and communications (Internet) spurred the development of global supply chains. Firms divided the production of goods among countries in order to manufacture them at the lowest cost before assembly into a final product. Shipments of these intermediate goods have become a major component of international trade, and intermediate inputs represent a significant portion of the value of exports .

This stratification of production has several implications, as Shimelse Ali and Uri Dadush of the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace have pointed out. Bilateral trade balances, for example, are distorted. U.S. imports from China contain a significant amount of intermediate inputs from other countries. Measuring only the value-added by Chinese firms to their exports lowers its trade surplus with the U.S. by a significant amount.

Moreover, tariffs on intermediate goods have impacts all along the global supply chain. The trade restrictions imposed by the Trump administration are rippling through the U.S. economy, raising the costs of production for those firms that depend on foreign supplies of goods that are subject to the tariffs. Daniel Ikenson of the Cato Institute has found that the U.S. transportation, construction and manufacturing sectors are those that are among those most affected by the tariffs. If the tariffs are not removed, firms will reconsider investing in new production facilities.

Global supply links also affect the current accounts of the nations where the multinationals are based. When these firms establish foreign subsidiaries in order to take advantage of cheaper costs abroad, then their home countries record less trade but more primary income resulting from the operations of the subsidiaries. The countries that receive the largest amounts of primary income include the U.S., Japan, France and Germany, all home countries of multinationals with extensive foreign operations. Net primary income does not receive as much publicity as fluctuations in the balance of trade, but the primary income balance has increased in magnitude, and in some cases dominates the current account. Japan’s net income surplus has in some years more than offset its trade deficits, while the United Kingdom’s current account deficit is due primarily to its net income deficit.

These foreign operations also give the multinational firms the opportunity to take advantage of differences in national tax systems. Stefan Avdjiev and Hyun Song Shin of the of the Bank for International Settlements and Mary Everett and Philip R. Lane of the Central Bank of Ireland have shown some of the consequences of these maneuvers. Firms can manipulate the value of their foreign profits in order to lower their tax liabilities. Until recently, the U.S. taxed multinational firms headquartered here on their global profits, with credits given for foreign taxes. The foreign profits were not taxed until they were repatriated. Firms could book profits in low-tax jurisdictions—known as “tax havens”—and keep those profits outside the U.S.

Those foreign profits could be increased by lowering the recorded cost of inputs from the U.S. and raising the value of goods sent back, thus increasing the profits recorded by the foreign subsidiary. Such “transfer prices” should be based on their market value, but in many cases there are none, which give the firms the opportunity to understate their domestic profits and overstate their foreign profits, which are subject to the lower tax. Similarly, intellectual property assets could be shifted to low-tax jurisdictions.

Thomas R. Tørsløv and Ludvig Wier of the University of Copenhagen and Gabriel Zucman of UC-Berkeley have investigated this movement of profits to tax havens. They estimate that about 40% of multinational profits are shifted to tax havens, such as Ireland, Luxembourg and Singapore.  As a result, the home countries of the multinational firms—particularly the non-haven European Union nations—lose tax revenues. The shareholders of the multinationals—particularly those based in the U.S.—are among the main winners.

Governments are well aware of the activities of the multinationals, and the loss of tax revenues. Kim Clausing of Reed College has estimated that profit shifting by U.S. multinational corporations reduces U.S. government tax revenues by more than $100 billion each year. The Organization of Economic Cooperation and Development has taken the lead in formulating policies to tackle what it calls “Base Erosion and Profit Shifting (BEPS). To date over 100 countries have agreed to participate. The recent tax code changes in the U.S. have greatly reduced the incentive for U.S. firms to record and hold profits overseas. Multinationals such as Google and Starbucks are receiving close scrutiny of their international profits, and Apple has been ordered to pay back taxes to Ireland.

The OECD’s initiative, as well as the work of advocacy groups such as the Tax Justice Network, has increased the visibility of the activities of the multinationals designed to lower taxes. But the existence of different factor costs and divergent tax codes will always provide incentives for tax lawyers and accountants to devise new ways of lowering the taxes of the multinationals. In a Westphalian world, domestic governments are reluctant to give up their sovereignty. As a result, multinationals that are much more adept in dancing around national borders will  take advantage of any opportunities they see.

Global Networks and Financial Instability

The ten-year anniversary of the global financial crisis has brought a range of analyses of the current stability of the financial system (see, for example, here). Most agree that the banking sector is more robust now due to increased capital, less leverage, more prudent balance sheets and better regulation. But systemic risk is an inherent feature of finance, and a disturbance in one area can quickly spread to others through global networks.

The growth of financial markets and institutions during the 1990s and 2000s benefitted many, including those in emerging market economies that became integrated with world markets during this period. But the large-scale extension of credit to the housing sector led to property bubbles in the U.S., as well as in Ireland and Spain. The development of financial instruments such as mortgage backed securities (MBS), collateralized debt obligations (CDOs), and credit default swaps (CDS) were supposed to spread the risk of lenders in order to mitigate the impact of a negative price shock. However, these instruments and the extension of credit to subprime borrowers increased the vulnerability of financial institutions to reversals in the housing markets. Risk increased in a non-linear fashion as balance sheets became highly leveraged, and national regulators simply did not understand the nature and scale of these risks.

The holdings of assets across borders amplified the impact of the disruption of the U.S. financial markets once housing prices fell. European banks that had borrowed dollars in order to participate in the U.S. MBS markets found themselves exposed when dollar funding was no longer available. The gross flows of money between the U.S. and Europe increased the ties between their institutions and increased the fragility of their financial markets. It took the the establishment of swap networks between the Federal Reserve and European central banks to provide the necessary dollar funding.

John Kay has written about the inability to recognize and minimize systemic risk in financial systems in Other People’s Money: The Real Business of Finance. He draws from engineers the lesson that “…stability and resilience requires conscious and systematic simplification, modularity, which enables failures to be contained, and redundancy, which allows failed elements to be by-passed. None of these features—simplification, modularity, redundancy—characterized the financial system as is had developed in 2008.”

Similarly, Ian Goldin of Oxford University and Chris Kutarna examined the impact of rising financial complexity on the stability of financial systems in the period leading up to the crisis: “Cumulative connective and developmental forces produced a global financial system that was suddenly far bigger and more complex than just a decade before. This made the new hazards harder to see and simultaneously spread the dangers more widely—to workers, pensioners, and companies worldwide.”

Goldin and Mike Marithasan of KU Leuven also looked at the impact of increasing complexity on financial systems in The Butterfly Defect: How Globalization Creates Systemic Risks, and What to Do About It. They use Iceland as an example of how complex financial relationships were constructed with virtually no understanding of the consequences if they unraveled. They draw several lessons for dealing with a more complex financial networks. These include global oversight by regulators using systemic analysis, and the use of simple rules such as leverage ratios rather than complex regulations.

The Basel III regulatory regime follows this advice in a number of areas. But the basic vulnerability of financial networks remains. Yevgeniya Korniyenko, Manasa Patnam, Rita Maria del Rio-Chanon and Mason A. Porter have analyzed the interconnectedness of the global financial system in an IMF working paper, “Evolution of the Global Financial Network and Contagion: A New Approach.” They use a multilayer network framework with data on foreign direct investment, portfolio equity and debt and bank loans over the period 2008-15 to analyze the global financial network.

The authors compare the networks for the years 2009 and 2015, and report which countries are systematically important in the networks. They find that the U.S. and the U.K. appear at the top of these rankings in both of the selected years, although the cross-border holdings of U.S. financial institutions has increased over time while those of the U.K.’s institutions fell. China has moved up in the rankings, as have other Asian countries such as Singapore and South Korea. The authors conclude that “The global financial network remains most susceptible to shocks coming from large central countries…and countries with large financial systems (namely, the USA and the UK)…”

A decade after the global crisis, the possibility of the rapid propagation of a financial shock remains. There is more resiliency in those parts of the financial system that failed in 2008, but the current most vulnerable areas may not be identified until there is a new crisis. Policymakers who ignore this reality will be tripped up when the next shock occurs, and they will learn that  “The past is not dead. It’s not even past.”

U.S. Interest Rates and Global Banking in Emerging Market Economies

The spillover effects of changes in U.S. interest rates are widely recognized (see here and  here). An increase in rates, for example, raises the cost of dollar-denominated financing outside the U.S., which has grown in recent years, while an appreciation of the dollar makes such debt even more expensive to service and refinance. The emerging markets are among the nations adversely affected by the rise in U.S. interest rates. Several recent research papers have shown how global bank lending in these economies is affected.

Stefan Avdjiev, Cathérine Koch, Patrick McGuire and Goetz von Peter of the Bank for International Settlements investigate the impact of a change in U.S. monetary policy on cross-border lending by global banks in their paper, “Transmission of Monetary Policy through Global Banks: Whose Policy Matters?”, BIS Working Paper no. 745. In their analysis they also investigate the effect of changes in the policy stance of the central banks of both the country of the borrower as well as the home country of the lending bank. They use data on cross-border claims denominated in U.S. dollars held by international banks in 32 lender countries on borrowers in 55 countries over the period of 2000-2016.

The authors find that a tightening in U.S. monetary policy does lead to a decrease in dollar-denominated lending, as expected. But they also find that a more contractionary monetary policy in the lending country leads in a rise in cross-border dollar lending out of that country, presumably as the banks within the country switch to the cheaper dollar funding. Similarly, monetary tightening in the country of the borrower also leads to an increase in dollar-denominated credit, although these results are less robust.

The authors then investigate some of the transmission channels and seek to identify which characteristics of the banks are most relevant for these effects. They find, for example, that the negative effect of a tightening in U.S. monetary policy is smaller for banks that are more reliant on short-term wholesale funding and have better access to intragroup funding. These banks may have more alternatives to turn to when the cost of borrowing in dollars rises.

Another analysis of the effects of U.S. monetary policy on credit to emerging markets is offered by Falk Bräuning of the Federal Reserve Bank of Boston and Victoria Ivashina of Harvard Business School in “U.S. Monetary Policy and Emerging Market Credit Cycles”, NBER Working Paper no. 25185. They investigate the impact of shocks in U.S. monetary policy on the issuance of global syndicated corporate loans in a broad range of countries between 1990 and 2016. Dollar-denominated loans represent a large share of cross-border credit in the emerging market economies.

Their results indicate that an easing (tightening) of U.S. monetary policy leads to a rise (decline) in bank flows to the foreign markets. When they distinguish between developed economies and emerging markets, they find that the impact is about twice as large in the latter group. They also report that this result holds for U.S. and non-U.S. lenders, and that this linkage existed before the global financial crisis.

Ilhyock Shim of the Bank for International Settlements and Kwanho Shin of Korea University offer another line of analysis of global bank activity in emerging market economies in “Financial Stress in Lender Countries and Capital Outflows From Emerging Market Economies”, BIS Working Paper no. 745. In their empirical analysis, they use data from bilateral banking flows to construct a measures of capital outflows from the emerging markets to each lender country. To measure stress in lender countries, they use three indicators: an average of bank credit default spreads (CDS) for 66 banks in 29 lender countries, sovereign CDS spreads in the banks’ home countries, and the spread between dollar-denominated corporate bonds in each lender country and the matching U.S. Treasury yield. They also use sovereign spreads for financial stress in the 67 borrower nations.

The authors find that an increase in financial stress in the lending country leads to capital outflows from the emerging markets. When the measure of financial stress in the emerging market is included, it is also significant. But when economic fundamental variables in the emerging markets are added, the significance of stress in the lender countries continues to be strong while stress in the emerging markets is not. In addition, they report that cross-border claims are particularly vulnerable to stress in the lender countries. They also find these results hold in the post-financial crisis period.

Shim and Shin point out that one of the policy implication of their results draw is that strong economic fundamentals in an emerging market economy may not be sufficient to prevent capital outflows during a period of stress in lending countries. The same lesson applies for these countries if U.S. interest rates are rising. Flexible exchange rates, the standard buffer from foreign shocks, may not be able to change global banking flows.

Federal Reserve officials are attempting to pull off a difficult task: raising interest rates without ending the recovery in the U.S. Within the U.S. this challenge has been complicated by the short-run effects of expansionary fiscal policies that are due to run out in coming months. If the rise in rates also contributes to a slowdown in bank lending in other countries, the Fed will face enormous pressure to put further rate hikes on hold.  We have seen the story of higher U.S. rates and emerging market economies before, and the ending is not pretty.

Can Globalization Be Reversed?

The wide-scale imposition of tariffs by the Trump administration is part of a larger effort to undo the expansion of markets around the globe and ensure that the goods consumed in the U.S. will be produced here. Will it be successful? And what would a world that represented a retreat from the globalization of the 1990s and early 2000s look like?

Martin Sandbu of the Financial Times believes that the open world economy “can withstand the assault.” He points out that the emerging market economies that have benefitted from the increase in international trade have an interest in maintaining the current regime. Moreover, it will be difficult to replace global supply chains with production facilities in each economy where a firm sells its products. Finally, limiting overseas expansion of markets will do nothing to address the problem it is supposed to correct: the stagnant wages of relatively low-skilled people. There are policies to help those whose jobs have been eliminated by technology, but these include better educational opportunities and health care, not limitations on trade.

While globalization will not be replaced by national autarchies, it is possible to imagine more narrow organizations of production and finance. The increase in the number of regional trade pacts will accelerate If the World Trade Organization is undermined by the Trump administration. Whether or not regional trade agreements are the source of trade creation or diversion is an empirical issue. Research by Caroline Freund of the Peterson Institute for International Economics and Emanuel Ornelas of Sao Paulo School of Economics-FGV indicates that such pacts in the past were beneficial for trade. But there is no guarantee that this outcome will continue in the future, particularly if the regional pacts replace wider agreements.

The world could divide into competing spheres of influence. China is taking advantage of the withdrawal of the U.S. from international pacts to advance its Belt and Road Initiative that will link it to resource-rich developing economies in Asia and Africa as well as markets in Europe. Advocates of British withdrawal from the European Union claim that there are better opportunities in the “Anglosphere” of English-speaking countries such as the U.S. and Australia.

But the Trump administration has exhibited animus to even regional pacts such as NAFTA, and seemingly favors bilateral pacts guided by mercantilist goals. Such an approach would be a serious problem for U.S. based multinationals that have integrated production lines across the borders with Mexico and Canada. Nor will the governments of those agree to mercantilist arrangements that are designed to ensure bilateral trade surpluses for the U.S.

A world of tariffs and quotas, moreover, would also be a step towards increased government controls on the private sector. Anne Krueger of Johns Hopkins points out that quotas, such as those on steel that South Korea has agreed to, must be administered by either the Korean or U.S. government. Similarly, exemptions from tariffs must be granted by a bureaucracy that reviews applications from private firms. These grants of authority open up opportunities for corruption. They also act as barriers to entry for new firms, and lessen incentives to innovate. All this adds to the higher costs that consumers and those who rely on imported intermediate goods will pay.

Perhaps the most self-defeating counter-globalization measure would be to lower immigration. While most of the benefits of immigration flow to the migrants themselves, there is also a “migration surplus” for the economy that hosts them. The tax payments of migrants can be used to pay rising Social Security payments at a time when the native U.S. population is aging.  Moreover, immigrants have a strong record of establishing new businesses. The Center for American Entrepreneurship reports that 43% of firms listed in the 2017 Fortune 500 were founded or co-founded by first- or second-generation migrants.

Not all movements towards globalization were beneficial for those countries that opened up their borders. In the area of finance, financial flows led to the Asian crisis of 1997-98 and the global financial crisis of 2008-09, while their impact on growth is slim at best. The IMF has renounced its previous advocacy of capital account deregulation and now views capital controls as part of a government’s toolkit of macroprudential measures to stabilize the financial sector.

Moreover, Dani Rodrik of the Kennedy School has pointed out that the hyperglobalization drive of the 1980s and 1990s pushed trade agreements beyond their “traditional focus on import restrictions and impinged on domestic policies…” Rodrik argues that some of the recent trade pacts are designed to increase the revenues of multinational firms, and their redistributive effects will overwhelm any increases in efficiency.

But attempting to impose a system of nationalistic managed trade that limits the movements of people is inherently difficult, and will lead to widespread government intervention. Workers and firms who benefit from such measures will be outnumbered by those who lose export opportunities and those who must pay higher domestic prices. Over time, firms will cut back on investments if they feel the need to secure government approval. All this will lower productivity in economies where productivity growth is already depressed. There is a need for a better-designed globalization, but what we are seeing is a movement to a world of national barriers that will only fuel xenophobia and hamper long-term growth.

The Spillover Effects of Rising U.S. Interest Rates

U.S. interest rates have been rising, and most likely will continue to do so. The target level of the Federal Funds rate, currently at 1.75%, is expected to be raised at the June meeting of the Federal Open Market Committee. The yield on 10-year U.S. Treasury bonds rose above 3%, then fell as fears of Italy breaking out the Eurozone flared. That decline is likely to be reversed while the new government enjoys a (very brief) honeymoon period. What are the effects on foreign economies of the higher rates in the U.S.?

One channel of transmission will be through higher interest rates abroad. Several papers from economists at the Bank for International Settlements have documented this phenomenon. For example, Előd Takáts and Abraham Vela of the Bank for International Settlements in a 2014 BIS Paper investigated the effect of a rise in the Federal Funds rate on foreign policy rates in 20 emerging market countries, and found evidence of a significant impact on the foreign rates. They did a similar analysis for 5-year rates and found comparable results. Boris Hofmann and Takáts also undertook an analysis of interest rate linkages with U.S. rates in 30 emerging market and small advanced economies, and again found that the U.S. rates affected the corresponding rates in the foreign economies. Finally, Peter Hördahl, Jhuvesh Sobrun and Philip Turner attribute the declines in long-term rates after the global financial crisis to the fall in the term premium in the ten-year U.S. Treasury rate.

The spillover effects of higher interest rates in the U.S., however, extend beyond higher foreign rates. In a new paper, Matteo Iacoviello and Gaston Navarro of the Federal Reserve Board investigate the impact of higher U.S. interest rates on the economies of 50 advanced and emerging market economies. They report that monetary tightening in the U.S. leads to a decline in foreign GDP, with a larger decline found in the emerging market economies in the sample. When they investigate the channels of transmission, they differentiate among an exchange rate channel, where the impact depends on whether or not a country pegs to the dollar; a trade channel, based on the U.S. demand for foreign goods; and a financial channel that reflects the linkage of U.S. rates with the prices of foreign assets and liabilities. They find that the exchange rate and trade channels are very important for the advanced economies, whereas the financial channel is significant for the emerging market countries.

Robin Koepke, formerly of the Institute of International Finance and now at the IMF, has examined the role of U.S. monetary policy tightening in precipitating financial crises in the emerging market countries. His results indicated that there are three factors that raise the probability of a crisis: first, the Federal Funds rate is above its natural level; second, the rate increase takes place during a policy tightening cycle; and third, the tightening is faster than expected by market participants. The strongest effects were found for currency crises, followed by banking crises.

According to the trilemma, policymakers should have options that allow them to regain monetary control. Flexible exchange rates can act as a buffer against external shocks. But foreign policymakers may resist the depreciation of the domestic currency that follows a rise in U.S. interest rates. The resulting increase in import prices can trigger higher inflation, particularly if wages are indexed. This is not a concern in the current environment. But the depreciation also raises the domestic value of debt denominated in foreign currencies, and many firms in emerging markets took advantage of the previous low interest rate regime to issue such debt. Now the combination of higher refinancing costs and exchange rate depreciation is making that debt much less attractive, and some central banks are raising their own rates to slow the deprecation (see, for example, here and here and here).

Dani Rodrik of the Kennedy School and Arvin Subramanian, currently Chief Economic Advisor to the Government of India, however, have little sympathy for policymakers who complain about the actions of the Federal Reserve. As they point out, “Many large emerging-market countries have consciously and enthusiastically embraced financial globalization…there were no domestic compulsions forcing these countries to so ardently woo foreign capital.” They go on to cite the example of China, which “…has chosen to insulate itself from foreign capital and has correspondingly been less affected by the vagaries of Fed actions…”

It may be difficult for a small economy to wall itself off from capital flows. Growing businesses will seek new sources of finance, and domestic residents will want to diversify their portfolios with foreign assets. The dollar has a predominant role in the global financial system, and it would be difficult to escape the spillover effects of its policies. But those who lend or borrow in foreign markets should realize, as one famed former student of the London School of Economics warned, that they play with fire.

A Guide to the (Financial) Universe: Part III

Parts I and II of this Guide appear here and here.

4.      Stability and Growth

Is the global financial system safer a decade after the last crisis? The response to the crisis by central banks, regulatory agencies and international financial institutions has increased the resiliency of the system and lowered the chances of a repetition. Banks have deleveraged and possess larger capital bases. The replacement of debt by equity financing should provide a more stable source of finance.

Indicators of financial volatility, such as the St. Louis Fed Financial Stress Index, currently show no signs of sudden shifts in market conditions. The credit-to-GDP gap, developed by the Bank of International Settlements (BIS) as an early warning indicator of systemic banking crises, exhibits little evidence of excessive credit booms. One exception is China, although its gap has come down.

But increases in U.S. interest rates combined with an appreciating dollar could change these conditions. Since the financial crisis, financial flows have appeared to be driven in part by a global financial cycle that is governed by U.S. interest rates as well as asset market volatility. This has led Hélène Rey of the London Business School to claim that the Mundell-Fleming trilemma has been replaced by a dilemma, where the only choice policymakers face is whether or not they should use capital controls to preserve monetary control. Eugenio Cerutti of the IMF, Stijn Claessens of the BIS and Andrew Rose of UC-Berkeley, on the other hand ,have offered evidence that the empirical importance of any such cycle is limited. Moreover, Michael W. Klein of Tufts University and Jay C. Shambaugh of George Washington University in one study and Joshua Aizenman of the University of Southern California, Menzie Chinn of the University of Wisconsin and Hiro Ito of Portland State University in another have found that flexible exchange rates can affect the sensitivity of an economy to foreign policy changes and afford some degree of policy autonomy.

A rise in U.S. rates, however, will increase the cost of borrowing in dollars. The volume of credit flows denominated in dollars reflects the continuing predominance of the dollar in international financial markets. Dollar-denominated credit to emerging market economies, for example, rose by 10% in 2017, driven primarily by a rise in the issuance of debt securities. Higher interest rates, a depreciating currency and a deteriorating international trade environment can quickly downgrade the creditworthiness of emerging market borrowers.

Other potential sources of stress remain. One of these is the lack of adequate “safe assets,” which serve as collateral for lending. U.S. Treasury bonds are utilized for this purpose, but in the run-up to the global crisis mortgage-based securities (MBS) with the highest ratings also served that function. Their disappearance leaves a need for other privately-provided safe assets, or alternatives issued by the international public agencies. Moreover, doubts about U.S. fiscal solvency could lead to doubts about the creditworthiness of the U.S. government securities.

Claudio Borio of the BIS perceives another flaw in the international monetary system: “excess financial elasticity” that contributes to financial imbalances. The procyclicality of finance is heightened during boom periods by capital inflows, and the spread of easy monetary conditions in core countries to the rest of the world is facilitated through monetary regimes. The impact of the regimes includes the decision of policymakers to resist currency appreciation which affects their interest rates, and the role of dominant currencies such as the dollar. Borio calls for greater international cooperation to mitigate the volatility of the financial cycle.

Dirk Schoenmaker of the Duisenberg School of Finance and VU University Amsterdam has drawn attention to a fundamental tension within the international system. He suggests that there is a financial trilemma, with only two of these three characteristics of a financial system as feasible: International financial integration, national financial policies and financial stability. A nation that wants to enjoy the benefits of cross-border capital flows needs to coordinate its regulatory activities with those of other countries. Otherwise, banks and other institutions will take advantage of discrepancies across borders in the rules governing their activities to find the least onerous regulations and greatest room for expansion.

These concerns about stability could be accepted if financial development had a positive impact on economic growth. But Boris Cournède, Oliver Denk and Peter Hoeller of the OECD,  in a review of the literature on the relationship of the financial sector and economic growth, report that above a threshold of financial development the linkage with growth is negative (see also here). Their results indicate that this reversal occurs when the financial expansion is based on credit rather than equity markets. Similarly, Stephen G. Cecchetti and Enisse Kharroubi of the BIS (see also here) report that financial development can lower productivity growth.

In addition, it has long been acknowledged that there is little evidence linking international financial flows to growth (see, for example, the summary of this work by Maurice Obstfeld of the IMF (and formerly of UC-Berkeley)).  More recently, Joshua Aizenman of the University of Southern California, Yothin Jinjarik of the University of Wellington and Donghyun Park of the Asian Development Bank have shown that the relationship of capital flows and growth depends on the form of capital. FDI flows possess a robust relationship with growth, while the linkage with other equity is smaller and less stable. The impact of FDI may depend on the development of the domestic financial sector. Debt flows in normal times do not reinforce growth, but can contribute to the probability of a financial crisis.

The impact of international financial flows on income inequality is also a subject of concern. Davide Furceri and Prakash Loungani of the IMF found that capital account liberalization reforms increase inequality and reduce the labor share of income. Furceri, Loungani and Jonathan Ostry also report that policies to promote financial globalization have led on average to limited output gains while contributing to significant increases in inequality. Distributional effects are more pronounced in those countries with low financial depth and inclusion, and where liberalization is followed by a crisis. A similar result was reported by Silke Bumann of the Max Planck Institute for Evolutionary Biology and Robert Lensink of the University of Groningen.

The change in the international financial system that may be the least understood is the evolution of FDI, which has grown in recent decades while the use of bank credit has fallen. FDI flows are increasingly routed thought countries such as Luxembourg and Ireland for the purpose of tax minimization. Moreover, the profits generated by foreign subsidiaries can be reinvested and form the basis of further FDI. Quyen T. K. Nguyen of the University of Reading asserts that such financing may be particularly important for operations in emerging market economies where domestic finance is limited. FDI flows also include intra-firm financing, a form of debt, and therefore FDI may be more risky than commonly understood.

5.     Conclusions

As a result of the substantial capital flows of the 1990s and early 2000s, the scope of financial markets and institutions now transcends national borders, and this expansion is likely to continue. While financial openness as measured by external assets and liabilities has not risen since the global crisis, this measurement is misleading. Emerging market economies with growing GDPs but less financial openness are becoming a larger component of the global aggregate. But financial openness and GDP per capita are correlated, and the populations of those countries will engage in more financial activity as their incomes increase.

A stable international financial system that promotes inclusive growth is a global public good. Global public goods face the same challenge as domestic public goods, i.e., a failure of markets to provide them. In the case of a global public good, the failure is compounded by the lack of an incentive for any one government to supply it.

The central banks of the advanced economies did coordinate their activities during the crisis, and since then international financial regulation has responded to the growth of global systematically important banks. But the growth of multinational firms that manage global supply chains and international financial institutions that move funds across borders poses a continuing challenge to stability. In addition, while the United Kingdom and the U.S. served as a financial hegemons in the past, today we have nations with small economies but extremely large financial sectors that reroute financial flows across border, and their activities are often opaque.

The global financial crisis demonstrates how little was understood of the fragility of the financial system that had built up around mortgage-backed securities. Regulators need to understand and monitor the assets and liabilities that have replaced them if they are not to be caught by surprise by the outcome of the next round of financial engineering. If “eternal vigilance is the price of liberty,” it is also a necessary condition for a stable financial universe.

A Guide to the (Financial) Universe: Part I

A Guide to the (Financial) Universe: Part 1

  1.     Introduction

A decade after the global financial crisis, the contours of the financial system that has emerged from the wreckage are becoming clearer. While the capital flows that preceded the crisis have diminished in size, most of the assets and liabilities they created remain. But there are significant differences between advanced economies and emerging markets in their size and composition, and those nations that are financial centers hold large amounts of international investments. Moreover, the predominance of the U.S. dollar for official and private use seems undiminished, if not strengthened, despite the widespread predictions of its decline. A guide to this new financial universe reveals a number of features that were not anticipated ten years ago.

2.       External Assets and Liabilities

Financial globalization is the result of the flow of capital across borders and the integration of domestic financial markets. Financial flows like trade flows increased during the first wave of globalization during the 19th century, which ended with the outbreak of World War I. After World War II, trade and capital flows started up again and grew rapidly. In the mid-1990s financial flows accelerated more rapidly than trade, particularly in the advanced economies, and peaked on the eve of the global financial crisis.

Philp R. Lane of the Central Bank of Ireland and Gian Milesi-Ferretti of the IMF in their latest survey of international financial integration (see also here) provide an update of their data on the size and composition of the external balance sheets. Financial openness, as measured by the sum of gross assets and liabilities, for most countries has remained approximately the same since the crisis. But its magnitude differs greatly amongst countries.  Financial openness in the advanced economies excluding the financial centers, as measured by the sum of external assets and liabilities scaled by GDP, is over 300%, which is approximately three times as large as the corresponding figure in the emerging and developing economies. This is consistent with the large gross flows among the advanced economies that preceded the crisis. However, the same measure in the financial centers is over 2,000%. These centers include small countries with large financial sectors, such as Ireland, Luxembourg, and the Netherlands, as well as those with larger economies, such as Switzerland and the United Kingdom.

Some advanced economies, such as Germany and Japan, are net creditors, while others including the U.S. and France are net debtors. The emerging market nations excluding China are usually debtors, while major oil exporters are creditors. These net positions reflect not only the acquisition/issuance of assets and liabilities, but also changes in their values through price movements and exchange rate fluctuations. Changes in these net positions can influence domestic expenditures through wealth effects. They affect net investment income investment flows, although these are also determined by the composition of the assets and liabilities (see below). In many countries, such as Japan and the United Kingdom, international investment income flows have come to play a large role in the determination of the current account, and can lead to a divergence of Gross Domestic Product and Gross National Income.

The external balance sheets of the advanced economies are often characterized by holdings of equity and debt liabilities—“long equity, short debt’’—while the emerging market economies hold large amounts of debt and foreign exchange reserves and are net issuers of equity, particularly FDI—“long debt and foreign reserves, short equity.” The acquisition of foreign reserve holdings by emerging Asian economies is responsible for much of the “Lucas paradox,” i.e., the “uphill” flow of capital from emerging markets to advanced economies. However, there has also been a rise in recent years n the issuance of bonds by non-financial corporations in emerging markets, in some cases through offshore foreign affiliates.

As FDI has increased, the amount of investment income accounted for by FDI-related payments has risen. In the case of the emerging markets, these payments now are responsible for most of their investment income deficit, while the amounts due to banks and other lenders have diminished. FDI payments for the advanced economies, on the other hand, show a surplus, reflecting in part their holdings of the emerging market economies’ FDI.

The balance sheets of the international financial centers also include large amounts of FDI assets and liabilities. These holdings reflect these countries’ status as financial intermediaries, and funds are often channeled through them for tax purposes. The double-counting of investment that this entails overstates the actual value of foreign investment. The McKinsey Global Institute in its latest report on financial globalization has estimated that if such double-counting was excluded, the value of global foreign investment would fall from 185 percent of GDP to 140 percent.

The composition of assets and liabilities has consequences for economic performance. First, equity and debt have different effects on recipient economies. Portfolio equity inflows lower the cost of capital in domestic markets, and can enhance the liquidity of domestic stock markets and the transparency of firms that issue stock. In addition, M. Ayhan Kose of the World Bank, Eswar Prasad of Cornell University and Marco E. Terrones of the IMF have shown that equity, and in particular FDI, increases total factor productivity growth. Philip R. Lane of the Central Bank of Ireland and Peter McQuade of the European Central Bank, on the other hand, reported that debt inflows are associated with the growth of domestic credit, which can lead to asset bubbles and financial crises. Second, the differences in the returns on equity and debt affect the investment income flows that correspond to the assets and liabilities. Equity usually carries a premium as an incentive for the risk it carries. The U.S. registers a surplus on its investment income despite its status as a net debtor because of its net positive holdings of equity.

Third, the mix of assets and liabilities influences a country’s response to external shocks. FDI is relatively stable, but its return is state-contingent. Debt, on the other hand, is more volatile and in many cases can be withdrawn, but its return represents a contractual commitment. As a result, the mix of equity and debt on a country’s external balance sheet affects its net position during a crisis as well as its net investment income balance.

The change in the value of equity, for example, can depress or raise a country’s balance sheet during a crisis. Pierre Gourinchas of UC-Berkeley, Hélène Rey of the London Business School and Govillot of Ecole des Mines (see also here) have characterized the U.S. with its extensive holdings of foreign equity as the world’s “venture capitalist.”  Gourinchas, Rey and Kai Truempler of the London Business School showed that the loss of value in its equity holdings during the global crisis provided a transfer of wealth to those countries that had issued the equity.  Those nations that had issued equity, on the other hand, avoided some of the worst consequences of the crisis.

This analysis of external balance sheets, however, assumes that the assets and liabilities are pooled. Stefan Avdjiev, Robert N. McCauley and Hyun Song Shin of the Bank for International Settlements (see also here)  have pointed out that public assets, such as the foreign exchange reserves of the central bank, may not be available to the private sector. South Korea, for example, had a positive net international investment position that included foreign currency assets, which appreciated in value when the global crisis struck. Nonetheless, corporations and banks had issued dollar-denominated liabilities, and their value also rose. The country was one of those that entered into a currency swap arrangement with the Federal Reserve.

Eduardo A. Cavallo and Eduardo Fernández-Arias of the Inter-American Development Bank and and Matías Marzani of Washington University in St. Louis also investigate whether foreign assets provide protection in the case of a shock. They report that portfolio equity assets as well as reserves lower the probability of a banking crisis. Portfolio equity, like reserves, are relatively liquid and therefore residents can draw upon them during periods of volatility.

The difference between private and public assets liabilities has been investigated by Andreas Steiner of Grongien University and Torsten Saadma of the University of Mannheim. They calculate a measure of private financial openness that excludes the reserve assets of central banks as well as loans based on development aid. In the case of emerging markets and developing economies, their measure differs significantly from the standard measure, and results in different findings for the linkage of financial openness and growth.

Avdjiev, McCauley and Shin of the BIS also point out that balance sheets are measured on a national basis. But assets and liabilities may be held through foreign affiliates. International banks, for example, have foreign units with claims and liabilities. If these are consolidated on their parents’ balance sheet, then a very different assessment of the banks’ international creditworthiness may emerge. Similarly, non-financial firms may obtain credit through their foreign branches that borrow in the offshore debt markets. The credit inflow could hamper the ability of domestic authorities to stabilize the financial system. External balance sheets measured on a national basis may give a misleading picture of domestic institutions’ foreign linkages.

(to be continued)