The IMF Working Papers series is designed to make IMF staff research available to a wide audience. Almost 300 Working Papers are released each year, covering a wide range of theoretical and analytical topics, including balance of payments, monetary and fiscal issues, global liquidity, and national and international economic developments.
Crises on external sovereign debt are typically defined as defaults. Such a definition accurately captures debt-servicing difficulties in the 1980s, a period of numerous defaults on bank loans. However, defining defaults as debt crises is problematic for the 1990s, when sovereign bond markets emerged. In contrast to the 1980s, the 1990s are characterized by significant foreign debt-servicing difficulties but fewer sovereign defaults. In order to capture this evolution of debt markets, we define debt crises as events occurring when either a country defaults or its bond spreads are above a critical threshold. We find that our definition outperforms the default-based definition in capturing debt-servicing difficulties and, consequently, in fitting the post-1994 period. In particular, liquidity indicators are significant in explaining our definition of debt crises, while they do not play any role in explaining defaults after 1994.