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.
We show that cross-country differences in the underlying volatility and persistence of macroeconomic shocks help explain two historical regularities in sovereign borrowing: the existence of "vicious" circles of borrowing-and-default ("default traps"), as well as the fact that recalcitrant sovereigns typically face higher interest spreads on future loans rather than outright market exclusion. We do so in a simple model where output persistence is coupled with asymmetric information between borrowers and lenders about the borrower's output process, implying that a decision to default reveals valuable information to lenders about the borrower's future output path. Using a broad cross-country database spanning over a century, we provide econometric evidence corroborating the model's main predictions-namely, that countries with higher output persistence and conditional volatility of transient shocks face higher spreads and thus fall into default traps more easily, whereas higher volatility of permanent output tends to dampen these effects.