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.
Carlo Cottarelli, Andrea Presbitero, and Antonio Bassanetti
INTERNATIONAL MONETARY FUND
The empirical literature on sovereign debt crises identifies the level of public debt (measured as a share of GDP) as a key variable to predict debt defaults and to determine sovereign market access. This evidence has led to the widespread use of (country-specific) debt thresholds to assess debt sustainability. We argue that the level of the debt-to-GDP ratio, whose use is justified on a theoretical and empirical ground, should not be the only fiscal metric to assess the complex relationship between public debt and debt defaults/market access. In particular, we show that, in a large panel of emerging markets, the dynamics of the debt ratio plays a critical role for market access. In particular, given a certain level of debt, a steadily declining debt ratio is associated with a lower probability of debt distress/market loss and with a higher likelihood of market re-access once access had been lost.