This section reviews Chile’s external position, integrating information on the country’s international investment position and the structure of external debt.1’2 The objective is to analyze the possibility of an external liquidity squeeze on the balance of payments as well as to test for potential solvency problems. The approach followed combines the standard IMF debt sustainability analysis framework and alternative tests using newly published data on Chile’s international investment position. The analysis focuses on (1) the external debt dynamics; (2) the sensitivity of gross external financing requirements to specific shocks; and (3) the implications of Chile’s international investment position for external vulnerability.

This section reviews Chile’s external position, integrating information on the country’s international investment position and the structure of external debt.12 The objective is to analyze the possibility of an external liquidity squeeze on the balance of payments as well as to test for potential solvency problems. The approach followed combines the standard IMF debt sustainability analysis framework and alternative tests using newly published data on Chile’s international investment position. The analysis focuses on (1) the external debt dynamics; (2) the sensitivity of gross external financing requirements to specific shocks; and (3) the implications of Chile’s international investment position for external vulnerability.

The main results underscore the strength of Chile’s aggregate external position. We summarize below our key findings.

  • Using the standard debt sustainability framework, we see that various hypothetical shocks during 2003 to 2004 would raise the external debt-to-GDP ratio during those years, but would still be consistent with a gradual decline in the debt ratio thereafter. Moreover, although some of the shocks considered would substantially raise the debt ratio for a time, the risks of these standardized shocks seems remote, given the strength of Chile’s current policy framework.

  • Liquidity problems are not expected given the country’s significant international reserve holdings.3 A drawdown in international reserves would be sufficient to cover Chile’s annual gross external financial requirements under all stress tests considered.

  • Chile’s foreign asset position is a source of strength. Liquid external asset holdings by the private sector were more than sufficient to cover the country’s total external financing requirements at end-2001.4 Foreign direct investment (FDI) in Chile amounted to two-thirds of GDP, helping explain that foreign-owned Chilean resident firms held more than half of Chile’s total external debt. Sensitivity analysis using the net international investment position shows the dampening effects of direct investment holdings on the aggregate net liability.

  • The sound policy framework, including the credible inflation targeting, foreign exchange free float, and strong fiscal position, should provide enough flexibility to accommodate and support temporary shocks to external financing conditions.

The results derived from an aggregate analysis of vulnerability carry some caveats. In principle, the aggregate approach could mask financial vulnerabilities in specific sectors or business groups that could have amplifying effects with systemic implications (a general problem, not particularly specific to Chile). On the other hand, the analysis relying on traditional residency-based aggregates could also understate potential sources of strength, especially in the case of Chile. In particular, the presence of foreign-owned Chilean resident firms responsible for half of total external debt could be a source of external support, as demonstrated recently by the case of Enersis (Box 6.1). Chile’s supportive investment environment with strong property right guarantees is a key reason for the willingness of foreign parent companies with long-term investment strategies to support their Chilean resident subsidiary in periods of financial stress.

Distress Among Chile’s Foreign-Owned Corporations: The Cases of the Electric Companies Enersis and AES Gener

Significance of Chile’s Foreign-Owned Corporate Sector

Much of Chile’s external debt and short-term financing needs is attributable to foreign-owned companies. The private sector accounts for over 80 percent of the country’s external debt, of which about two-thirds corresponds to nonfinancial companies that are mainly or wholly foreign owned. Similarly, foreign-owned companies represent the majority of Chile’s sizable short-term gross financing needs. Clearly, any analysis of Chile’s external vulnerability needs to consider the financial condition of the foreign-owned corporate sector, as well as how these companies might interact with their foreign parents in times of distress.

Prominent foreign parent companies in Chile include the following (with the local Chilean subsidiary in parentheses): Endesa Spain (Enersis); Telefonica Italia (Entel); Telefonica Spain (CTC); Santander Spain (Banco Santander); BBVA Spain (BBVA Chile); and AES of the United States (AES Gener).

These Chilean subsidiaries have borrowed externally using international bonds or syndicated bank loans in some cases; in others, they have borrowed from their parent companies. These Chilean-resident companies are international not only in their sources of financing, but also because several hold significant investments in other countries.

The Electric Utility Sector: A Tale of Two Companies

Enersis and AES Gener are two Chilean-resident electric companies for which recent developments have provided interesting case studies. Both experienced some difficulties mainly on account of either their own (Enersis) or their parents’ (AES Gener) investments in other countries, including Argentina and Brazil.1 (See Figure.)

The Experience of Enersis

Although official external debt statistics do not provide company-specific information, publicly available information suggests that Enersis is the Chilean-resident company having the largest external debt—over US$9 billion at end-2002, about 14 percent of GDP—and that sizable obligations (around US$2.3 billion) were coming due in 2003 and 2004.

Investments in neighboring countries have hurt Enersis recently. In Argentina, there has been no increase in tariffs for distribution companies in the energy and gas sectors since the devaluation in December 2001. Cash flows from Argentina remain poor. On the back of a 30-year concession agreement, Enersis had made sizable investments in Argentina, and thus has a vested interest to stay there. In Brazil, tariffs in the energy sector have adjusted in real terms to mitigate potentially large losses to Enersis.


Corporate Bond Spreads and Brazilian Real

The troubles of Enersis led to concerns about its liquidity, centered around a debt-acceleration clause that would have been triggered in the event of a credit downgrade by Standard & Poor’s to subinvestment grade. This concern was signaled by a sharp rise in the spread of its bond maturing in 2006—to over 1,100 basis points.

Investor concern led Endesa Spain to undertake a three-pronged financial restructuring that included generating cash by selling some assets, rescheduling bank loans due in 2003 and 2004, and further capitalization.

  • Enersis and its affiliates have sold assets amounting to over US$750 million. These include the sale of their highway and infrastructure affiliates to Spain’s OHL for US$273 million, the Rio Maipo distribution lines for US$203 million, the Canutillar hydro facility to Belgium’s CNPC for US$174 million, and transmission lines to Canada’s HKI for US$110 million.

  • Enersis and its subsidiary (Endesa Chile) refinanced syndicated loans of US$2.3 billion. The sizable debt service due in 2003 and 2004 (about US$1.4 billion and US$700 million, respectively) is now deferred until 2008. The rollover was negotiated at LIB OR + 350 basis points for Enersis and LIBOR + 300 basis points for Endesa Chile. A key feature in the refinancing deal is the removal of the debt acceleration clause linked to Standard & Poor’s rating.

  • Endesa Spain, the parent company of Enersis, initiated a capital increase of US$2 billion. The capital increase took the form of a debt-equity swap, prorated and approved by all major creditors. Since Endesa Spain had 65 percent equity in its Chilean subsidiary, the Chilean regulations required approval by all major creditors (including local pension funds) before Endesa increased its ownership in Enersis. Minority shareholders subscribed US$663 million, and Endesa Spain, US$1.22 billion. Bond and equity holders will each have an opportunity to subscribe later in the year (up to the increase’s ceiling of US$2 billion).

Investor concerns abated as the financial restructuring advanced. Bond spreads decreased significantly in the spring of 2003, and in July 2003, Endesa Chile was able to issue US$600 million in new long-term external bonds, at spreads close to 450 basis points.

The Enersis case illustrates that corporate vulnerability may be mitigated by the foreign parents of Chilean companies. Chile has been Endesa Spain’s gateway into the Latin American energy market, and strategic consideration of long-term potential may have tilted the decision in favor of sustaining Enersis.

The Experience of AES Gener

The case of AES Gener illustrates a “weak parent” situation, with adverse shocks to the parent company having financial repercussions for its Chilean subsidiary. AES’s subsidiary in Chile, AES Gener, is rated investment grade locally by S&P-Feller Rate, in light of the subsidiary’s strong cash flows (US$180 million annually) and good contracts. However, its foreign parent company, AES, is in difficulty due in part to considerable losses in Argentina and Brazil. Concern about sizable payments due in a few years is reflected in the recent yields of about 16 percent on AES Gener’s bonds due in 2005 and 2006.2

Unlike Enersis, AES Gener has not received financial support from its foreign parent (which is now rated B+ by Standard & Poor’s, with negative outlook). On the contrary, the parent company’s financial pinch led it to borrow US$400 million from AES Gener in 2001–02. Subsequently, investors in AES Gener reportedly have been seeking covenants that would limit such flows to the parent company in the future.

Was There “Contagion” from Enersis to Other Chilean Corporations?

Although Enersis could have been perceived as a flagship “Chilean” company, it appears that investors differentiated their assessments of other Chilean companies as a whole from the well-known troubles of Enersis. The level of typical spreads on Chilean corporates has tended to follow rather closely that of the bond index of BBB-rated U.S. companies. When Enersis’ spread began to diverge strongly from the U.S. BBB index, starting around mid-2002, spreads for other Chilean companies did not follow along, and in fact generally stayed within 50 basis points of the U.S. BBB spread.

A basic regression analysis (below) also illustrates the explanatory power of the U.S. BBB index in Chilean companies’ international bond spreads. Some correlation with Enersis’ spread also appears, though with a coefficient one-tenth as large as that on the U.S. BBB index.


(t statistics in parentheses)

CHLcorp = index of spreads on Chilean corporates (excluding Enersis and Endesa bonds), in logs.

US BBB = index of spreads on the U.S. BBB corporates, in logs.

Enersis = spread of the most relevant Enersis bond, due in 2006, in logs.

BRZreal = value of the Brazilian currency, reals/U.S. dollar, in logs.

Prepared by Manmohan Singh.

1 The depreciation of the Chilean peso over the last few years has not greatly affected these companies’ operations in Chile because their regulated energy price is linked in part to Chile’s exchange rate.2 As of May 2003, about 40 percent of AES Gener’s bonds were held by Chile’s pension funds. These holdings represented less than 1 percent of the pension funds’ portfolio.

This section first describes the main features of Chile’s debt and international investment position. It then presents the medium-term baseline scenario and uses standard sensitivity tests to assess sustainability. Next, it considers gross external financing requirements and develops the sensitivity analysis based on standard shocks as well as a more detailed consideration of rollover rates in the short term. Finally, the section focuses on the implications of the net external position.

Characteristics of the External Position

Chile’s total external debt has experienced a steady increase in recent years. From 1997 to 2002, external debt grew by 41 percent in nominal U.S. dollar terms, reaching US$41 billion at the end of 2002 (Figure 6.1). The slowdown in economic activity and depreciation of the Chilean peso also contributed to the rapid increase in the debt-to-GDP ratio, which rose 76 percent during the five-year period. At end-2002, total external debt represented 62 percent of GDP.

Figure 6.1.
Figure 6.1.

Evolution of External Debt

Source: Central Bank of Chile.

Concern about the sharp rise in total external debt, however, should also take into account the following factors:

  • Most of this debt is long term (Figure 6.1). Short-term debt on an original maturity basis, excluding trade credits, represented just 6 percent of total debt in 2002 while the duration of the medium-term debt averaged six years. On a residual maturity basis, short-term debt amounted to 18 percent of total debt in 2002.

  • Most of the debt is owed to foreign banks (Figure 6.2). About half of long-term debt comes from foreign banks while market bond financing represents a quarter of total long-term debt. (In vulnerability analyses, banks are usually considered more likely to be “supportive” during times of stress than bondholders.)

  • Most of the external debt corresponds to the private sector, in particular, foreign-owned companies. The private sector external debt represented 82 percent of the total and foreign-owned firms accounted for 63 percent of that amount (or about 50 percent of total external debt).

  • The increase in the external debt was associated with an increase in external asset accumulation by the private sector. Private sector direct investment abroad and portfolio investment tripled from 1997 to 2002, reaching 38 percent of GDP in 2002. Given Chile’s supportive investment environment, some foreign multinational firms have used Chile as an investment hub to manage its investments in the region.

  • On the other hand, the majority of long-term debt used a floating interest rate, making debt servicing more vulnerable to interest rate fluctuations.

Figure 6.2.
Figure 6.2.

Medium- and Long-Term External Debt by Type of Creditor, 20021

Source: Central Bank of Chile.1 Original maturity.

In contrast to the surge in gross external debt, the net external liability position declined in nominal terms during 1997–2002, from US$31 billion to US$28 billion. By 2002, it amounted to 42 percent of GDP, with gross liabilities representing 126 percent of GDP. The stock of direct and equity investment in Chile stood at US$47 billion (56 percent of total liabilities), while direct and equity investment abroad amounted to US$23 billion (Table 6.1).

Table 6.1.

Chile: International Investment Position

(In billions of U.S. dollars)

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Source: Central Bank of Chile.

Compared with other emerging market countries, Chile’s international investment position shows a higher degree of financial integration. By end-2001, Chile’s total foreign liabilities were the highest among the selected group of emerging market countries. At the same time, Chile had the largest holdings of foreign assets relative to GDP and had among the lowest leverage (ratio of liabilities to assets). Chile had also one of the lowest shares of debt to total liabilities holdings while maintaining a strong external liquidity position. When compared to other Latin American countries, Chile had a high reserve-to-GDP ratio, but was roughly similar to the average of some Eastern European countries and below some East Asian economies (Table 6.2).

Table 6.2.

Selected Countries: International Investment Position, 2001

(In percent of GDP)

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Sources: Central Bank of Chile; and IMF.

External Debt Sustainability Analysis

Baseline Projections

The baseline scenario prepared by IMF staff assumes a pickup in economic activity over the medium term to close the output gap by 2008. The output growth rate is expected to pick up to 5.5 percent in 2006 before falling back to the growth rate of potential output by 2008. The current account deficit would see a gradual widening from 0.8 percent of GDP in 2002 to 2.5 percent in 2008. Most of the current account deficit would be financed by debt; the baseline has only a modest recovery in net FDI flows reaching about three quarters of the previous decade average level. Nominal external interest rates would increase to 7.0 percent by 2006 and the real exchange rate is projected to be broadly constant over the period. The country risk premium is expected to remain low, at 100–120 basis points.

Under the baseline scenario, total external debt increases from US$41 billion in 2002 to US$57 billion in 2008. The moderate growth in external indebtedness reflects a gradual widening of the current account and some recovery of FDI. The debt-to-GDP ratio is expected to follow a downward path dropping to 54 percent by 2008. The drop in the debt-to GDP ratio is largely driven by the expected pickup in economic activity.

Sensitivity Analysis

Table 6.3 illustrates the sensitivity of the baseline external debt projection to changes in assumptions. Shocks to real output growth, the current account, the GDP deflator in U.S. dollar terms (a proxy for the real exchange rate), and the level of interest rates during 2003–04 are considered, and the magnitude of each shock is set to be twice the historical standard deviation (calculated over the previous 10 years). Using 10-year historical average values would imply a lower debt-to-GDP path falling to 52 percent at the end of the period.

Table 6.3.

External Debt Sustainability Framework

(In percent of GDP, unless otherwise indicated)

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Sources: Central Bank of Chile; and IMF staff calculations.

Derived as [r-g- ρ(1 + g) + εα(1 + r)]/(1 + g + ρ + gρ) times previous period debt stock, where r = nominal effective interest rate on external debt; ρ = change in domestic GDP deflator in U.S. dollar terms, g = real GDP growth rate, ε = nominal appreciation (increase in dollar value of domestic currency), and α = share of domestic-currency-denominated debt in total external debt.

The contribution from price and exchange rate changes is defined as [-ρ(1 + g) + εα(1 + g + ρ + gρ) times previous period debt stock. ρ increases with an appreciating domestic currency (e > 0) and rising inflation (based on GDP deflator).

Defined as current account deficit, plus amortization on medium- and long-term debt, plus short-term debt at end of previous period.

In all the cases considered, the debt-to-GDP ratio rises considerably during the shock years (2003–2004) before dropping to levels generally higher than the 2002 level. The most significant increase would occur in the extreme and unlikely scenario of a combination of two standard deviation negative shocks to the nominal interest rate, real GDP growth, and current account. Similarly, a 20 percent depreciation of the foreign exchange rate would bring external debt to 73 percent of GDP. However, the downside risk of a sharp exchange rate depreciation seems limited, in light of the decline already experienced by the Chilean peso in recent years.5

Other Sensitivity Tests

Using information on the international investment position, more specific shocks to income flows from investments abroad are also considered. For instance, a two standard deviation drop of the implicit rate of return of direct and portfolio investments would lead to an increase in the current account deficit of about 0.7 percent of GDP, representing less than half of the current account shock considered above.

The effect of copper price shocks on the current account is also assessed, given that copper exports represent more than one-third of total exports or 10 percent of GDP. Given the high volatility of copper prices, a two standard deviation negative shock to copper prices would drive the average price to a hypothetical 52 cents a pound, or two-thirds of the price assumed under the baseline for 2003. Under this extreme scenario, the direct, static impact on the current account would be on the order of 2 percent of GDP.6 The effect would have the same order of magnitude as the shock considered in the standard sensitivity test on the current account. The likelihood of such a large negative shock is reduced in light of the broad consensus that copper prices are already in the low end of the cycle, below their medium- or long-run levels. Also, such a price would be considerably below the cost floor of many of the world’s copper mines, and below the real prices at which mines began to shut down during the late 1990s.7

Gross External Financing Requirements

Total gross external financing requirements have risen in recent years to reach 17.5 percent of GDP in 2002. The amortization payments of medium- and long-term debt represent the bulk of financing requirements. Most of the recent increase in amortization payments follows from the rise of external borrowing in the early and mid-1990s as it comes due (see Table 6.4 above). In addition, actual amortization exceeded scheduled amortization in 2001 and 2002, as firms chose to prepay external debt and shift toward domestic financing.

Table 6.4.

Gross External Financing Requirement

(In billions of U.S. dollars, unless otherwise indicated)

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Sources: Central Bank of Chile; and IMF staff calculations.

Defined as noninterest current account deficit, plus interest and amortization on medium- and long-term debt, plus short-term debt at end of previous period.

Gross external financing under the stress-test scenarios is derived by assuming the same ratio of short-term to total debt as in the baseline scenario and the same average maturity on medium- and long-term debt. Interest expenditures are derived by applying the respective interest rate to the previous period's debt stock under each alternative scenario.

Under the baseline, total annual gross external financing requirements are expected to decline from a high of 17.5 percent as a share of GDP in 2002 to 14 percent in 2006. The drop is largely driven by the expected surplus in noninterest current account throughout the projection period and the pickup in economic growth. Also, medium- and long-term debt amortization payments are not expected to rise beyond the 2002 level, as important payments coming due in 2003 to 2004 have been recently rescheduled.8 The baseline assumes that short-term debt remains constant in nominal terms. We assume that about two-thirds of the external debt has floating interest rates, broadly consistent with past experience.

Sensitivity Analysis Test

The sensitivity tests underscore again the responsiveness of external requirements to changes in assumptions (Table 6.4 and Figure 6.3). In particular, the external requirement is most sensitive to a shock in the current account that would bring it to over 22 percent of GDP. All other shocks would keep the external financing needs below 19 percent of GDP. None of the shocks considered would bring the total financing requirements above official international reserves (now almost 25 percent of GDP). Moreover, private sector liquid foreign asset holdings (considering only currency and deposits) amounted in 2002 to 8 percent of GDP, representing more than two-thirds of the private sector’s short-term external debt on a residual maturity basis.

Figure 6.3.
Figure 6.3.

External Debt Sustainability Analysis

(In percent of GDP)

Sources: Central Bank of Chile; and IMF staff estimates.

Net External Position

Chile’s foreign asset position is a source of strength. We consider three aspects of Chile’s international investment position (IIP) that would dampen the effects of the shocks considered in the previous sections. First, we underscore the role of Chile’s large FDI liabilities in providing external support in periods of stress. Second, we note the solid liquid asset position, including the significant foreign liquid assets held by the private sector. Third, we follow a balance sheet approach to show the counterbalancing effect of shocks on the aggregate net asset position of the country.

The country’s large FDI liabilities are a source of external support in periods of stress. As shown in Table 6.2, the relative size of foreign direct investment in Chile stands out when compared to other emerging market economies. The necessary counter-part of these investments is the large share of direct investment income outflows in the external current account. This component has important implications on how the current account adjusts to shocks affecting domestic activity.

Sensitivity analysis on the implicit rate of return on foreign investment shows that a one standard deviation negative shock would lead to a GDP improvement of 2 percent in the noninterest current account. Given the likely high correlation between changes in the output level and implicit rates of return, a sharp drop in output growth would bring a sharp adjustment in the current account driven by lower investment income outflows, everything else constant.

Chile’s liquid assets, of both the public and private sectors, appear to rule out reasonable liquidity risks (Table 6.5). At end-2002, total liquid external assets—even on a narrow definition—amounted to US$21 billion (32 percent of GDP), accounted for more than half of total external gross debt, and covered about 2.6 times gross external financing requirements. Liquid holdings by the private sector, considering a narrow definition that includes only foreign deposit and currency holdings, amounted to US$5 billion at end-2002.

Table 6.5.

External Balance Sheet Indicators

(In percent)

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Sources: Central Bank of Chile; and IMF staff estimates.

Liquid assets include only international reserves and currency and deposits abroad.

The picture is only more favorable if one considers short-term trade credits owed to Chilean firms. At end-2002 these amounted to 12 percent of GDP. Empirical evidence shows that these types of credits have a low probability of default, thus providing further support to the strength of Chile’s aggregate balance sheet.9

The balance sheet effect of a foreign exchange depreciation shock has no negative effect on the net asset position as a share of GDP. If we assume that FDI liabilities are denominated in local currency, then the reduction on FDI liabilities from the exchange rate depreciation would more than compensate for the drop in the U.S. dollar value of GDP. For example, a 20 percent depreciation of the peso would lower the ratio of net liabilities to GDP from 42 percent to 32 percent, and would reduce the ratio of liabilities to assets from 150 percent to 129 percent.


  • International Monetary Fund, 2000, “Assessing External Vulnerability: The Case of Chile,” in Chile—Selected Issues, IMF Staff Country Report No. 00/104 (Washington: International Monetary Fund).

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  • International Monetary Fund, 2002, “Forecasting Copper Prices in the Chilean Context,” in Chile—Selected Issues, IMF Country Report No. 02/163 (Washington: International Monetary Fund).

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  • Ng, C.K., J. Kiholm Smith and R. Smith 1999, “Evidence on the Determinants of Credit Terms Used in Interfirm Trade,” Journal of Finance, Vol. 54, No. 3 (June), pp. 110929.

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  • Nilsen, J., 2002, “Trade Credit and the Bank Lending Channel,” Journal of Money, Credit and Banking, Vol. 34, No. 1 (February), pp. 22653.

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This section uses data as of August 2003. Data on Chile’s international investment position have been revised since then to reflect more detailed information about the private sector external position, including data on trade credits and other short-term liabilities and assets.


Current work at the Central Bank of Chile, in preparation of a Financial Stability Report, has focused on developing a more detailed and comprehensive assessment of Chile’s external position.


The analysis in this section does not refer to the more demanding question of the optimal level of international reserves, but simply seeks to compare the level of reserves with financing needs under various scenarios. To consider the optimal level of international reserves, a more comprehensive analysis of the costs and benefits of liquidity holdings would be required, including the probability of adverse shocks.


Using a narrow definition of liquid assets, which includes only short-term deposits and currency holdings but excludes shortterm credits, would indicate that private sector liquid holdings would cover more than two-thirds of the private sector’s shortterm debt on a residual maturity basis.


From end-1997 to end-2002, the Chilean peso dropped by 31 percent in real effective terms.


The negative effect on the trade balance would be somewhat larger, but the effect on the current account would be partially offset by reduced profit outflows by foreign-owned mining companies.


Enersis recently agreed with foreign banks to reschedule its loan commitment worth US$2 billion coming due in 2003 and 2004 beyond 2008 (Box 6.1).

Institutions and Policies Underpinning Stability and Growth