The Russian Default and the Contagion to Brazil

Contributor Notes

Author’s E-Mail Address: tbaig@imf.org; goldfajn@econ.puc-rio.br

This paper investigates the contagion from Russia to Brazil in late 1998 under two dimensions— players involved and the timing of events. The data does not seem to reflect a compensatory liquidation of assets story by international institutional investors. It does contribute, however, to the suspicion that the contagion was triggered by foreign investors panicking from the Russian crisis, and joining local residents on their speculation against the Brazilian real. Adjusted correlations in the Brady market increase significantly during the crisis, which lends support to the view that if there was a contagion from Russia to Brazil, the most likely place of the transmission was the off-shore Brady market. Finally, the paper does not support the hypothesis that it was the liquidity crisis in mature markets, and not the Russian crisis, that timed the crisis in Brazil.

Abstract

This paper investigates the contagion from Russia to Brazil in late 1998 under two dimensions— players involved and the timing of events. The data does not seem to reflect a compensatory liquidation of assets story by international institutional investors. It does contribute, however, to the suspicion that the contagion was triggered by foreign investors panicking from the Russian crisis, and joining local residents on their speculation against the Brazilian real. Adjusted correlations in the Brady market increase significantly during the crisis, which lends support to the view that if there was a contagion from Russia to Brazil, the most likely place of the transmission was the off-shore Brady market. Finally, the paper does not support the hypothesis that it was the liquidity crisis in mature markets, and not the Russian crisis, that timed the crisis in Brazil.

I. Introduction

In the aftermath of the Russian crisis of August 1998, a series of events led to the Brazilian crisis that culminated in the floating of the real on January 1999. The timing of the events led academic and policy making observers to suspect that there was a contagion from the Russian crisis to Brazil. If true, the transmission of pressure from Russia to Brazil would be somewhat of a special case among the financial crises episodes seen in the 1990s. In contrast to the Mexican (1994) and Thai (1997) crises, the Russian contagion to Brazil appears to have crossed regional borders, leading to a number of interesting questions. Given the lack of substantial trade and direct financial linkages, why did the Russian devaluation prompt capital flight from Brazil? Why did some countries with similar fundamentals and economic links did not have a crisis (as for example Hungary)? In this paper, we attempt to verify the contagion presumption, and analyze related issues that can shed light on our current understanding of financial crises and contagion.

The paper begins from the premise that the Brazilian economy was vulnerable to crisis from its increasing internal and external imbalances, and that it was not pure panic that forced a devaluation of the exchange rate. Subsequently, the paper concentrates on the timing of the crisis. To what extent can the timing of the deterioration in Brazilian financial market variables be attributed to changes in fundamentals or, alternatively, to pure investor panic from the Russian crisis? What was the role of international capital markets in the transmission of the Russian crisis to Brazil? In particular, what was the role of margin calls, on large portfolio managers with Brazilian asset holdings, in this transmission mechanism?

This paper, being a case study, has the advantage of concentrating on a single crisis and its consequences on another single country. This allows us to pull different sources of data to answer the question raised above. The disadvantage is the possible loss of generality if specific Russian and Brazilian characteristic influence our conclusions regarding the contagion mechanism.

The goal of the paper is to examine the contagion from Russia to Brazil under two dimensions. First, we address the timing of the events. In particular, what triggered the run on Brazil, was it the Russian default or the liquidity crisis in the developed financial markets at the time of the Long Term Capital Management (LTCM) crisis? Second, who were the players involved and on what assets was the attack carried out? The answer to this would give us a sense on whether it was mainly foreign (possibly institutional) investors or Brazilian residents that panicked and precipitated the crisis.

The paper is organized as follows: in the next section, we examine the stylized facts regarding both the players and the timing of the events linked to the contagion from Russia to Brazil. In particular, we analyze the claim that as Russian markets tumbled, some large portfolio managers faced margin calls, and in order to balance their portfolio, had to liquidate positions in Brazil. The analysis first scrutinizes the chronology of the events surrounding the Russian devaluation and examines the timing of Brazilian Brady bonds price fall and the subsequent loss in reserves. Second, we use information on foreign investors and analyze their behavior during the crisis.

In section III, we conduct an econometric exercise to shed light on the extent of fundamentals and contagion-driven movements. We study daily correlations between the Russian and Brazilian equity indices and sovereign spreads, and test for significant change in correlations, taking into account the bias described by Forbes and Rigobon (1999). In addition, we regress changes in financial market variables on variables proxying for fundamentals in each country, and examine the residual correlations between the countries. Finally, in order to estimate the cross-border market pressure and its effect on reserves and sovereign spreads, we use reduced form Vector Auto-Regressions to estimate the impulse response of a fall in Russia’s financial prices on Brazilian variables.

The paper concludes that the data does not seem to reflect a compensatory liquidation of assets story by international institutional investors. It does contribute, however, to the suspicion that the contagion from Russia was triggered by foreign investors panicking from the Russian crisis and joining local residents on their speculation against the currency.

Also, the comovement between the financial variables is remarkable, specially with regards to the spreads on Brady bonds where the correlations in the Brady markets are very high and increase significantly (even after adjusting for the bias) during the crisis. This gives support to the fact that if there was a contagion from Russia to Brazil, the most likely place of the transmission was the off-shore Brady markets.

Finally, the paper does not support the alternative hypothesis that it was the liquidity crisis in mature markets that timed the crisis in Brazil and not the Russian crisis.

II. From Russia to Brazil: Contagion Through the Financial Markets

A. Events in Russia

Russia underwent a stabilization process from 1995 onwards, anchored by the policy of maintaining the exchange rate within a band. This policy proved unsustainable as political turmoil, fiscal imbalances and deterioration in the external environment cast increasing doubts on Russia’s ability to come to contain its economic fragility. The consequence was a severe financial crisis that erupted in mid-1998, owing primarily to the failure to tackle underlying fiscal problems.

Through 1996–97, Russia continued to incur large fiscal deficits of 7–8½ percent of GDP at the federal level, resulting in a huge increase in its debt burden, particularly at the short term maturity end. In addition, by mid-1998, the external terms of trade had deteriorated by almost 18 percent, year-on-year, due to a drop in international prices for Russia’s main exports. The impact of the Asian economic crisis was severe on Russia, as investor withdrawals from emerging markets affected its capital account. Net financing of the federal government deficit by nonresidents in the form of Eurobonds and ruble-denominated debt declined by 1.8 percent of GDP during July 1997–June 1998, compared with the previous 12-month period.

From late 1997 onwards, domestic interest rates were increased sharply in response to the deterioration in the balance of payments. While the ruble was successfully maintained within its band until mid-August 1998, the absence of decisive fiscal adjustments resulted in large losses of external reserves. Faced with a severe cash-flow problem as investors continued to withdraw from the government debt market and as international reserves dropped precipitously, the authorities announced a restructuring of ruble-denominated government debt and a widening of the exchange rate band in August 1998. The ruble was subsequently allowed to float in early September. The servicing of Soviet-era external debt was halted, and the government initiated talks with creditors for a rescheduling of such debt falling due in 1999–2000.

These developments had highly unfavorable impact on the domestic financial markets. A large number of banks that had invested heavily in treasury bills and had extensive foreign currency exposure collapsed, the domestic payment system was temporarily impaired, access to international capital markets was severed, and trade financing was severely disrupted.

The external the crisis was also severe. Investors suffered major losses from both the restructuring of the Russian debt and the devaluation of the ruble. Others were surprised by the fact that it occurred within an IMF program, and panicked regarding other emerging markets.

B. Events in Brazil: Suspicion of Contagion?

The crisis in Russia set off upheaval in the world financial markets. In Brazil, the impact on the exchange market was extreme. In August and September alone, the excess demand for U.S. dollars in the foreign exchange market was $11.8 billion and 18.9 billion, respectively (see Table 1). The loss of reserves during these months was substantial, and reflected widespread loss of investor confidence on the Brazilian real on the heels of the spectacular collapse of the Russian ruble.

Table 1.

Brazil: Foreign Exchange Market Net Flows, July 1995-November 1999 1/

(In millions of U.S. dollars)

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Source: Central Bank of Brazil; and authors’ estimates.

Negative sign implies net outflows.

A note on the Brazilian laws and institutions is warranted here. Prior to the Brazilian crisis, the central bank of Brazil was setting an adjustable band for the dollar value of the real, and maintaining a continuing crawling peg within it. There were two foreign exchange markets— the “official,” and the “floating” market. The former was intended mostly for transacting proceeds of exports and imports of goods and services, but it had allowed capital account transactions in a number of instances. Notably, large portions of portfolio investment by foreign investors were transacted through this account. These investments were channeled either through two classes of fixed-income funds or through one of the four alternatives established under National Monetary Council Resolution 1289.2 In the floating market most of the rest of the capital account transactions was transacted, in particular, those made by Brazilian residents. The Brazilian government intervened in the spot market to keep the exchange rates on both segments aligned.

The data from the official and floating markets offer valuable insights, as they reveal the dynamics of capital flow across foreign and domestic investors. Table 1 provides a breakdown of flows in these markets, as well as reserve data during the corresponding periods. Flows data during the months around the Russian crisis reveal that the extent of withdrawals in the official market during the Russian crisis was severe, reflecting withdrawals from foreign investors. Table 1 also provides breakdown of flows data around the Asian crisis, which acts as an interesting contrast. Investors to Brazil appear to not have been too concerned during the Asian crisis, as the magnitude of the withdrawals were around the typical range for the market. Their behavior was starkly different in the aftermath of the Russian crisis, as seen in Table 1.

The floating market data, representing domestic investor behavior, had shown sizable withdrawals during the Asian crisis. During the Russian crisis, the outflows were even larger, and fueled by fears from parallel withdrawals in the official markets. The key difference between the impact of the Asian and the Russian crisis on Brazilian markets was that in the latter case official withdrawals took place in a much larger scale. The information obtained from the two separate exchange markets tends to suggest that the withdrawals from foreign investors was a major factor in the exacerbation of the Brazilian crisis. This contributes to the suspicion that the contagion from Russia was triggered by foreign investors panicking from the Russian crisis. The floating market investors, representing Brazilian residents, had jumped ship during the Asian crisis, and repeated the pattern during the Russian crisis, adding further to the pressure in the exchange market.

Figure 1 shows, for the two countries, the movement of spreads on Brady bonds and reserves during 1997–98. The figures shed light on the timing of the events. The co-movement between the variables is remarkable (this is tested formally in section III). It is important to remember than in pegged regimes (or crawling pegs), the appropriate variables to infer pressure are either reserve movements or interest rate levels. The latter are better used when looking at non-policy interest rates, that are more market determined and less influenced by short term objectives of policy makers.

Figure 1.
Figure 1.

Brazil and Russia: Bond Spreads and Reserves

Citation: IMF Working Papers 2000, 160; 10.5089/9781451857733.001.A001

Source: Central Bank of Brazil; and Bloomberg.

With daily data, one can check the alternative hypothesis that it was the liquidity crisis in mature markets that timed the crisis in Brazil and not the Russian crisis. The Long Term Capital Management (LTCM) crisis surfaced in September 1999,3 while the Russian default happened a month earlier, on August 17. Figure 2 illustrates movements in two benchmark Brazilian spreads—the C-Bond and IDU. They, along with the flows figure reveal that most of the developments took place immediately after the Russian crisis both in the foreign exchange and the Brady bond markets, although the spreads on the latter market suffered a new blow during the LTCM crisis (specially the shorter maturity Brazilian IDU bond). The fact that the reaction was initiated a couple of weeks before the LTCM crisis leads us to favor the argument that the Brazilian residents reinforced the speculation once they realized that foreign and institutional investors had joined the capital flight.

Figure 2.
Figure 2.

Brazil: Brady Bonds and Foreign Exchange Market, August-Septemer 1998

Citation: IMF Working Papers 2000, 160; 10.5089/9781451857733.001.A001

Source: Central Bank of Brazil; and Bloomberg.1/ Negative sign denotes outflow.

Other Brazilian financial variables reflect the Russian crisis with different lags. The floating of the exchange rate occurred only in January 1999, five months after the Russian crisis. At the beginning, interest policy rate (overnight rate on federal funds - SELIC) was raised to levels close to the ones reached during the Asian crisis, but this time speculation forced the change in the exchange regime (Figure 3).

Figure 3.
Figure 3.

Interest and Exchange Rates, January 1997-April 1999

Citation: IMF Working Papers 2000, 160; 10.5089/9781451857733.001.A001

Source: Central Banks of Russia and Brazil.1/ Rate used is SELIC rate, the Central Bank funds rate on overnight deposits.

C. The Effect of the Russian Crisis on Capital Flows to Brazil

Following a trend common to other emerging markets, private capital inflows to Brazil disappeared in the 1980s and increased dramatically after 1991. By 1993, the fall of international interest rates had eased the external debt burden, and it led to an agreement with creditor banks in 1994 with an exchange of instruments, covering over $50 billion in debt stocks and arrears.

At the end of 1994, Mexico’s financial crisis led to an immediate cutback in capital flows to emerging markets. During the fourth quarter of 1994 and the first quarter of 1995, the net flow of capital to Brazil was insufficient to finance its current account, and the central bank lost reserves of about $9.8 billion. Private capital returned to Brazil soon, however, as a joint US-IMF package for Mexico brought investors back to emerging markets. At the end of 1995 net capital flows were close to $30 billion, and in 1996 net inflows reached $33 billion. In the next two years net capital flows declined again, down to about $20 billion in 1998, owing to the impact of the Asian and Russian crisis, as well as the increasing perception that the Brazilian economy was in an unsustainable path.

The composition of flows during this period is interesting. Table 2 and Figure 4 show that the share of net direct investment increased steadily, surpassing $20 billion dollars in both 1998 and 1999. In contrast the crisis hit other components of flows very hard.

Figure 4.
Figure 4.

Brazil: Composition of Capital Flows, June 1988-November 1999

(Six-month moving averages)

Citation: IMF Working Papers 2000, 160; 10.5089/9781451857733.001.A001

Source: Central Bank of Brazil.
Table 2.

Brazil: Capital Flows, 1991-99

(In millions of U.S. dollars)

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Source: Central Bank of Brazil; and authors’ estimates.

1999 data are for January through November.

Impact on capital flows

We devote this section to investigate the impact of the Russian crisis on monthly capital flows to Brazil. The ordinary least squares (OLS) regression model, controlling for heteroscedasticity and serial correlation, is:

nf=NFGDP=β0+β1(iEe)+β2i*+BX+ε,

where nf, i, i*, Ee are the net capital flows as a percentage of GDP, the domestic interest rate, the US interest rate, and expected devaluation, respectively. X denotes a group of variables, including inflation, government spending, the real exchange rate, and a series of dummies for the Real Plan, the Tequila crisis, the Asian crisis, the Brazilian crisis, and the Russian crisis. The dummies take on a value of 1 during the month the crisis began. The results are summarized in Table 3 below.

Table 3.

Regression Results: Impact of the Russian Crisis on Capital Rows to Brazil

(Dependent variable: Ratio of monthly total net private capital flows to GDP)

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Source: Central Bank of Brazil; and authors’ estimates.

As predicted by theory, the coefficient of the international interest rate is negative and significant. This result is consistent with evidence for Latin America in Calvo et al. (1993), and with the evidence for developing countries in Fernández-Arias and Montiel (1995). The result is robust across specifications and to using either returns on U.S. Treasury bills or yields on 10-year Treasury bonds. The coefficient of the domestic interest rate adjusted for expected depreciation and the coefficients of other domestic factors do not help in explaining capital flows to Brazil. We interpret the results as evidence in favor of push effects as opposed to pull effects in explaining the movement in capital flows.

The dummies for the Tequila, Real plan and Asian crisis are strong and significant. However, the Russian crisis seems to have not affected significantly the flow of capital in a longer perspective. This is a bit surprising, but one should take into account the change in the composition of capital flows to Brazil in the mid and late nineties. Net foreign investment replaced other component of flows during this period, and that may have dampened the effect of the Russian crisis. In higher frequency (daily) data, we have observed a large withdrawal of capital during the Russian crisis. Therefore, from the point of view of lower frequencies and aggregated data (total flows), one cannot not observe the contagion effects from the Russian crisis to Brazil. Also, the regression results could be interpreted as indicative of the fact that the Russian crisis did not have an impact on the medium and long term flows to Brazil.

Impact on short term exposure

Subsequent to the crisis in Russia, and leading up to the real’s devaluation, foreign investors reduced their exposure to Brazil as maturing obligations came due. The Central Bank of Brazil’s survey data, which follows the maturing short term external liabilities of its banking system in a weekly basis, provides interesting insight regarding this issue.4

Table 4 shows the cumulative reduction in short term exposure to Brazilian banks by nationality in the last quarter of 1999. Over the sample period, out of the total US$6.6 billion that was maturing, about US$4 billion was rolled over, amounting to a rollover rate of around 62 percent. U.S. banks reduced their exposure by US$931 million, with a rollover rate of 60 percent. Within the United States, almost one-half of the reduction came from two banks, and ten banks accounted for 84 percent of the total decline. Many regional banks were found to have reduced their exposure.

Table 4.

Brazil: Changes in Exposure of Short-term Loans, October 1-Decmber 31, 1998 1/

(In millions of U.S. dollars)

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Source: Central Bank of Brazil; and authors’ estimates.

Includes interbank loans and trade credits.

The rollover rate for US banks was well below the rollover rates of Germany (79 percent) and the UK (77 percent), although it was roughly in line with Japan (58 percent), France (54 percent) and Italy (60 percent). This is interesting because it bears on our fundamental question regarding the contagion from Russia to Brazil. As Table 4 shows, German banks, which had huge exposure to Russia and were consequently badly affected by the Russian crisis, had a rollover rate far above the group average. Thus the hypothesis that liquidity needs and withdrawals were one of channels of contagion does not find support from the data. The available evidence does not reflect a compensatory liquidation of assets.5

The data also allows us to follow the timing of the reduction of exposure, although with a lag given that the first data is from the third week of October. Figure 5 shows the net outflows per week and the rollover rate over time. The weekly changes in exposure have been volatile, with a particularly sharp deterioration in October and over the final two weeks of the year, which was principally due to end-year window dressing. The high rollover weeks happen in April 1999, after the Brazilian agreement with international banks to maintain short term credit lines. For the 11-week monitoring period ending January 1, 1999, the aggregate rollover rate was 72 percent. The weekly observations, however, have been volatile, ranging from 50 percent to 90 percent. It is interesting also to note that the international banks did not increase their exposure to the levels seen before the Russian crisis. This was in part due to lack of demand for short term borrowing by Brazilian banks after the floating of the exchange rate and the associated higher exchange rate risk.

Figure 5.
Figure 5.

Brazil: Short-term Capital how and Rollover Rates, October 1998-July 1999

Citation: IMF Working Papers 2000, 160; 10.5089/9781451857733.001.A001

Source: Central Bank of Brazil; and authors’ estimates.

BIS data and overall bank exposure

The weekly monitoring system by the central bank of Brazil has the advantage of a higher frequency but the coverage is not universal, as only short term assets are included. In contrast, the data from the Bank for International Settlements (BIS), published twice a year, has a broader coverage. Table 5 and Figure 6 show the overall exposure of reporting banks on Brazil and other emerging markets. The exposure on Brazil decreased by around $10 billion dollars from the first half of 1998 to the first half of 1999, while the exposure in Russia decreased by almost $15 billion dollars in the same period.

Figure 6.
Figure 6.

Bank Holdings in Emerging Markets, 1995-1999

(Index 1994H2=100) 1/

Citation: IMF Working Papers 2000, 160; 10.5089/9781451857733.001.A001

Source: Bank for International Settlements.
Table 5.

Commercial Banks’ Exposure to Selected Countries, 1997H1-1999H1 1/

(In millions of U.S. dollars)

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Source: Bank for International Settlements.

H refers to half-yearly data.

It is interesting to note the similar path for the banks exposure to Russia and Brazil, in contrast to the rest of Latin America, in particular Mexico and Argentina. The reduction of the exposure to Asia diminished about a year earlier. The different paths for the exposure on Brazil and the rest of Latin America provides support to the fact that the contagion from the Russian crisis was not generalized, as it would be if driven only by liquidity needs.

III. Empirical tests of contagion

A. Methodology

In this exercise, we primarily focus on the stock indices and sovereign spreads. Analyzing the currency market is not very useful as for most of the sample period, both the Brazilian real and the Russian ruble were fixed to the dollar. The currencies move about relatively freely only after January 1999 (when the Real peg unraveled), but that period leaves out many important phases of the crisis. Instead of directly looking at the exchange rate, we devote a part of our analysis to the data from financial flows, which in turn is affected by associated exchange rate volatility.

In order to understand the transmission of shocks from Russia to Brazil, we carry out a series of tests. We begin by looking at rolling correlations (at three month interval) between the relevant variables. We also use reduced form VARs to examine the direction of shocks between Russia and Brazil.

We then define crisis and tranquil periods, and test for significant changes in correlations between the two periods. We apply the Forbes and Rigobon (1999) methodology to adjust the crisis period correlations for sudden increase in variance (see Appendix III). The motivation for this approach is to control for the correlation bias associated with higher variances, as in the standard correlation formula, higher variances lead to higher correlations. Once the adjustment is performed, crisis period correlations can be tested for significant increases without the potential of this bias. However, we use the Forbes and Rigobon test with caution, as we are not sure a study of contagion ought to control for the increased variances, as volatility is an integral part of any crisis scenario. It could very well be that the factors behind the increased variances (thin markets, panic, institutional failure, etc.) are precisely what make up contagion, and controlling for these factors make the test for contagion lose power.

B. Dummy Variables

One can define contagion as co-movements in financial variables in excess of those that can be explained by co-movements of fundamentals. Under this definition, in order to identify contagion, it is essential to distinguish between fundamentals and non-fundamentals-driven co-movements. Empirically, if, after controlling for fundamentals, one finds significant co-movement among the markets of two countries, then the remaining unexplained correlation may be attributed to contagion (for example, panic or investor sentiment shift).

There are significant empirical difficulties to implement this methodology of identifying contagion. Given that most fundamentals are measured infrequently, at least in comparison to the frequency available for financial data, one has to be sure that there is comprehensive and reliable data available that represents movements in fundamentals. In general, there are no high frequency variables (e.g. daily data) that can approximate fundamentals in each country. In the absence of such data, one approach is to create a set of daily variables constructed from news reported by the press that could proxy for movements in fundamentals. This approach follows Ganapolsky and Schmukler (1998) and Kaminsky and Schmukler (1998), who attempt to estimate the impact of various news events on market movements. These papers map daily news of a country into a set of dummy variables in order to quantify the impact of policy announcements and other news on financial markets. We followed this literature, as well as our previous work (Baig and Goldfajn, 1999) and created two series of dummy variables—good and bad news—for each country.

The mapping of fundamentals to news and then to a couple of dummy variables involves an inevitable degree of subjectivity. In order to ensure a replicable procedure, we provide in the appendix a set of guidelines that we followed.

Although parts of these “news” were in some degree expected by the market and, therefore, already factored in the financial variable prices, there always remains some uncertainty that is realized the day the announcement effectively occurs. For example, days when bailout packages are announced or central bank statements are released are well known in advance, but the market nevertheless reacts to them, revealing that there was some degree of uncertainty whether these announcements were to occur. We therefore included “news” that were partially anticipated.

In the regression exercise we first regress the financial variables of the countries on their own news and other selected fundamentals. The idea is that own news is a proxy for changes in fundamentals, whereas changes in the fortune of another country is a potential source of contagion. Second, we regress for each country its financial variable against dummies of both countries on the right hand side to evaluate the impact of cross-border news.

We begin our investigation by trying to establish the correct sample period to study. We want to be able to define a tranquil and crisis episode in order to compare results from the two periods and analyze the factors behind the movements. Given the numerous shocks that financial markets have faced recently, isolating a period of relative tranquility is somewhat difficult. Simply choosing a period before the August 1998 Russian default is not sufficient, as the emerging markets were hit by the Asian crisis in late 1997 and 1998. As Figures 7 and 8 show, the markets in both the countries in discussion were affected by the Asian crisis as spreads shot up. Thus the data from that period onwards is likely to contain some noise. With this in mind, we choose January 1, 1997 to May 30, 1997 as our tranquil period. For the crisis period, we use data from January 1, 1998 onwards for correlation and VAR analysis. For the regressions, we use dummy variables that are defined from a month prior to the Russian default; therefore our sample begins from July 1, 1998.

Figure 7.
Figure 7.

Brazil and Russia: Stock Market Indices, January 1, 1997-June 30, 1999

Citation: IMF Working Papers 2000, 160; 10.5089/9781451857733.001.A001

Source: Bloomberg.
Figure 8.
Figure 8.

Brazil and Russia: Sovereign Spreads, January 1, 1997-December 31, 1998

Citation: IMF Working Papers 2000, 160; 10.5089/9781451857733.001.A001

Source: Bloomberg.

C. Correlation Results

Stock market

The first half of 1997 can be termed as a very favorable time for both the Brazilian and Russian equity markets, as they returned, in dollar terms, 58 and 88 percent respectively during the defined tranquil period. There is little evidence of interaction between the two markets though. Correlation of the first log difference between the two markets was −0.11 during this period. Using two lags in a reduced form VAR, we find impulse responses (see Figure 9) that reveal some evidence of the Russian equity market being affected by shocks in the Brazilian market.

Figure 9.
Figure 9.

Impulse Response Functions (From Reduced-form VARs)

(Response of stock market in U.S. dollars to one S.D. innovation;)

Citation: IMF Working Papers 2000, 160; 10.5089/9781451857733.001.A001

Source: Authors’ estimates.

As the Asian crisis unfolded in the fall of 1997, the Brazilian stock market showed some signs of nervousness, but the Russian market seemed undisturbed. Rolling correlations, using three month windows, between September and December of 1997 show somewhat higher, yet fairly stable, correlation between the two markets.

We find the correlations increase substantially by the first quarter of 1998, as Brazil’s internal and external difficulties became more visible and Russia began to show signs of nervousness (see Table 6). As financial difficulties in Russian became acute, correlations hit 0.51 in the April–June, 1998 window. We find correlations to go down drastically once the Russian devaluation took place in August, but that is primarily a reflection of the sharp decrease in the dollar value of the Russian stock index due to the depreciation of the ruble. More importantly, correlations go up substantially again from October onwards, when the crisis in Brazil worsens. It must be noted that the stock market correlations are not very high at any point in the sample, with the highest magnitude of 0.51 is seen in the April–June, 1998 window.

Table 6.

Brazil and Russia: Stock Market Correlations, January 1997-June 1999 1/

(Market indices in U.S. dollars; first log differences)

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Source: Bloomberg; authors’ estimates.

Placement of ** and * denotes significance at 5% and 10% levels respectively.

In the impulse response functions (see Figure 9) from reduced form VARs, we find significant impulse responses in Brazil from one standard deviation innovation in Russia. This is valid only in the crisis period and not in the tranquil times, confirming our suspicion of contagion from Russia to Brazil.

Sovereign spreads

The tranquil period sovereign spreads correlations are substantially larger than what we saw in the stock market case. Using 106 observations from January–May 1997, we find the correlation to be 0.35. The spreads of both the bonds in discussion shot up even further in the crisis period (see Figure 8). The correlation of the spreads also jumped (see Table 7), and remained at very high levels till late 1998.

Table 7.

Brazil and Russia: Sovereign Spread Correlations, January 1997-December 1998 1/

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Source: Bloomberg; authors’ estimates.

Placement of ** and * denotes significance at 5% and 10% levels respectively.

The adjusted correlations for the spreads show significantly higher correlation during the crisis period sub-samples when compared to the tranquil period (see Table 7). All but two sub-samples in the crisis period had significantly higher adjusted correlations. This confirms our findings from previous work (Baig and Goldfajn, 1998) that the correlations in the Brady markets are very high and increases significantly (even after the adjustment) during the crisis. This gives support to the fact that if there was a contagion from Russia to Brazil, the most likely place of the transmission was the off-shore Brady markets.

The impulse responses (see Figure 10) show mutually reinforcing responses during the crisis period.

Figure 10.
Figure 10.

Impulse Response Functions (From Reduced-form VARs)

(Response of sovereign spreads to one S.D. innovation)

Citation: IMF Working Papers 2000, 160; 10.5089/9781451857733.001.A001

Source: Authors’ estimates.

Financial flows

The financial flows variables allow us to look deeper into the market dynamics of Brazil, and see how the two markets, one dominated by domestic players and the other by foreigners, behaved. Financial flows are the balance of the foreign exchange transactions in the financial markets. Ultimately the government would have to balance the market in order to keep the exchange rate within the crawling peg band. However, the changes in reserves do not necessarily track down exactly the financial exchange flows because some of the transactions are settled with a lag period (30-days and so).

We find a correlation of −0.16 between the two markets during the tranquil period (see Table 8). VARs do not provide evidence any shocks transmitting from one market to the other.

Table 8.

Brazil and Russia: Financial Rows Correlations, January 1997-99 1/

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Source: Central Bank of Brazil; and authors’ estimates.

Placement of ** and * denotes significance at 5% and 10% levels respectively.

We find that the directly after the onset of the Asian crisis, correlation between these two markets jumped (up to 0.74 in September–December 1997). The rolling correlation show a great deal of volatility through 1998 as the correlations become negative and then positive. The impulse response function (see Figure 11) from the crisis period also show that the reaction of the official flows to innovations in the floating market flows is statistically significant.

Figure 11.
Figure 11.

Impulse Response Functions (From Reduced-form VARs)

(Response of financial flows to one S.D. innovation)

Citation: IMF Working Papers 2000, 160; 10.5089/9781451857733.001.A001

Source: Authors’ estimates.

This is significant as the implication is that the local players precede foreign investors in withdrawing capital from the crisis-affected country (as also found in Frankel and Schmukler, 1996). This is consistent with the findings obtained in the previous section, where we saw that withdrawals in the floating market were present in both the Asian and Russian crisis but were followed by withdrawals in the official market only in the latter. This induced the larger effect that eventually led to the Brazilian crisis.

The adjusted correlations (see Table 8) show that occasional sub-sample periods when the crisis period correlations were higher than the tranquil period. The correlations also show that subsequent to the Russian default there was surge of co-movement among these markets.

D. Regression Results

In this analysis, we only focus on the crisis period dynamics around the onset of the Russian crisis. We were unable to carry out a cohesive filtering of the data prior to this period, due to confusion regarding what constitutes good or bad news outside the context of the devaluation of currencies and debt defaults in discussion.

Stock market

We begin by regressing the first log difference of the Russian and the Brazilian stock market indices against their own good and bad news dummies, as well selected fundamentals (U.S. interest rate, Deutsche mark-dollar exchange rate, and the changes in the S&P stock index in the United States). For Brazil (see Table 9), we find that only changes in the U.S. stock market has a significant impact, with the right sign. Bad news from Russia also seem to have an adverse impact, but only at a marginal 11 percent level of significance. For Russia, only bad news from own-country has a significant and adverse impact on the stock market performance.

Table 9.

Brazil and Russia: Stock Market Regression Results 1/

(Sample: July 1, 1998-April 30, 1999; market indices in US. dollars; first log difference)

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Source: Central Bank of Brazil; and authors’ estimates.

Placement of ** and * denotes significance at 5% and 10% levels respectively.

We then extend our analysis by including cross-country news dummies and fundamentals on the right hand side of the regressions. The results are somewhat more promising here. In the Brazil regression, bad news stemming from Brazil have a significant and negative impact, thus providing further evidence of cross-border transmission of shocks. The U.S. stock market movements also have the right sign and statistical significance. Throwing in the additional variable does not add much to the Russia regression, as the sole variable of significance remain the Russian news dummy.

Sovereign spreads

In the regressions with own-country news and other fundamentals (see Table 10), the only variable that is statistically significant for the spreads in Brazil and Russia is the U.S. interest rate. In both regressions the U.S. interest rate has a negative coefficient, which means that increases in U.S. interest rate leads to lowering of spreads in both the countries in discussion.

Table 10.

Brazil and Russia: Sovereign Spread Regression Results 1/

(Sample: July 1-December 30, 1998)

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Source: Bloomberg; authors’ estimates.

Standard error in parentheses; placement of ** and * denotes significance at 5% and 10% levels resp

For the extended regressions, in addition to the cross-country news dummies, we add the stock market variables of both countries. In the regression for Brazil with the cross-country dummies, bad news out of Russia has a significant and adverse impact on Brazilian spreads. In the Russia regression, own-country good news is significant, with the expected sign. In both regressions, U.S. interest rate remains significant and negative.

Financial flows

During our correlation and causality work we found that that the Brazilian floating flows had a significant impact on the official flows. It is important to establish what caused the movement in the floating flows, as that will shed light on the reaction pattern of the local market participant s in Brazil. Regressing the floating flows on the Brazilian dummies and selected fundamentals, we find mark-dollar exchange rate and the bad news dummy from Brazil to be significant (see Table 11). The positive coefficient with the exchange rate imply that appreciation of the dollar leads to increase in floating flows, whereas the negative news coefficient implies that bad news leads to decrease in the flows.

Table 11.

Brazil and Russia: Financial Rows Regression Results, July 1, 1998-January 28, 1999 1/

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Source: Central Bank of Brazil; and authors’ estimates.

Standard error in parentheses; placement of ** and * denotes significance at 5% and 10% levels respectively.

IV. Conclusions

The paper investigated the contagion from Russia to Brazil using several sets of data, with different frequencies. We analyzed this case study under two dimensions: players involved and timing of events. A few results are worth highlighting. First, using information from daily movements in two distinct exchange markets we concluded that while the withdrawals in the floating market were present in both the Asian and Russian crisis, they were only followed by withdrawals in the official market in the latter crisis. This induced the larger effect that eventually led to the Brazilian crisis. This contributes to the suspicion that the contagion from Russia was triggered by foreign investors panicking from the Russian crisis.

Second, using weekly data on foreign banks exposure to Brazil, we checked the hypothesis that liquidity needs and withdrawals were one of the channels of contagion. We observed that German banks (known to have had a large exposure to Russia and were badly affected by the Russian crisis) had one of the highest rollover rates within the G7 and, therefore, the data does not seem to reflect a compensatory liquidation of assets story.

Third, from the point of view of lower (monthly) frequencies and aggregated data (total flows), one cannot not observe the contagion effects from the Russian crisis to Brazil..

Fourth, from the dimension of the timing of the events, the co-movement between the variables is remarkable, especially with regards to the spreads on Brady bonds. This confirms our findings from previous work (Baig and Goldfajn, 1998) that the correlations in the Brady markets are very high and increase significantly (even after adjusting for the bias) during the crisis. This gives support to the fact that if there was a contagion from Russia to Brazil, the most likely place of the transmission was the off-shore Brady markets.

Fifth, using daily data on several financial data from Bloomberg, one can check the alternative hypothesis that it was the liquidity crisis in mature markets that timed the crisis in Brazil and not the Russian crisis. However, most of the action happens immediately after the Russian crisis both in the foreign exchange and the Brady bond markets, although the spreads on the latter market suffer a new blow during the LTCM crisis. Therefore, rather than concluding in favor of LTCM effect on this market, this leads us to favor the argument that the Brazilian residents reinforced the speculation once they realize that foreign investors had joined the outflow.

Finally, it is possible that a coincidental domestic event (e.g. a policy effort failure in the legislator) contributed significantly in triggering the crisis. We do not, however, see any indication of such an event in the news analysis. Moreover, a formal testing of the precise impact of such possible suspects is beyond the scope of this paper.

The Russian Default and the Contagion to Brazil
Author: Mr. Taimur Baig and Mr. Ilan Goldfajn
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    Brazil and Russia: Bond Spreads and Reserves

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    Brazil: Brady Bonds and Foreign Exchange Market, August-Septemer 1998

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    Interest and Exchange Rates, January 1997-April 1999

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    Brazil: Composition of Capital Flows, June 1988-November 1999

    (Six-month moving averages)

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    Brazil: Short-term Capital how and Rollover Rates, October 1998-July 1999

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    Bank Holdings in Emerging Markets, 1995-1999

    (Index 1994H2=100) 1/

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    Brazil and Russia: Stock Market Indices, January 1, 1997-June 30, 1999

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    Brazil and Russia: Sovereign Spreads, January 1, 1997-December 31, 1998

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    Impulse Response Functions (From Reduced-form VARs)

    (Response of stock market in U.S. dollars to one S.D. innovation;)

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    Impulse Response Functions (From Reduced-form VARs)

    (Response of sovereign spreads to one S.D. innovation)

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    Impulse Response Functions (From Reduced-form VARs)

    (Response of financial flows to one S.D. innovation)