Financial Dollarization in Latin America

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This paper tests several explanations for financial dollarization (FD), with an emphasis on Latin America. The results provide evidence that FD is a rational response to inflation uncertainty. The paper builds on previous research by finding that an exchange rate policy biased towards currency depreciation and currency mismatches tends to contribute to high FD and that FD is highly persistent. These results suggest that countries with significant FD should encourage the use of domestic currency by maintaining macroeconomic stability; allowing more exchange rate flexibility and less bias towards currency depreciation; and adapting prudential regulations to ensure that costs associated with FD are fully internalized in financial contracts. At the same time, restoring confidence in the domestic currency may take many years of sound policies.


This paper tests several explanations for financial dollarization (FD), with an emphasis on Latin America. The results provide evidence that FD is a rational response to inflation uncertainty. The paper builds on previous research by finding that an exchange rate policy biased towards currency depreciation and currency mismatches tends to contribute to high FD and that FD is highly persistent. These results suggest that countries with significant FD should encourage the use of domestic currency by maintaining macroeconomic stability; allowing more exchange rate flexibility and less bias towards currency depreciation; and adapting prudential regulations to ensure that costs associated with FD are fully internalized in financial contracts. At the same time, restoring confidence in the domestic currency may take many years of sound policies.

I. Introduction

In the past 15–20 years, many developing countries have experienced a process known as financial dollarization (FD), in which residents hold deposits denominated in foreign currency—the U.S. dollar in many cases.2 In several countries, this has been accompanied by dollarization of the real sector, with a large share of purchases of goods and services and payment of wages taking place in foreign currency, or by currency substitution, where foreign currency also serves as a means of payment. The process of FD has usually occurred in the aftermath of a severe economic crisis involving high inflation that has undermined confidence in the local currency. Moreover, in many of these countries, dollarization remains very high, even though economic performance has improved and inflation has subsided.

Over the past decade, concerns about the effects of FD have increased. FD can help an economy by discouraging capital flight and encouraging residents to keep their savings in the domestic financial system. Yet it also carries potentially significant drawbacks, especially by narrowing the room for policy maneuver during a crisis.3 If residents maintain significant cash balances in foreign currency, monetary policy may be less effective in managing domestic liquidity to control inflation or to dampen the effects of banking difficulties through lender-of-last-resort financing. More importantly, banks in highly dollarized countries tend to lend in foreign currency to borrowers with little or no foreign exchange earnings. This could weaken balance sheets by creating a significant currency mismatch. Banks could suffer severe losses in the event of a sharp real depreciation, which would drive up the costs of servicing foreign currency debt without necessarily raising the borrowers’ income. Governments in highly dollarized countries also face this risk, as they tend to collect revenues in local currency while servicing debts in foreign currency. In this situation, high FD can deepen an economic crisis, such as in the case of Argentina in 2001 and Uruguay in 2002.

For this reason, the policy debate has focused on the causes of FD and the best policies to promote a recovery in the use of local currency for financial transactions and savings. This paper tests several explanations for FD, with an emphasis on Latin America—a region that encompasses countries that have avoided FD as well as those with persistently high FD. And in the past few years several countries in the region—most notably Paraguay and Perú—have been able to reduce the extent of FD. Section II reviews the empirical trends in FD. Section III assesses whether FD has been a rational response to inflation uncertainty. Section IV looks at the role of exchange rate policy and currency mismatches in encouraging and perpetuating FD. Section V reviews the policy implications of the results.

II. Trends in Financial Dollarization

FD increased in most developing country regions between the mid-1990s and early this decade (Table 1). The use of foreign currency rose most rapidly in the transition economies, with almost half of all bank deposits denominated in foreign currency by 2001. FD rose in Latin America and Africa, while holding steady in Asia during this period. This trend occurred despite a significant decline in inflation after 1995 in most regions.

Average Inflation by Region

(In percent per year)

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Source: IMF, International Financial Statistics.
Table 1.

Dollarization by Region, 1995 and 2001

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Source: De Nicolo, Honohan and Ize (2005).

In the early 1990s, Latin America, Africa and the transition economies experienced high inflation on average. Asia experienced a moderate rise in inflation around the time of the Asian crisis in 1997–98. However, by the late 1990s, all of these regions had rates of inflation close to industrial country levels.

Looking more closely at Latin America, FD picked up sharply between 1990 and 2001 (Table 2). Foreign currency deposits as a share of total deposits rose significantly in countries that were already highly dollarized, such as Bolivia and Uruguay. Dollarization also picked up in countries with lower levels of dollarization in 1990, such as Costa Rica, the Dominican Republic, Honduras, Nicaragua, and Paraguay. Early this decade, Ecuador and El Salvador opted for full, official dollarization, each under very different circumstances. Five countries in Latin America—Brazil, Chile, Colombia, Mexico, and Venezuela—have avoided significant dollarization, even though they also have experienced severe macroeconomic problems since 1980. These countries preserved demand for their currencies through a combination of sound economic policies, indexed financial instruments, and legal restrictions on dollarized transactions. Except for Venezuela, residents of these countries placed their foreign currency assets abroad, but even in these cases, total foreign exchange deposits (including offshore deposits) were less than in the highly dollarized countries.4 Moreover, by shifting the foreign currency deposits abroad, these countries insulated their domestic banking systems from the risks associated with FD.

Table 2.

Selected Latin American Countries: Deposit and Loan Dollarization

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Sources: Central banks; and IMF staff estimates.

For the Dominican Republic and Paraguay, 1990 column refers to 1996 data.

Loan ratio for Uruguay includes only lending to residents.

Since 2001, FD has declined in some Latin American countries. Argentina forced its residents to convert into pesos, reducing that country’s dollarization sharply. Bolivia, Peru, and Uruguay have experienced moderate declines in foreign currency deposits as a share of total deposits, while FD fell sharply in Paraguay in 2004. Nonetheless, the extent of FD still remains high in many of these countries.

This persistence of FD seems puzzling because most of Latin America made significant gains in macroeconomic stability in this period. Both the rate and volatility of inflation declined significantly since the mid-1990s. Also the real exchange rate became more volatile, compared with the previous 15 years, which would tend to discourage FD (Table 3). The rise in the volatility of the real exchange rate probably results from the adoption of flexible exchange rate regimes in the late 1990s by many Latin American countries. The central government deficit declined as well, while financial systems appear to have deepened. Real economic growth has remained steady at 2½ percent a year on average, while real lending interest rates have become positive in real terms.

Table 3.

Indicators of Macroeconomic Stabilty, 1980-2003

(In annual percent change, unless specified otherwise)

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Sources: IFS and WEO.

Excludes Argentina in 1989 and Nicaragua in 1988.

Coefficient of variation.

The persistence of dollarization through 2001 could reflect a historical legacy. Inflation in many Latin American countries during the period 1980–95 was extremely high by historical standards and compared with other developing country regions. In the period 1980–2003, there were a total of 56 so-called free-fall events—defined as years when broad money or consumer prices rose or the currency depreciated by over 1,000 percent or when deposit or lending interest rates exceeded 100 percent (Table 4). Three fourths of these events occurred in six Latin American countries (Argentina, Bolivia, Brazil, Nicaragua, Peru, and Uruguay).

Table 4.

Summary of Free-Fall Events, 1980-2003 1/

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Sources: WEO and IFS.

Free-fall events are defined as years when either one of the following occurred:

 - Annual percentage change of M2 exceeds 1,000 percent.

 - Annual percentage change of CPI exceeds 1,000 percent.

 - Annual percentage change of exchange rate exceeds 1,000 percent.

 - Deposit interest rate exceeds 100 percent per annum.

 - Loan interest rate exceeds 100 percent per annum.

2/ National currency units per U.S. dollar.

III. Financial Dollarization As a Rational Response to Inflation Uncertainty

A. Theoretical Overview5

Even though inflation may have declined in countries with high FD, doubts may linger about the credibility of monetary policy, and residents resort to foreign currency deposits to protect their purchasing power measured in local currency from the risk of a surge in inflation. The yield curves in the six highly dollarized countries at end-2004 suggest that markets still wonder about the future stance of monetary policy (Figure 1). In Bolivia, Paraguay, Peru, and Uruguay, the gap between the yield curve for domestic currency deposits and for foreign currency deposits widens over time to well in excess of the inflation differential in most of these countries. In Costa Rica, the difference between the yield curves is closer to the inflation differential, yet the differential still widens gradually at longer maturities, suggesting concerns about the future stance of monetary policy.

Figure 1.
Figure 1.

Yield Curve for Deposit Interest Rates, 2004

Citation: IMF Working Papers 2006, 007; 10.5089/9781451862676.001.A001

Ize and Levy-Yeyati (2003) emphasize the importance of the relative volatility of inflation for determining the degree of FD. They argue that residents will prefer to hold foreign currency deposits if the risk of unexpected inflation is high. Specifically, residents look at the volatility of inflation relative to that of the change in the real exchange rate and hold a larger share of their portfolio in foreign currency assets as inflation becomes relatively more volatile and as the real exchange rate becomes more stable. In this situation, the real value of foreign currency assets—measured in terms of domestic purchasing power—is more stable. Similarly, stable domestic inflation and a volatile real exchange rate will make domestic currency assets a better store of value. This approach assumes that arbitrage tends to equalize the rates of return on domestic and foreign currency assets, which implies that shifts in inflation or interest rates will not affect the decision to hold foreign currency assets. Ize and Levy-Yeyati develop a variable that measures the portfolio share allocated to foreign currency assets that minimizes the variance of a portfolio with local currency and foreign currency interest bearing assets. They show that this share—known as the minimum variance portfolio (MVP)—rises as domestic inflation becomes more variable relative to the real exchange rate. They present empirical support for their view that a larger MVP contributes to more financial dollarization.

Weak institutions undermine the credibility of policies, as residents may fear that governments will erode the value of financial assets by generating unexpected inflation. De la Torre and Schmulker (2004) add that weak institutions can also raise doubts about the enforceability of contracts and encourage residents to shorten the duration of contracts or undertake transactions offshore in countries with more secure legal frameworks. Indicators of the quality of institutions have been developed by the World Bank, with a database starting in 1996 that includes measures of political stability, government effectiveness, regulatory quality, rule of law and control of corruption, and voice and accountability. Other agencies have compiled longer time series on institutional variables, such as political stability, bureaucratic effectiveness, and ethnic tensions.

The current macroeconomic situation can also influence the degree of dollarization. Guidotti and Rodríguez (1992) and Uribe (1997) develop models of currency substitution to explain how high inflation lowers demand for domestic currency as a means of payment and unit of account, contributing to dollarization. Their models also show that currency substitution can remain high even when inflation declines. Guidotti and Rodríguez point to costs associated with re-denominating transactions back into domestic currency, while Uribe attributes persistent dollarization to network effects—the cost of using foreign currency declines as more residents rely on this means of payment. In both models the demand for domestic currency will recover if inflation falls by enough to justify incurring the costs of the transition. While these models were developed to explain currency substitution, the results can also apply to financial dollarization, especially in economies where financial innovations allow broader forms of money to also serve as a means of payment. The fiscal deficit can also affect the degree of dollarization. In many dollarized countries, the surge in inflation that cut confidence in the domestic currency arose from a wide fiscal deficit that had to be financed with money creation. For this reason, fiscal discipline might help reduce dollarization by strengthening confidence.

B. Empirical Results

We estimated equations that sought to explain FD in terms of the MVP, inflation, the central government deficit, indices of institutional quality and political stability, and legal restrictions on dollarization. The dependent variable is the ratio of foreign currency deposits to total deposits, which—while imperfect —provides the most widely available measure of dollarization. We first estimate a cross-section model for a sample of over 62 countries with broad regional coverage that includes OECD countries, transition economies, Asia and Africa as well as Latin America for the period 1990–2001.

The results of the cross section equations confirm the results of de Nicolo, Honohan and Ize (2003) and Ize and Levy Yeyati (2003) (Table 5). Equation 1 shows that the minimum variance portfolio explains an important part of dollarization, with a 10 percent increase in the MPV raising deposit dollarization by 6 percent. Inflation plays an important role as well. In addition, legal restrictions on foreign currency deposits appear to be effective in reducing deposit dollarization. The coefficient on the central government deficit—both as a share of GDP and of broad money—is not statistically significant. While surprising, this result could reflect a measurement problem—the central government deficit is the most widely available measure but may not be sufficiently comprehensive. Possibly, the current fiscal position may not reflect lingering uncertainty about the future stance of fiscal policy, or institutional changes—such as eliminating central bank financing to the government—may have eased concerns about the risk of monetizing large fiscal imbalances.

Table 5.

Deposit Dollarization--Results of Cross Country Regressions 1/

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Sources: Data sources, variable definitions and estimation methodology are presented in Appendices 1 and 2.

P values are presented in parentheses.

In Equations 2 through 5, the coefficients on the indicators of institutional quality are statistically significant and have the correct sign in the full sample, which includes OECD countries.6 Looking at indicators of institutional quality developed by the World Bank, there is no significant difference between the quality of institutions in Latin America and Asia, Africa, or the transition economies. However, OECD countries clearly have much stronger institutions than developing countries. When OECD countries are excluded from the sample, the coefficients on the institutional variables are no longer statistically significant (Equations 6–9). This result might suggest that significant gains in institutional quality are required to bolster confidence and discourage dollarization.

We tested whether FD was higher in countries that experienced so-called freefall events during the 1980s. Equation 10 includes a dummy variable for those countries, and the results suggest that this factor does not explain differences in FD across countries.

We tried to assess how quickly these factors affect the level of dollarization by estimating these equations using a panel data set with a lagged dependent variable (Table 6). These equations were estimated using the two-step system GMM method developed by Blundell and Bond (1998).7 Equation 11 suggests a high degree of persistence to dollarization, as the coefficient on the lagged dollarization ratio is quite high at 0.94. The MVP has a statistically significant effect on dollarization, although relatively small in the near term, as a 10 percent decline in the MVP would lead to just a 0.3 percent decline in financial dollarization after one year. The longer term effect is much larger—and similar to the elasticity estimated in the cross country regressions—with a 10 percent decline in the MVP leading to a 6 percent decline in deposit dollarization. Inflation and the nominal rate of depreciation have a statistically significant but small impact on dollarization, while the central government deficit has no significant impact on dollarization (Equations 11–13).8 Equations 14 through 18 suggest that none of the measures of institutional quality or political stability—apart from the quality of the bureaucracy—have a significant effect on deposit dollarization, possibly reflecting the fact that there is insufficient variation in these variables over time.

Table 6.

Deposit Dollarization--Results of Panel Data Regressions 1/

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Sources: Data sources, variable definitions and estimation methodology are presented in Appendices I and II.

P values are presented in parantheses.

There is some evidence that the persistence of FD is higher in Latin America and in highly dollarized countries (with dollarization ratios above 40 percent). Equation 19 includes an interactive dummy variable for Latin America on the coefficient for the lagged dependent variable and for the MVP. The results indicate that persistence is much lower outside of Latin America, as the coefficient on the lagged dependent variable declines to 0.72 for these countries. The coefficient on the MVP is considerably higher for countries outside Latin America. Equation 20 includes a similar interactive dummy variable for the lagged dependent variable and the MVP but this time for highly dollarized countries, and the results show that persistence is higher, and the effect of the MVP is lower, in these countries.

IV. The Role of Credit Risk

Ize and Powell (2004) and Ize (2005) broaden the explanation of FD to include credit risk arising from shift in interest rates or exchange rates. They emphasize the role of expected bankruptcy costs—which are often high in many developing countries because of non-transparent accounting and lengthy and at times unreliable judicial proceedings. From the creditors’ perspective, the value of claims and collateral in local currency can also be diluted by surprise inflation. These authors show that economies settle into equilibria using the currency or mix of currencies that limit expected bankruptcy costs. Ize (2005) shows that equilibria with high FD are possible with an inflexible and asymmetric exchange rate policy, prudential regulations that encourage moral hazard and strong concerns about financial stress arising from a currency mismatch.9 In such equilibria, these variables are interdependent, and causality is difficult to identify. For example, limited exchange rate flexibility can both perpetuate as well as result from high FD.

The exchange rate policy of central banks in many developing countries may encourage dollarization by limiting exchange rate flexibility, which reduces the risk of holding foreign currency assets and of lending in foreign currency to all sectors, including non-tradable. For this group of countries and time period, we calculated the Calvo-Reinhardt index of fear of floating, which measures the variability of the rate of depreciation in the nominal exchange rate relative to the sum of the variability of net international reserves and the variability of short-term interest rates. (Table 7). This index ranges from zero in the case of an exchange rate peg to infinity in the case of full exchange rate flexibility. According to this index, the dollarized Latin American countries tended to have significantly less exchange rate flexibility in the period 1990–2004 than the countries in the region that have avoided significant dollarization. However, there is considerable variation among these countries, with Bolivia and Honduras showing similar degrees of flexibility as Guatemala and Mexico over this period.

Table 7.

Latin America: Indicators of Exchange Rate Policy

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Sources: Authors’ estimates.

Average of Calvo-Reinhart index for 1990-2004.

Average for 1990-2004.

Foreign currency deposits as share of total deposits for 2004.

An asymmetric exchange rate policy—one that allows for some nominal currency depreciation but tends to resist nominal currency appreciation—can provide a one-way bet for holding foreign currency deposits and encourage dollarization, especially if combined with limited exchange rate flexibility. With this type of exchange rate policy, residents would preserve their purchasing power in local currency by holding foreign currency assets, which would benefit from higher average returns as well as lower risk.

We looked at several measures of the asymmetry of exchange rate policy. First we constructed an index of bias in exchange rate policy for the period 1990–2004 by assigning a value of -1 in months of currency appreciation and 1 in months of currency depreciation, and then finding the average for the year.10 Values of this index close to-1 indicate a bias towards currency depreciation, while a value close to -1 suggests a bias in the other direction. The results indicate that the highly dollarized Latin American countries, especially Bolivia, Nicaragua, and Costa Rica, have had a stronger bias towards nominal currency depreciations than the other countries in the region.

Asymmetry of exchange rate policy could also refer to infrequent but sizable currency depreciations. For this reason, we also estimated the skewness of the distribution of monthly currency depreciations for two periods—1990–2001 and 1980–89. According to this measure, the more positive the degree of skewness, the greater the bias towards currency depreciations; more negative degrees of skewness indicate a bias towards currency appreciation. For the period 1990–2001, we found that there were no noticeable differences in this measure of asymmetry between highly and less dollarized countries, as both groups of countries had the same average degree of skewness over this time period. However, these averages mask considerable variation over time and across countries.

Prudential guidelines, such as capital adequacy requirements or deposit insurance, can encourage banks to engage in excessive foreign currency lending. These guidelines may not force creditors and borrowers to internalize the true costs of loans in foreign currency, which should include a premium for currency risk. The highly dollarized countries in Latin America tend to have prudential requirements that are largely neutral with respect to currency denomination (Table 8). Honduras is the only country that limits lending in foreign currency—both overall and to non-exporting clients. Bolivia, Honduras, Peru, and Paraguay apply higher reserve or liquid asset requirements on foreign currency deposits. All the highly dollarized countries in the region apply the same capital adequacy requirement to foreign and local currency assets and extend the same deposit insurance coverage to all deposits, regardless of currency denomination. These countries limit banks’ net position in foreign exchange, and restrictions on the net long positions in foreign currency might create an incentive to onlend foreign currency deposits.

Table 8.

Risk Management Arrangements in Selected Highly Dollarized Economies, 2004

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Sources: Singh et. al. (2005); and Fund staff.1/ As percent of total risk-weighted assets, with some adjustments.

Banks can lend only 48 percent of foreign currency deposits (33 percent to exporters and 15 percent to other clients).

The authorities plan to issue a regulation setting a higher capital requirement for foreign currency loans.

Countries with high FD face the potential for financial stress arising from sizable currency mismatches—liabilities in foreign currency that are not fully backed by assets or income streams also in foreign currency. This mismatch can make unwinding dollarization more risky and costly, especially if this happens in the context of a real exchange rate depreciation that could impose large losses on banks. Banks in highly dollarized countries often lend in foreign currency to many different sectors, including construction, wholesale and retail, trade and mortgages (Figure 2). In Costa Rica—where foreign currency loans accounted for about two-thirds of total loans in 2004—loans to these sectors account for well over half of total loans in foreign currency. This most likely reflects confidence in the stability of Costa Rica’s real exchange rate. Moreover, lending in foreign currency for mortgages adds a political economy dimension to exchange rate policy, as governments would come under strong pressure for a bail out if homeowners ran into difficulties in paying their mortgages after a sharp real depreciation. A similar pattern of lending occurs in Honduras and Peru.

Figure 2.
Figure 2.

Sectoral Composition of Commercial Bank Loans

(In percent)

Citation: IMF Working Papers 2006, 007; 10.5089/9781451862676.001.A001

The balance sheets of nonfinancial corporations also show a similar pattern. In 2001, a large share of the total liabilities of the corporate sector in Argentina, Bolivia, Costa Rica, Peru, and Uruguay were in foreign currency, ranging from 52 percent in Bolivia to 78 percent in Uruguay (Table 9). These corporations appear to have been reacting in part to the high variability of domestic inflation. In addition, the Latin American countries that impose legal restrictions on dollarization, such as Colombia and Brazil, as well has having relatively stable domestic inflation, had relatively low levels of dollarization of corporate liabilities. The nonexporting sector in the highly dollarized countries also tended to have a relatively high share of dollarized liabilities to total liabilities. In Uruguay, for example, nonexporting firms had on average 78 percent of their loans denominated in foreign currency. Moreover, the corporations with higher liability dollarization tended to have large net short positions in foreign currency.

Table 9.

Corporate Sector Dollar-Denominated Liabilities, 2001

(In percent of total liabilities)

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Source: Inter-American Development Bank.

As a rough measure of the extent of currency mismatches, we looked at the share of a country’s foreign currency deposits in relation to its exports.11 This measure tries to capture the extent of the banking system’s vulnerability to losses from foreign exchange risk through its loan portfolio. In many dollarized countries, the level of foreign currency deposits in banks is similar to the level of foreign currency loans made by banks, because most countries impose limits on banks’ net foreign exchange positions. At the same time, foreign exchange earnings of bank clients should ultimately come from the country’s exports of goods and services. This measure is only moderately correlated with the foreign currency deposit ratio, with a correlation coefficient of 0.48. The countries with relatively high FD are fairly open to international trade, with exports of goods and services of about a third of GDP in the period 2000–04 (Table 10). However, foreign currency deposits in these countries averaged about 60 percent of GDP, or about twice export earnings. The less dollarized countries in the region had lower exports shares (about one-fourth of GDP) but also had much less FD, resulting in foreign currency deposits equivalent to about 10 percent of exports.

Table 10.

Latin America: Indicators of Currency Mismatch, 2000-2004

(In percent)

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Average for 2000-2004 of exports of goods and services in relation to GDP.

Foreign currency deposits as share of total deposits. Average for 2000-04.

Foreign currency deposits as share of exports of goods and services.

A. Empirical Results

We estimated cross section and panel data regressions that include the variables for the degree of exchange rate flexibility, bias of exchange rate policy and for the extent of currency mismatch, as well as the MVP and the rate of inflation (Table 11).12 In equation 20, the coefficients on the MVP, inflation, restrictions on FD, the bias towards currency depreciation and currency mismatches are statistically significant. The degree of exchange rate flexibility is no longer statistically significant, possibly because its effects are captured by the MVP. Equation 21 looks at the evolution of FD over time, and uses the lagged values of these variables to minimize the endogeneity problem. This equation shows that FD is associated with the bias towards currency depreciation, the currency mismatch as well as inflation and the MVP, but the degree of exchange rate flexibility is not statistically significant. Interestingly, the central government balance now becomes statistically significant, with larger surpluses contributing to lower FD. The measures of the degree of skewness of the distribution of currency depreciations for 1990–2001 and 1980–89 were not statistically significant in either equation, probably because of the significant variation in the skewness measure across countries and over time. We must caution that—given the interdependency among these variables—these results point to a statistically significant association without necessarily establishing a causal relationship.

Table 11.

Deposit Dollarization--Effect of Exchange Rate Policy 1/

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Sources: Data sources, variable definitions and estimation methodology are presented in Appendices I and II.

P values are presented in parentheses.

There appear to be two equations that provide good explanations of FD—equation 11 with a lagged dependent variable, the MVP and inflation and Equation 21 with the MVP, inflation, exchange rate flexibility, central government balance, asymmetry and the currency mismatch. The out-of-sample forecasts for the period 2002–04 suggests that both models capture the main trends in FD in some of the highly dollarized countries in the region (Figure 3). Both models correctly point to declines in FD in Bolivia, Nicaragua, Peru, and Uruguay and to broadly stable FD in the Dominican Republic and Honduras. However, the models miss the rise in FD in Costa Rica and the sharp drop in FD in Paraguay in 2004.

Figure 3.
Figure 3.

Deposit Dollarization: Out of Sample Forecast

Citation: IMF Working Papers 2006, 007; 10.5089/9781451862676.001.A001

Source: Authors’ calculation.

V. Concluding Remarks

These results provide evidence that financial dollarization (FD) is a rational response to uncertainty about inflation. FD tends to remain high in countries with unstable and high domestic inflation and with institutions that undermine confidence in the outlook for inflation. The evidence on the role of the central government balance is mixed, although equation (21) supports the view that larger fiscal surpluses do help reduce FD. Legal restrictions may have been effective in preventing FD, most likely in countries with low inflation or effective indexation mechanisms to preserve purchasing power in local currency. In countries that already have high FD, imposing such restrictions could create strong incentives to place financial savings offshore, leading to a costly economic adjustment. The study also finds that an exchange rate policy that is biased towards depreciation is associated with high FD, although the skewness measure of asymmetry is not statistically significant. The degree of exchange rate flexibility probably also matters, but these effects appears to be captured by the minimum variance portfolio (MVP). This exchange rate policy cuts the risk of lending and saving in foreign currency and tends to enhance the rate of return on foreign currency assets. Countries with high FD also have significant currency mismatches, which are encouraged by exchange rate policy as well as prudential regulations that are largely currency neutral.

The results also point to strong persistence in FD, with a high and statistically significant coefficient on the lagged dependent variable. However, this persistence does not appear to reflect the legacy of high inflation in the 1980s, as the freefall indicator and the skewness of exchange rate policy during the 1980s do not appear to have a significant effect on FD. The persistence could reflect the effect of currency mismatches and policies—such as exchange rate policy and prudential regulations—that create incentives for residents to continue holding foreign currency deposits. At the same time, the extent of FD probably also explains currency mismatches and imposes limits on exchange rate policy, and the causality implied by the econometric results needs to be interpreted with caution. But this is precisely the point of the explanation of dollarization in Ize (2005)—economies with highly variable inflation and financial market imperfections can find themselves locked into an equilibrium with high FD because of the very high economic costs of moving to a low dollarization equilibrium.

These results suggest that countries with significant FD should strive to encourage the use of domestic currency by maintaining macroeconomic stability, with low and stable inflation; allowing for more exchange rate flexibility and less bias towards depreciation; and strengthening institutions to improve confidence in the sustainability of economic policies. Highly dollarized countries should adapt their prudential regulations to ensure that creditors and debtors internalize the costs associated with FD. At the same time, restoring confidence in the domestic currency may take many years of sound policies and may require a careful approach to limit the transition costs of returning to a low dollarization equilibrium.

Financial Dollarization in Latin America
Author: Mr. Robert Rennhack and Mr. Masahiro Nozaki