Sovereign Debt Restructuring and Growth
  • 1 https://isni.org/isni/0000000404811396, International Monetary Fund

Contributor Notes

This paper studies the effect of sovereign debt restructurings with external private creditors on growth during the period 1970-2010. We find that there are bad and good (or not so bad) debt restructurings for growth. While growth generally declines in the aftermath of a sovereign debt restructuring, agreements that allow countries to exit a default spell (final restructurings) are associated with improving growth. The impact can be significant. In general, three years after restructuring, growth is about 5 percent lower compared to countries that did not face restructuring over the same period. The exception is for final restructurings, which result in positive growth in the years immediately after the restructuring. Final restructurings tend to be better for growth because they reduce countries’ debt, with the strongest effect for countries that exit restructurings with relatively low debt levels.

Abstract

This paper studies the effect of sovereign debt restructurings with external private creditors on growth during the period 1970-2010. We find that there are bad and good (or not so bad) debt restructurings for growth. While growth generally declines in the aftermath of a sovereign debt restructuring, agreements that allow countries to exit a default spell (final restructurings) are associated with improving growth. The impact can be significant. In general, three years after restructuring, growth is about 5 percent lower compared to countries that did not face restructuring over the same period. The exception is for final restructurings, which result in positive growth in the years immediately after the restructuring. Final restructurings tend to be better for growth because they reduce countries’ debt, with the strongest effect for countries that exit restructurings with relatively low debt levels.

I. Introduction

Since the 2008 global financial crisis, there has been a wave of sovereign debt defaults and restructurings in both advanced and emerging market economies. In the seven years after the beginning of the crisis, eleven countries have defaulted and restructured their sovereign debt with private creditors, including Greece, which in 2012 had the largest sovereign debt restructuring in history.1

While most of these restructurings occurred after prolonged periods of recession or subdued growth, evidence on the net impact of sovereign debt restructurings on growth performance is ambiguous. The literature has focused on specific channels through which debt restructurings can be beneficial or costly to economic activity. Theory suggests that a default or restructuring can cause reputational damage and trigger sanctions and output losses (e.g., Eaton and Gersovitz 1981, Bulow and Rogoff 1989, Cole and Kehoe 1998, Aguiar and Gopinath 2006, Arellano 2008). Empirical evidence supports these conclusions and suggests that sovereign debt relief is associated with exclusion from capital markets and higher spreads the larger the debt relief received (Cruces and Trebesch 2013; Dias et al. 2012). However, for countries with large debt stocks, debt relief could be beneficial for growth as it reduces future debt payments and the implicit tax on domestic investment (Krugman 1988; Sachs 1989; Obstfeld and Rogoff 1996; Aguiar et al. 2009). Indeed, recent empirical evidence suggests that the economic landscape of debtor countries improves after debt relief operations if restructurings involve debt write-offs (Reinhart and Trebesch, 2014, 2016). In the end, the overall growth effect of restructurings remains an empirical question.

In this paper, we empirically assess how growth performs in the aftermath of sovereign debt restructurings with external private creditors arising after default and investigate causal linkages between the two.2 A large literature focuses on growth performance around default episodes, showing that defaults tend to happen at the trough of a recession. 3 In this paper, we focus instead on growth after restructuring, an issue that has so far received much less attention in the literature. 4

In examining these issues, we address two main methodological challenges. First, the timing of the debt restructuring can be endogenous, creating a typical reverse causality problem. Specifically, countries could renegotiate their debt only after their economy starts to recover (e.g., Benjamin and Wright 2009). Similarly, the size of debt relief could be endogenous to expected growth, in that debt relief can depend on current and expected macroeconomic performance. Second, when examining the effect of restructuring on growth, we compare countries that did restructure with countries that did not. In doing so, however, we have to consider that countries that defaulted and restructured could be different from those that never did, giving rise to potential selection bias problems.

To address the potential endogeneity of the timing of the restructuring, we use an instrumental variable (IV) approach and further test our results using a difference-in-difference specification. We apply the difference-in-difference specification to two subsamples of restructuring episodes for which the timing of the restructuring is exogenous to a certain extent. The first subsample is constituted by Brady Bond restructurings, which were part of a centrally debt relief initiative orchestrated by the US Treasury. However, this subsample only covers 13 restructuring episodes, making it difficult to derive general conclusions. To expand the set of episodes under analysis, the second subsample includes sovereign debt restructurings following agreements with the Paris Club, which typically requires debtor countries to reach similar restructuring agreements with private sector creditors. To control for possible selection biases, we employ nonparametric propensity scoring matching methods and test our results using different control groups. These approaches alleviate potential endogeneity issues and together provide a more reliable framework for establishing causality. We use a similar approach to address possible endogeneity issues related to the size of debt relief.

Another challenge in analyzing growth performance around debt restructuring episodes is the role of omitted variables. To address this issue, we include country-fixed effects to capture countries’ time-invariant features, and global trends to capture time-variant common trends that affect the whole sample. We also account for countries’ time-variant variables, including banking and currency crises, debt stocks, and changes in the real effective exchange rate (REER).

Our econometric analysis points to a causal link from external debt restructuring to growth. We find that there are bad and good (or not so bad) debt restructurings for growth. Growth generally declines following a debt restructuring operation with one important caveat: restructurings that allow countries to exit a default spell (i.e., final restructurings) are associated with improvements in growth performance. The impact can be significant. In general, three years after restructuring, growth is about 5 percent lower than in countries that did not restructure over the same period. The exception is for final restructurings, for which growth is slightly positive, although the effect fades away over time.

One critical question is why final restructurings are “not so bad” for growth. We find that final restructurings are good for growth because they reduce countries’ debt (in net present value (NPV) terms), with the effect depending on the post-restructuring level of debt. In particular, final debt relief has a positive effect on growth when it allows the country to exit the restructuring with relatively low debt ratios.

These findings suggest that there is a fundamental difference between addressing debt sustainability issues and countries’ debt overhang. A restructuring can be successful, allowing a country to exit default and address sustainability issues, but to be good for growth, it has to address the country’s debt overhang problem. This may imply larger haircuts than those required to re-establish debt sustainability.

The remainder of the paper is organized as follows. In Section II, we present an overview of the recent literature on macroeconomic performance around sovereign debt restructurings. Section III presents our data and examines stylized facts about growth in the aftermath of debt relief. Section IV presents the methodology and results of our econometric analysis. Section V concludes and discusses avenues for future research.

II. Sovereign Debt Restructurings and Growth

Economic theory is ambiguous as to whether sovereign debt restructurings are beneficial or costly for macroeconomic performance of debtor countries. Several recent empirical studies have looked at both the impact of restructurings on specific variables that can affect macroeconomic performance, as well as directly at the relationship between restructuring and growth.

The majority of the empirical literature on debt restructuring has focused on the impact of restructurings on variables such as market access and borrowing costs that may affect growth, largely finding negative effects. In their seminal paper on sovereign debt restructurings with external private creditors, Cruces and Trebesch (2013) find that restructurings involving higher haircuts, that is, higher reductions in the NPV of debt are associated with significantly higher subsequent bond yield spreads and longer periods of capital market exclusion. They show that a 40 percent present value haircut is associated with 270 basis points higher EMBI spreads in the first year after restructuring and 127 basis points higher in years 4-5.5 Using the same dataset, Dias et al. (2012) find that countries with above-median haircuts (in NPV terms) experience a median exclusion from capital markets of eight years, whereas countries that inflict smaller haircuts on private investors experience a median exclusion from capital markets of only three years. Both studies focus on stylized facts and do not investigate whether the links between restructurings and market access are due to specific factors, such as punishment or reputational effects.

The evidence seems more positive when looking at possible wealth effects from debt restructuring. Arslanalp and Henry (2005) study stock market performance in the 12-month run up to the Brady Plan debt restructuring announcements and find that the real dollar value of the stock markets rose by 60 percent, on average, compared to a control group that saw their stock markets increase by only 4.8 percent.6

A few recent studies, focusing on macro-level data, find a positive relationship between debt restructuring and growth. Das et al. (2012) look at a sample of 44 final restructurings with bank and bondholders since 1980, finding that median real GDP growth increases to 4-5 percent in the 3-years following a final debt restructuring agreement compared to 1.5 percent in the 3-years prior to reaching an agreement. Similarly, Trebesch and Zabel (2014) focus on a smaller set of 30 default episodes and find that in the 5-years after concluding a final debt restructuring, countries, on average, experience per capita GDP growth of more than 10 percent. Examining the experience of the 16 Brady countries, Arslanalp and Henry (2005) find that their real per capita GDP grew faster in the 5-years after announcing a Brady Plan deal compared to a control group. While the size of the haircut does not appear to make a difference for postrestructuring growth performance (Trebesch and Zabel 2014), it does so if a restructuring is preemptive (i.e., takes place prior to a payment default). Asonuma and Trebesch (2016) look at restructuring episodes with external private creditors and find that for preemptive restructurings, growth rebounds quickly after the restructuring announcement. For other restructurings, their study suggests that growth remains below-trend for at least three years after default.7 While their underlying model tries to explain why countries may or may not select a preemptive restructuring, it does not explain why growth performance differs with the type of restructuring.

Most empirical studies have focused on stylized facts and correlations and do not address the issue of causal links. One recent attempt to address this issue is Reinhart and Trebesch (2014, 2016) who explore linkages between restructuring and growth both for the 1920s and 1930s sovereign debt restructurings (with official creditors) and for those in the 1980s and 1990s (with external private creditors). For restructurings with private creditors, they find that the Brady debt relief operation translated into 3 percentage points higher real per capita GDP growth compared to a control group of noncrisis emerging markets (EM). However, they find no clear causality for the restructurings performed under the Baker initiative. Since a major difference between the Baker and the Brady initiatives is that the latter involved large haircuts and face-value reductions, they take this evidence as suggestive that growth picks up only after restructurings carrying deep debt relief involving face-value debt reductions. However, they find no correlation between the magnitude of debt relief and economic performance post-crisis.

While the direction of causality between sovereign debt restructuring and growth remains ambiguous, understanding it is important for policymakers. From a policy perspective, it makes a difference whether debt restructuring leads to better growth performance, or whether a country can more easily restructure its public debt when growth prospects improve. This paper presents a systematic analysis to establish a causal relation from restructuring to growth. In our analysis, we use all restructuring episodes with external private creditors that occurred between 1970 and 2010 for which information is available. Our findings suggest that restructurings entailing significant debt reductions have a positive effect on growth.

III. Data, Definitions and Stylized Facts

In this section, we present our data and definitions and provide some stylized facts about sovereign debt restructurings and growth. We rely on Cruces and Trebesch’s (2013) database of sovereign debt restructurings with external private creditors (both bank loans and bonds), to which we add information on default timing, annual growth performance, public debt developments, and a host of other macroeconomic variables around both debt defaults and restructuring episodes (see Appendix 1 for the complete list of variables and sources).

Our focus on restructurings with external private creditors is primarily driven by data constraints. These restructurings mainly involve foreign currency denominated debt held by external creditors.8 Although Reinhart and Rogoff (2009) and Standard and Poor’s (2006) list domestic debt defaults, to our knowledge, no comprehensive database of domestic debt restructuring terms exists. In addition, we do not assess the impact of restructurings with official creditors because they are not directly connected to the ability of a country to access credit markets. Moreover, they differ significantly from private sector restructurings, tending to address only debt falling due during a specific time period and typically occur under an IMF program. Our database provides detailed debt restructuring and macroeconomic information on each individual restructuring and default episode that occurred between 1970 and 2010 for which data are available.

We link information on defaults and restructurings and focus on restructuring episodes that occur during default.9 To identify default episodes, we follow Standard and Poor’s (2010) definition of default (see Appendix I).10 One advantage of linking information on default and restructuring is the ability to determine if multiple restructurings are undertaken within a single default spell and to isolate the “final” restructuring, that is, the restructuring that permits a country to emerge from default (Reinhart and Trebesch 2016). However, one problem in linking default and restructuring episodes is that declaring the end of a default spell and completion of debt restructuring involves judgment. Unlike corporate debt restructurings undertaken in the US, where all obligations are typically addressed in bankruptcy reorganization, sovereign debt restructurings often involve holdouts or the inability to contact all debt holders (Standard and Poor’s, 2010). Moreover, there may be multiple restructurings undertaken within a single default spell, making it difficult to assess in real time whether a restructuring will result in the end of the default spell. For our purposes, we use information from Standard and Poor’s to identify the end of a default spell, identifying the final restructuring as the restructuring after which the default spell ends (see Appendix II).11

Over the period 1970-2010, there have been 86 default episodes in 67 countries, which involved 168 restructuring events.12 This implies that the average default episode requires almost two restructuring events until resolution. On average, debt restructuring occurs several years after the start of the default period. The average spell between the start of a default episode and the first restructuring event is 4.9 years (with a median of 3 years). The lag between the start of the default and the final debt restructuring event (the restructurings after which countries exit default) rises to 7.4 years (with a median of 5.5 years) (Table 1).

Table 1.

Summary Statistics, 1970-2010

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Source: Cruces and Trebesch (2013), and authors’ calculations.

Restructurings usually carry significant haircuts, but provide somewhat limited debt reduction. 13 On average, a debt restructuring results in a 38.0 percent haircut (median 33.4 percent), covering about 11.2 percent of GDP (median 5.8 percent of GDP), and, on average, delivers an NPV debt reduction14 of 4.6 percent of GDP and 5.3 percent of total (domestic and external) public debt outstanding before the restructuring. However, final restructurings appear to deliver more substantial debt relief. For final restructurings, the haircut size is substantially larger (47.3 percent, on average) than for non-final restructurings (28.3 percent, on average) and cover 13.5 percent of GDP of debt. They often involve face value reductions (49 of the 86 final restructurings), delivering an average NPV debt reduction of 6.7 percent of GDP and 7.7 percent of debt outstanding before the restructuring.

Preliminary analysis

Is GDP growth performance different after sovereign debt restructuring episodes? To address this question, we start by examining the evolution of per capita GDP following debt-restructuring episodes. At this stage, our analysis is purely descriptive, focusing on simple correlations.

A simple starting point is to look at the average per capita GDP growth rate around the date of a restructuring. We look at both final restructurings that allow the borrower country to exit from a default spell, as well as the full set of restructurings (Figure 1). It is worth noting that while it is relatively straightforward to identify final restructurings ex-post, in real time, it is not possible to know whether a restructuring proposal will succeed. Following Reinhart and Trebesch (2016), we look at average growth in the five years before and after the restructuring date t. Average per capita GDP growth shows a relatively flat path before the restructuring (through t) and a substantial positive trend thereafter (cumulative growth is 7 percent from t to t+5). The paths of final and all restructurings after time t show no significant differences. These patterns seem to suggest that restructuring episodes are associated with positive growth performance in the aftermath of the restructuring.

Figure 1.
Figure 1.

Average Per Capita Real GDP around Sovereign Debt Restructuring Episodes

Citation: IMF Working Papers 2016, 147; 10.5089/9781498382236.001.A001

Note: Per capita real GDP is normalized to 1 at the time of restructuring t-0.

An alternative and more rigorous approach to describe GDP growth around restructurings is to estimate how the conditional expectation of GDP growth depends on the temporal distance from the restructuring episode relative to some baseline benchmark. This approach has the advantage of isolating the dynamics related to restructurings from normal GDP trends and handling multiple restructuring events occurring within the time window under consideration (in our case, 11 years). Following Gourinchas and Obstfeld (2012), we consider the following fixed effects panel specification:

yit=αi+βsδis+ϵit(1)

In equation (1), yit denotes per capita real GDP growth rate in country i at time t, δis is a dummy variable equal to 1 when country i is s periods away from restructuring in year t and zero otherwise. We set the event window around a restructuring event to 11 years (5 years before and 5 years after, −5 ≤ s ≤ 5) so as to capture relatively slow changes. The regression also allows for country fixed effect αi. In this equation, the coefficient βs, the parameter of interest, measures the conditional effect of restructuring on per capita growth throughout the event window −5 ≤ s ≤ 5 relative to “tranquil” times. Tranquil times are implicitly defined as the country-year observations that do not fall within any restructuring event window. This is our benchmark. In our case, the benchmark includes the broader sample of 187 countries for which data are available. The error term, εit, captures all remaining variation in the realization of per capita real GDP growth.

Based on the above specification, per capita GDP level (Figure 2) tends to fall significantly in the years preceding the restructuring episode, while remaining rather flat in the aftermath of restructurings relative to tranquil times. This pattern clearly differs from the pattern emerging from looking at average growth rates.

Figure 2.
Figure 2.

Conditional Expectation Relative to “Tranquil Times” of Per Capita Real GDP around Sovereign Debt Restructuring Episodes

Citation: IMF Working Papers 2016, 147; 10.5089/9781498382236.001.A001

Note: The level of GDP is normalized to one in the year of restructuring t-0 and the real GDP level is constructed by using the point estimates of coefficients βs-5 to βs+5 from Equation (1). These coefficients represent the average growth of countries that restructured in difference from countries that did not for various years preceding and following the restructuring episode.

The different patterns between average growth and conditional growth expectations around sovereign debt restructurings episodes cast doubts on whether the pickup in average growth after restructuring shown in Figure 1 has any statistical significance. In addition, it points to possible endogeneity problems, as growth appears to pick up ahead of the restructuring event and not afterward. Finally, it may well be that the conditional expectation of GDP growth depends on the exact definition of tranquil times, i.e., on how the control group is defined. We investigate these issues in the following sections.

IV. The Aftermath of Sovereign Debt Restructuring: Econometric Analysis

In this section, we examine causality links between sovereign debt restructurings and growth. In examining these links, two main challenges arise. The first is a potential endogeneity or reverse causality problem in that the timing of restructurings could be endogenous to the growth prospects of the country. Recent theoretical work by Benjamin and Wright (2009) and others (e.g., Bi, 2008) argues that sovereign and creditors may be more willing to negotiate a restructuring when growth recovers, as resources to share are larger. In this case, any growth pick-up around restructuring episodes may not be the outcome of the restructuring, but rather leads to the restructuring. Similarly, the size of debt relief could be endogenous to expected growth. For instance, in most IMF programs involving a debt restructuring, the size of debt relief depends on the expected growth performance (given a definition of debt sustainability). The second challenge is a potential selection bias problem. Countries that default and restructure their debt may be different from countries that do not restructure at all. This issue points to the problem of identifying the correct control group for comparisons with countries that have restructured. Should this group include only countries that have restructured or should it include countries that never restructured?

To address these challenges, we examine the relationship between various types of restructurings and growth by running OLS regressions with lagged variables, instrumental variable regressions, difference-in-difference specification, and scoring method regressions. Once the causality link is clarified, in the next section we assess whether the size of the haircut (or, more generally, debt relief) matters as well. That is, if larger haircuts - other things equal - lead to better growth performance (Section V).

A. Methodology

To examine the relationship between sovereign debt restructurings and GDP growth, we run yearly growth panel regressions. The dependent variable is per capita GDP growth yi,t, where i refers to the country and t to the period. We consider several features of debt’ restructurings using dummy variables and various measures of debt relief. Since our focus is on short-term growth dynamics around restructuring episodes, we also account for the possible role of omitted variables by controlling for country specific time-invariant and time-variant factors that could affect growth, as well as for common shocks across countries. Our empirical model is as follows:

yi,t+1=c+βrestrHCi,t+γi+βdom(Xi,t3)+βext[Zt+1](2)

Equation (2) shows our baseline regression. The coefficient yi, represents country-specific fixed effects, which control for all time-invariant country specific factors affecting both GDP growth and restructurings. By including country fixed effects, our regression explains growth in terms of deviation from each country mean rather than focusing on long-run growth. HCit is a dummy for restructuring. The vector Zt+1 includes global real GDP growth and the U.S. real interest rate, controlling for common time-variant shocks across countries. To account for the remaining country-specific time-variant shocks, the vector Xi,jt→t-3 contains lagged variables that capture the most common shocks to short-term cyclical growth. Using these variables, we attempt to remove the effect of pre-existing economic conditions from our coefficient estimates. In particular, we control for the output gap, which captures the business cycle; the preexisting debt level; the exchange rate (lagged up to three periods) and the presence of banking and currency crises (in the form of dummy variables), which account for other channels at work during public debt crises.15 We initially run our model using standard OLS estimators, covering 65 countries for which data are available over the period 1970-2010.16

An important issue to account for in equation (2) is whether growth after restructuring depend on the distance of the restructuring from default. To control for this possibility, equation (2) is modified by adding a variable distance from default, which reports how many years have lapsed since default, while omitting the HC variable. Since the new variable turns out to be not significant, we use the basic model in our regressions, without further considering the role of distance from default.

Using lagged variables may not be sufficient to rule out reverse causality. Therefore, we estimate an instrumented version of model (2). Specifically, we instrument the restructuring dummy HCi,t as a way to confirm that restructuring is indeed exogenous to growth (see Section IV.B). As instrument, we use the probability that a restructuring occurs in any given year post default. We proxy this probability using the distribution over time of restructurings after default in the whole sample of episodes that we have.

To further test the robustness of our results, we run difference-in-difference regressions (see Section IV.C). The main challenge in performing this analysis is to identify restructuring events whose timing is not endogenous to the economic situation of crisis countries. We use the Brady plan agreements of the 1990s. In addition, we look at restructurings with private creditors that followed official sector Paris Club restructurings.17 In both cases, the timing of the private sector restructurings is not obviously dependent on the growth performance of the debtor country. The case of the Brady initiative can be seen as a centrally orchestrated debt restructuring applied across a number of debtor countries, irrespective of their individual economic circumstances. In the case of Paris Club restructurings, restructurings with private creditors were prompted by the equal treatment clause required under such deals. In this sense, Paris Club restructurings can be taken as external events that prompt a restructuring with private creditors. As the timing of Paris Club restructurings is likely to be independent of the specific growth performance of the debtor country (if anything, it may be related to negative shocks to the debtor country), the timing of the restructuring with private creditors in each country can also be seen as exogenous to the country growth performance. Finally, to address selection bias and control group issues, we complement our standard OLS regressions with nonparametric propensity score matching methods (MM). The MM (see Rosenbaum and Rubin, 1983) relies on a probit regression for the probability of restructuring to identify a group of countries (the control group) that have similar predicted probability of restructuring as the countries that restructured (treated group) but never did. A difference-in-difference estimator is then used to assess the differential effect of countries that restructured compared with those that did not.

Further robustness checks include running our basic model using different country samples, hence implicitly looking at different control groups. In particular, we estimate our basic model using the widest possible set of countries for which data are available, irrespective of whether they restructured or not (overall 65 countries). We also restrict our sample to countries that have defaulted at least once, even if they have not restructured their debt (48 countries). In addition, we only consider countries that have restructured by looking at observations within an 11-year window around restructurings (i.e., five years before and after a restructuring for 38 countries).18

B. Results

We start our analysis with the specification of equation (2) to examine whether restructurings are correlated with GDP growth. In particular, we use OLS to regress the growth rate of per capita real GDP in year t+1, the year after the restructuring, on a dummy variable equal to one when a country has completed a restructuring deal at time t, and the set of controls. We use our full set of 65 countries over the period 1970-2010 for which data are available, covering both countries that have restructured and those that have not.

Results reported in Table 2 (column 1) show that the restructuring dummy is not significant, suggesting that, in line with our stylized facts, restructurings are not correlated with growth. The coefficients of the controls for domestic and external factors in equation (2) have the expected signs. The lagged debt to GDP ratio and banking and currency crises dummies are negatively correlated to growth, confirming established conclusions from a large empirical literature that both high public debt levels and banking and currency crises are detrimental to growth. Depreciation of the real effective exchange rate and large initial output gaps are associated with higher growth in the following year (a return to the trend effect). As expected, a higher US policy interest rate (a proxy for world interest rates) reduces domestic growth, while higher world growth improves domestic growth.

Table 2.

Baseline Regressions

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Note: In order to improve the probit regression for the MM, we widen the set of regressors included in the baseline regression by adding the following variables: deposit money banks assets-to-GDP (a measure of the size of the banking sector; the Levine Financial Development and Structure Database); change in sovereign yields; change in US interest rate; change in the gross financial system claims on central government (percent of GDP); and the ICRG measure of default expectations. Because not all these variables are available for all countries/times, the number of observations decline when introducing these additional variables.

When we look at the type of debt restructuring, however, we find that restructurings are, in general, bad for growth unless they allow a country to exit a default period (i.e., if they are final). Column (2) in Table 2 includes a dummy, equal to one if the restructuring is final. This dummy captures the marginal effect on growth of a final restructuring. Per capita GDP growth is 1.3 percent lower in the year following a restructuring compared with the benchmark sample including countries that have restructured and those that have not. However, final restructurings are associated with 0.8 percent positive GDP growth (the sum of the coefficients of the two dummies on all and final restructurings). To test that final restructurings are indeed different from non-final restructurings, we replace the final restructuring dummy with a nonfinal restructuring dummy and find that the coefficient is negative, indicating that non-final restructurings are significant and negatively correlated with GDP performance (results available on request). We also run an F test for the sum of the two dummy coefficients and find that the sum is statistically significant.

To address reverse causality issues, we instrument the key restructuring variables of our baseline regression (Table 2, column 3). Our choice of instrument for the restructuring dummy is the sample frequency (or number) of restructurings, given the distance from the year of default (Figure 3). We do the same for the final restructuring dummy, in this case using the distributions of final restructurings. Both instruments satisfy first stage regression requirements that instruments be correlated to the explanatory variables. First stage regressions have a high R-squared of 76-78 percent and satisfy standard tests. Specifically, the Anderson test (“canonical correlations”) rejects the null hypothesis of zero correlation between the instrument and the restructuring dummies. The Cragg-Donald test also supports strong correlation. The second stage regression delivers very similar results when using robust standard errors. Moreover, our instruments should not depend on any country-specific growth performance, as countries with the same duration from default to restructuring did not necessarily default at the same time. In other words, there is no concern that the instrument captures “contagion” effects (i.e., countries having defaulted at similar times).

Figure 3.
Figure 3.

Distribution of Frequency of Restructurings by Distance of Restructurings from Default

Citation: IMF Working Papers 2016, 147; 10.5089/9781498382236.001.A001

A possible issue with our instruments is that countries with better institutions could reach a restructuring deal faster than countries with dysfunctional institutions (see Trebesch 2010). In this case, if the level of institutional development is correlated with growth, there could potentially be a correlation between the sample distribution of the timing of restructuring and growth, as countries with better institutions could reach a deal sooner while, at the same time, having higher growth. If this were the case, our instrument would not be fully exogenous. To dispel doubts, we look at two widely used indices of institutional quality (government effectiveness and institutional constraints).19 Simple correlations between these indices and the duration of default spells to final restructurings is very low, suggesting that institutional development may not be relevant for the time of restructuring.20 In further support of this point, Figure 4 compares the average values of the two institutional indices and the average duration of default. It shows that, while the duration of default spells widens from the 1980s to the 1990s, the two measures of institutional quality remained flat. Not surprisingly, simple OLS regressions indicate that a one standard deviation improvement in government effectiveness (institutionalized constraints index) reduces (increase) the time until the final restructuring by only 0.7 months (0.1 months).21 As our measures of institutional quality matter little for the timing of restructuring, our instrument should be reasonably independent from growth, therefore serving our purposes well.22

Figure 4.
Figure 4.

Institutional Quality and Default Duration 1/

Citation: IMF Working Papers 2016, 147; 10.5089/9781498382236.001.A001

1/ The variable “default duration” is defined as the number of years from the start of the default to the final restructuring. The figure reports the average default duration in the year of the final restructuring. A different and declining path would emerge if we classify the events on the basis of the default and not the final restructuring year. All averages are over a five years.

Our IV regressions confirm that sovereign debt restructurings have a negative effect on growth, while final restructurings that allow a country to exit default are not bad for growth. The estimated coefficient for the restructuring dummy is negative and significant (Table 2, column 3) and growth in per capita GDP is 1.9 percent lower in the year following restructuring compared with our benchmark. However, final restructurings appear to be broadly neutral for growth (0.1 percent increase in GDP).

A second concern is the possibility of a selection bias and the choice of the benchmark. To reduce this concern, we complement our OLS and instrumental regressions with nonparametric propensity score matching methods (Table 2, column 5). We also restrict the sample to the 11-year window around restructurings, therefore considering only countries that have restructured (Table 2, column (4)). Similarly, we restrict the sample only to countries that have defaulted once since 1970 and obtain broadly similar results. All these methods confirm the positive differential effect of final restructurings of broadly the same magnitude.23

So far, we have considered the effect of restructuring on growth one year after the restructuring, but a more interesting question is whether such effects are persistent over time. To answer this question, in the spirit of the local projection methods in Jorda (2005), we run both our OLS and IV regressions using, as a dependent variable, cumulative per capita GDP growth up to five years after the restructuring date for our full sample (Table 3) and for the restricted sample of countries that have restructured (Table 4). We focus on a five-year window after restructuring as countries in our sample are characterized by substantial growth volatility that makes it difficult to identify any growth effect of restructuring over longer horizons. Results confirm that sovereign debt restructurings are in general negative for growth (with an average annual loss of 1.5 percent of GDP over a five-year period), while final restructurings are not so bad for growth (with an average annual increase of ¼ percent of GDP over a five-year period following the restructuring). However, the positive effect of final restructurings on growth fades away after about four years in the full sample OLS regression and after five years in the restricted sample. The IV regressions confirm these results, although in this case, the positive effect of final restructuring is much more short-lived (lasting only one year) in the full sample, and lasts three years in the restricted sample. However, even in this case, at the margin, a final restructuring has a much less negative impact of growth. Since the links between growth and debt restructuring cannot be accounted for by preexisting economic conditions in the restructuring country, our results suggest that final restructurings lead to higher growth, although the effect disappears over time.

Table 3.

Persistence of Growth Effects: Full Sample

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Table 4.

Persistence of Growth Effects: Restricted Sample 1/

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The restricted sample includes only countries that have restructured and covers observations within the 11-year window around restructurings (i.e. five years before and after a restructuring).

C. Robustness Checks

In this section, we further test our results on causality by performing an event study in the same spirit as Reinhart and Trebesch (2016). In particular, we restrict our attention to subsamples of restructuring episodes for which we can identify a centrally orchestrated debt relief event or an external trigger, independent of country-specific economic circumstances. In principle, this would make the timing of the restructuring exogenous to country growth performance. We focus on two events. First, we look at the Brady debt relief initiative introduced by the US Treasury in the early 1990s, involving sixteen countries. In an attempt to expand our robustness check to a larger subsample of restructurings, we look at cases of final restructurings with external private creditors that follow Paris Club debt reliefs. Paris Club debt relief includes an equal treatment clause that requires private sector creditors to follow suit and reach an arrangement in line with the official sector restructuring, triggering a restructuring with private creditors. In both instances, the timing of restructuring with private creditors (and in some instances, the amount of debt relief) can, to a large extent, be assumed as exogenous to the growth performance of the country involved.

Once the exogenous event is identified, we run a standard difference-in-difference regression of the following type:

yi,t+1=c+γi+β0dummytime+β1dummytimetXdummytreati,t+β1HCi,t+βdom[Xi,tt3]+βext[Zt+1](3)

In equation (3), we replace the previously used dummy for final restructurings with two new dummies. The first dummy takes the value of one after the treatment occurs (time dummy) and controls for common (to all countries) time effects in the ten years (f) following the common restructuring event. The second dummy is a cross-product dummy that takes the value one over the ten years we are interested in only for countries (i) that participated in the debt operation (time multiplied by treatment dummies). The coefficient of this cross dummy is the parameter of interest as it captures whether or not treated countries (i.e., those that restructured) recorded higher growth rates in the aftermath of the restructuring. To run regression (3), we need to make a choice about three issues: the timing of the common event, the treatment, and the control groups.24

In the case of the Brady Plan, we follow Reinhart and Trebesch (2016) and use the 1990 Mexico agreement as the treatment year (the first year with an actual Brady agreement) and limit our treatment group to the 13 Brady agreements that involved EM economies.25 Our baseline counterfactual includes our entire dataset (i.e., countries that defaulted or did not default in the 10 years after the Mexico deal for which we have data, 65 countries).

Difference-in-difference regressions for the Brady Plan cases support our earlier findings. The treatment coefficient of the multiplicative dummy in Table 5 (column (1)) is positive and significant, indicating that the Brady debt relief operation, on average, translated into 1.3 percentage points higher yearly growth for the 13 EM Brady countries over the ten following years, compared with the counterfactual. Our results are not affected qualitatively by the chosen counterfactual. They hold if we restrict our control group to EM that did not restructure over our period of interest (1990-2000), or to middle-income countries over the period 1980-2000 (i.e., 10 years before and after the first Brady event) (Table 5, column 2).

Table 5.

Brady Bonds Restructurings: Difference in Difference Regressions 1/

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The sample is restricted to middle-income countries over the period 1980-2000, i.e., 10 years before and after the first Brady event.

Finally, we expand our event study and explore whether final restructurings with private creditors preceded by Paris Club agreements have had a positive effect on growth. In equation (3), the cross dummy takes the value of one in the five (ten) years after a Paris Club agreement and if a final restructuring with private creditors is reached within the following three years (treat), and zero otherwise.26 In this case, the treatment year is the year of the Paris Club debt relief and varies across countries. The main advantage of looking at Paris Club debt reliefs is that our treated group expands significantly, covering 55 restructuring episodes over the period 1970-2010. In this case, we use as control groups both our full sample of countries and, as alternative, all countries that have had at least one Paris Club restructuring (417 cases) whether or not they are followed by a private sector deal (Table 6, Paris Club restricted sample). This latter control group allows us to compare growth after restructurings following Paris Club agreement with the performance of countries that share the same characteristic of having reached a Paris Club agreement over the sample period.

Table 6.

Paris Club and Private Sector Restructurings 1/

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Restricted sample includes countries with Paris Club deals over the period 1970-2010.

As in the Brady initiative, final restructurings preceded by Paris Club agreements have a positive and significant effect on growth (Table 6, columns 1-2), leading to about 1 percentage point, on average, higher annual growth in the five (and ten) years following the Paris Club agreement. Results remain substantially unchanged if we modify the control group, restricting it only to countries with Paris Club deals (Table 6, columns 3-4) and to countries that did not restructure over the period 1970-2010 (results not reported). The fit improves if we restrict the control group to middle-income countries and to the period 1980-2000 (i.e., 10 years before and after the relevant Paris Club event) (results available on request).

Both of our event studies, although using different subsets of restructuring episodes (13 Brady cases and 55 Paris Club agreement cases), support our earlier results that final restructurings have a positive effect on growth.

V. Debt Reduction, Debt Level and Growth Performance

While final restructurings allow countries to exit default and supposedly resolve debt sustainability issues, it is not clear whether this is sufficient to revive growth prospects, or whether specific features of these restructurings matter for growth. In this section, we explore features that could make final restructurings better for growth. In particular, we look at whether the size of debt relief and the post-restructuring debt level matter. While this is only one of the possible channels, the extensive debt overhang literature suggests that countries with public debt ratios above certain thresholds experience lower long-term growth performance than other countries.27

Final restructurings differ from non-final restructurings in two main respects. First, on average, countries enter final and non-final restructurings with similar debt-to-GDP ratios, but the debt ratio after final restructurings is, on average, lower than before restructuring, while the ratio increases in case of non-final restructurings (Figure 5). Second, and not surprisingly, final restructurings carry NPV debt relief about three times larger, on average, than non-final restructurings, often involving face value reductions (reductions in the nominal value of debt) (Figure 6). These features suggest that both debt relief and post restructuring debt levels may matter for final restructurings to have a positive effect on growth.

Figure 5.
Figure 5.

Pre- and Post-Restructuring Public Debt-to-GDP ratios

Citation: IMF Working Papers 2016, 147; 10.5089/9781498382236.001.A001

Figure 6.
Figure 6.

Debt Relief

Citation: IMF Working Papers 2016, 147; 10.5089/9781498382236.001.A001

To examine the role of debt relief on growth, we follow our approach above and estimate equation (2) where various measures of debt relief size replace the final restructuring dummy.28 Regression results suggest that larger debt relief leads to better post restructuring growth performance. Simple OLS regressions (Table III.1, columns 1-2) show that both measures of debt relief have a positive and significant coefficient, with a 10 percent NPV debt reduction associated with 1.2 percent higher growth (0.5 percent for 10 percent haircuts) in the first year after the restructuring. Instrumental regressions broadly confirm the OLS findings (Table III.1, columns 3-4). Finally, our event study strategy with a difference-in-difference specification also supports the finding that larger debt relief leads to better post restructuring growth performance (see Appendix III for detailed results).

As the size of debt relief matters for growth, it is interesting to examine whether the post restructuring debt level that the debt relief delivers also matters. Given that post restructuring debt ratios are endogenous to economic conditions, our approach is to look at the impact on growth of a given amount of debt relief for countries that entered a final restructuring event with different debt ratios. The idea is that, all else equal (in particular, the size of debt relief), countries entering a final restructuring with low (high) debt ratios would register relatively low (high) post restructuring debt ratios. Following the debt overhang literature, we would expect the effect of debt restructuring on growth to be larger when countries start (and therefore end) the restructuring with relatively lower debt ratios.

Using a simple, although somewhat crude, approach to study whether the debt ratio plays any role in determining the effect of debt relief on growth, we split our sample of final restructurings into cases with “high” and “low” pre restructuring debt levels (around the median). Specifically, we restrict our focus to final debt restructuring episodes involving face value reductions, as these directly reduce the nominal value of debt, and we split these episodes into high and low initial debt around the median debt level (86 percent of GDP for final restructurings with face value reductions). For these two groups, the average debt reduction is similar (about 10 percent for final restructurings with an initial debt ratio below the median initial debt and 12 percent for those above the median). However, the average starting debt level is very different for the two groups: 61 and 177 percent of GDP below and above the median, respectively. Therefore, on average, these two groups of countries enter final restructurings with very different debt levels while receiving similar amounts of debt relief, which will result in different debt levels after restructuring.

The initial debt ratio plays an important role in explaining how significant debt relief is for post-restructuring growth (Table 7). We find that the amount of debt relief has a significant and persistent positive effect on growth when the initial debt ratio is relatively low (below the median). Moreover, there is no significant effect on growth when the initial debt level is high (above median). We also test for the hypothesis that the estimated coefficients for the low and high debt cases do not differ and reject this possibility at the 10 percent significant level, corroborating our results that debt relief has a bigger impact on growth when the starting level of debt is low. We obtain similar results when we restrict the sample to observations within the 11-year window around a restructuring, and if we focus on large final restructuring episodes (i.e., excluding the bottom quartile of NPV debt reduction) with and without face value reductions.

Table 7.

Debt Relief, Debt Level and Growth Performance for Final Restructurings 1/

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The restricted sample includes countries that have restructured and covers only observations within an 11-year window around a restructuring (i.e. five years before and after a restructuring). Debt relief is measured as the NPV debt reduction brought by the restructuring agreement. The null hypothesis that the difference in estimated coefficients for the low and high debt cases is rejected at the 10 percent significant level in the first two years.

Our results on the debt level should be interpreted cautiously, as our sample is limited to about 50 restructurings cases (60 cases if we focus on the top 75 percentile final NPV debt reductions). The limited number of observations also prevents us from running meaningful IV regressions for these specifications.

Overall, our findings lend support to the hypothesis that addressing debt sustainability is different from reducing the negative impact that high debt levels may have on a country’s growth. Final restructurings allow countries to exit default, helping to reestablish debt sustainability, but they only have an effect on growth if they leave countries with relatively low debt.

VI. Conclusion

Governments often enter debt restructuring operations in difficult economic situations and expect that solving their debt crisis can help improve the country’s macroeconomic performance. However, economic theory is ambiguous as to whether sovereign debt restructurings are beneficial (or costly) for growth of debtor countries and empirical studies are inconclusive.

The central finding of this paper is that sovereign debt restructurings with external private creditors can affect per capita GDP growth performance in the years after debt restructuring. We establish this causal link using different techniques, including instrumenting our regressions and conducting difference-in-difference regressions with various identification strategies to account for reverse causality problems and employing nonparametric propensity scoring matching methods to account for possible selection biases. These approaches together provide a reliable framework for establishing a causal effect from debt restructuring to growth performance, in that growth is not explained by preexisting economic conditions.

We find that there are bad and good (or “not so bad”) debt restructurings for growth. Growth generally declines following a debt restructuring operation; however, restructurings that allow countries to exit a default spell (i.e., final restructurings) lead to significant improvements in growth performance in the aftermath of the debt operation, with the effect being persistent over time. Final restructurings are good for growth because they reduce countries’ debt (in NPV terms), and the lower the post restructuring debt is, the better the post restructuring growth performance for any given level of debt relief.

These results suggest that there is a difference between addressing debt sustainability and debt overhang issues. While final restructurings supposedly address immediate debt sustainability issues and allow a country to exit default, they are important for growth if they address countries’ debt overhang issues and leave the country with a relative low debt ratio. These results can help to inform the policy debate concerning what to expect from different forms of restructuring.

While our results help to shed light on the economic impact of sovereign debt restructurings, a number of theoretical and policy questions remain for future research. For instance, future research could delve deeper into the channels that drive growth performance in the aftermath of debt restructurings and assess the issue of creditor residence for which new databases should be constructed. Moreover, there is ample scope to examine the connection between public- and private creditor-driven debt relief.

Sovereign Debt Restructuring and Growth
Author: Lorenzo Forni, Mr. Geremia Palomba, Ms. Joana Pereira, and Christine J. Richmond
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    Average Per Capita Real GDP around Sovereign Debt Restructuring Episodes

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    Conditional Expectation Relative to “Tranquil Times” of Per Capita Real GDP around Sovereign Debt Restructuring Episodes

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    Distribution of Frequency of Restructurings by Distance of Restructurings from Default

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    Institutional Quality and Default Duration 1/

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    Pre- and Post-Restructuring Public Debt-to-GDP ratios

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    Debt Relief