A crash-course on the euro crisis

A crash-course on the euro crisis

Markus K. Brunnermeier & Ricardo Reis A crash-course on the euro crisis Solvency versus Liquidity Section 5 Debt and the challenging illiquidity-insolvency distinction Debt contracts: allow lenders to exert some discipline on borrowers because they must be rolled over with some frequency, and they save the lender the need to collect information on the exact payoffs of the borrower beyond their ability to meet the payments. Solvency: whether the debtor has revenues in the present and in the future with which to repay the debt Modern banks: high leverage means may have negative equity and so appear insolvent, but remain economically solvent by relying on future revenues to pay for the present debts Sovereigns: only economic solvency is relevant as future tax and other fiscal revenues can be used to gradually pay down public debt. Solvency and the interest rate Solvency: whether the debtor has revenues in the present and in the

future with which to repay the debt The interest rate used to discount future cash flows is tightly associated on evaluating solvency An economic institution with future revenues and debt will be insolvent for a high enough interest rate With perfect and complete markets, there is a single interest rate which is relevant to determine solvency Financial frictions and illiquidity In the presence of financial frictions, there may be multiple interest rates consistent with the institution being solvent For some interest rates, the institution can keep to its repayment schedule but for some others it does not have enough to pay the interest. Hence, they are solvent but illiquid Interest rate spikes, in spite of unchanged fundamentals, can prevent institution from being able to roll over and keep servicing their debt. The key diagnosis of a crisis is being able to distinguish between an insolvent and an illiquid institution A simple model of debt, solvency and liquidity Institution needs q to finance a project with a future payoff of z The net return is then z/q 1

However, z is uncertain. Take any valiue between 0 and 1. Expected value is 1/2 and the expected return is 1/2q 1 With perfect markets, as long as the interest rate charged is below 1/2q 1 then the institution is solvent 0 1 A simple model of debt, solvency and liquidity Debt contract: creditor gives q today, gets F in the future If z > F, then repayment. Only F is paid and the rest is kept as profits If z < F, then default. Creditor seizes all of z.

Promise d paymen t at t = 2 1 0 Default Repayment of Expected payment of debt If the promised payment is the payoff if the solid blue line When z < , the payoff is the 45

line as the debt-holders get paid the whole residual value of the project, which is below what was promised If z > , then the payoff is the horizontal blue line The expected payment is , or the sum of the shaded rectangle plus the triangle on its left Promise d paymen t at t = 2 1 Cash 0

Default Repayment of flow at t = 2 Face value and expected payoff Higher face value of debt For the payoff is the solid purple line Payment is higher when get paid But get paid less often since default probability is greater Expected payment rises with face value. Maximum at F=1, expected payment (In this extreme case, debtholder becomes de facto a equity holder) Promise d

paymen hhh t at t = 2 1 0 Default Repayment of Default Repayment of Financial frictions When a firm defaults, value is lost in that some of the payoff from the

project disappears A creditor seizing the asset cannot generate as much cash flow as the entrepreneur. Insolvency is a costly process: Lawyers Bankruptcy court fees Disgruntled borrowers tearing down the project before it is seized Financial frictions Consider the extreme example where triggering default always leads to losing the whole value of the project. Now when both lender and borrower receive nothing. Expected payoff is given by only the shaded rectangles Both debt contracts now have the same expected payoff Extreme contract with F=1 is worthless since always default.

hhh 1 Cash 0 Default Repayment of Default Repayment of flow at t = 2 Plot now borrowing (q) against debt (F)

Without financial frictions first Higher F, more expected payoff, can borrow more. (For simplicity assume that creditors discount future at rate 0, so expected payoff and amount borrowed are the same.) For amount of borrowing q F/q is the yield on the debt, so interest rate is slope of ray from the origin Without frictions, as long as q<1/2, institution is solvent Without frictions 1 1 + 1/2

q Borrowin g at t = 1 With financial frictions Now have a parabola. The institution is insolvent if it needs to borrow more than 1/4. Promis ed payme hhh nt at t = 2 With friction s

1/ 2 0 q 1 Cash Default Repayment of flow Default Repayment at t = of 2

1/ 4 Borrowi ng at t = 1 Liquidity crisis If the interest rate is low at then by promising to pay the institution can obtain q If the interest rate is at then it can still finance itself by promising Can enter a liquidity crisis Investors think the risk of default is high and thus require a higher interest rate to compensate them for lending The institution then promises a higher payoff which also has a higher probability of default

With frictions 1+hhh 1+ q Borrowin g at t = 1 Losses from insolvency The borrower (and society) is worse off with higher interest rates as it is more likely for the social costs of default to materialize Horizontal difference between the green and orange curve in

the second figure is equal to area of triangles lost in previous figure Measures the expected costs of default Higher with Loss 1+hhh Without frictions 1+ Loss q 1/4

Borrowin g at t = 1 Full analysis Promise d paymen hhh t at t = 2 With frictions 1+hhh Without frictions 1/ 2 1+

1 Cash 0 Default Repayment of Default Repayment of flow at t = 2 q

1/4 Borrowin g at t = 1 The solvency of sovereigns and the IMF Solvency is hard to ascertain for countries since it depends on fiscal surpluses and commitment of politicians to pay their debts. Countries are therefore prone to liquidity crises as hard to ascertain where curve is, or what is causing rise in interest rates. A small negative shock can push a country to insolvency if it was already close to the peak and thus justifying charging a higher interest rate But also shifts in market sentiments or beliefs can move the economy to highinterest rate equilibrium, thus raising the default probability Sovereign default comes with great social costs

A commitment from a foreign institution like the IMF to lend at a fixed rate can be enough to eliminate the crisis and remain on the good equilibrium The Greek sovereign debt crisis In 2009, Greece admitted to have been under-reporting their level of public debt and deficits The perceived capacity of the Greek government to pay its debts is now lower, and this publicity triggered a revision in the beliefs of the creditors In 2010, the 10-year Greek sovereign debt was 4.5%. By 2012, it was 26%. The perceived insolvency probability of Greek sovereign bonds

The Greek sovereign debt crisis In 2009, Greece admitted to have been under-reporting their level of public debt and deficits The perceived capacity of the Greek government to pay its debts is now lower, and this publicity triggered a revision in the beliefs of the creditors In 2010, the 10-year Greek sovereign debt was 4.5%. By 2012, it was 26%. In 2010, the IMF and EU announced a 3-year rescue package as well as the creation of the EFSF and SMP Consequently, interest rates

fell, consistent with the policies eliminating the bad equilibrium But perceptions of insolvency remained high. When Greek bonds were downgraded to junk status in 2011, the default probability reached 70% In February 2012, Greece defaulted on its bonds and creditors took a haircut of 64.6% on 177 bn worth of bonds In hindsight, Greece may have been insolvent from the start. The perceived insolvency probability of Greek sovereign bonds

Insolvency and illiquidity in practice At the same time, similar capital flows and spikes in interest rates happened in Italy, Portugal, and Spain. None of them defaulted on their debt and, after only a few years of public capital inflows, they were able to return to relatively lower interest rates. Were they solvent but illiquid, unlike Greece? Maybe but, at the start of 2010, in comparison to Greece, Portugal had twice as high net external debt, Italys GDP per capita had grown 45% less in the previous ten years, and Spains banks were in worse shape. The more general lesson is that in real time, distinguishing insolvency and illiquidity is an almost-impossible task. Summary With perfect and complete markets, there is a single interest rate which is relevant to determine solvency However, with financial frictions, there may be multiple interest rates consistent with the

institution remaining solvent A change of beliefs, causing a move from the low to high-interest rate equilibrium, can cause a liquidity crisis It is difficult to distinguish whether an institution is insolvent or just illiquid Greece appeared to be illiquid and thus spurring the IMF and EU to intervene with rescue packages when it indeed does default in 2012

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