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International reserves: precautionary versus mercantilist views, theory and evidence

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  • Joshua Aizenman
  • Jaewoo Lee

Abstract

This paper tests the importance of precautionary and mercantilist motives in accounting for the hoarding of international reserves by developing countries, and provides a model that quantifies the welfare gains from optimal management of international reserves. While the variables associated with the mercantilist motive are statistically significant, their economic importance in accounting for reserve hoarding is close to zero and is dwarfed by other variables. Overall, the empirical results are in line with the precautionary demand. The effects of financial crises have been localized, increasing reserve hoarding in the aftermath of crises mostly in countries located in the affected region, but not in other regions. A more liberal capital account regime is found to increase the amount of international reserves, in line with the precautionary view. We also investigate the micro foundation of precautionary demand, extending Diamond and Dybvig (1983)’s model to an open, emerging market economy where banks finance long-term projects with short-term deposits. We identify circumstances that lead to large precautionary demand for international reserves, providing self-insurance against the adverse output effects of sudden stop and capital flight shocks. This would be the case if premature liquidation of long-term projects is costly, and the economy is de-facto integrated with the global financial system, hence sudden stops and capital flight may reduce deposits sharply. We show that the welfare gain from the optimal management of international reserves is of a first-order magnitude, reducing the welfare cost of liquidity shocks from a first-order to a second-order magnitude.

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Bibliographic Info

Article provided by Federal Reserve Bank of San Francisco in its journal Proceedings.

Volume (Year): (2005)
Issue (Month): ()
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Handle: RePEc:fip:fedfpr:y:2005:x:19

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  1. Joshua Aizenman & Yeonho Lee & Yeongseop Rhee, 2004. "International Reserves Management and Capital Mobility in a Volatile World: Policy Considerations and a Case Study of Korea," NBER Working Papers 10534, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
  2. Michael Hutchison & Ilan Noy, 2002. "How bad are twins? output costs of currency and banking crises," Pacific Basin Working Paper Series 2002-02, Federal Reserve Bank of San Francisco.
  3. Michael Dooley & David Folkerts-Landau & Peter Garber, 2005. "An essay on the revived Bretton Woods system," Proceedings, Federal Reserve Bank of San Francisco, issue Feb.
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  7. Joshua Aizenman & Nancy Marion, 2002. "The high demand for international reserves in the Far East: what's going on?," Pacific Basin Working Paper Series 2002-08, Federal Reserve Bank of San Francisco.
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  13. Graciela L. Kaminsky & Carmen M. Reinhart, 1996. "The twin crises: the causes of banking and balance-of-payments problems," International Finance Discussion Papers 544, Board of Governors of the Federal Reserve System (U.S.).
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  15. Ben-Bassat, Avraham & Gottlieb, Daniel, 1992. "Optimal international reserves and sovereign risk," Journal of International Economics, Elsevier, vol. 33(3-4), pages 345-362, November.
  16. Prisman, Eliezer Z. & Slovin, Myron B. & Sushka, Marie E., 1986. "A general model of the banking firm under conditions of monopoly, uncertainty, and recourse," Journal of Monetary Economics, Elsevier, vol. 17(2), pages 293-304, March.
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