The 1997-98 Liquidity Crisis: Asia Versus Latin America
Several East Asian countries suffered a sudden stop, with massive and unexpected capital outflows, in 1997-98. Latin American countries, in spite of their more checketed financial past, were much less severely hit at the time (of course, several have had crises since). Why this asymmetry between the two regions? In this paper we argue that what saved Latin America in 1997-98 was not a stronger set of macroeconomic fundamentals (many Latin countries, for instance, had substantial real exchange rate appreciation and non-trivial current account deficits) but a stronger financial position. In contrast, the Asian countries were in a situation of international illiquidity evidenced by sharply rising ratios of hard currency short-term liabilities to liquid assets. As such, they were extremely vulnerable to a reversal of capital inflows, which occurred massively in the second half of 1997. Financial fragility in Asia had its roots in inappropriate microeconomic policies followed during previous years. As we document below, financial liberalization measures in Asia resulted in a deterioration of the international liquidity position of the financial system. These measures, carried out at a time of large capital inflows, created the conditions for a crisis. Much of the borrowing was in dollars and, especially in the period right before the crisis, short term. These two factors left domestic banks exposed to exchange risk and to the mood swings of lenders who had to roll over large loan volumes at short-intervals. By contrast the Latin countries, having gone through their cycle of financial liberalization and collapse in the 1980s and early 1990s, have followed much more cautious policies in recent years.
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