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Sovereign Bonds since Waterloo

Author

Listed:
  • Meyer, Josefin

    (Kiel Institute for the World Economy)

  • Reinhart, Carmen M.

    (Harvard Kennedy School)

  • Trebesch, Christoph

    (Kiel Institute for the World Economy)

Abstract

This paper studies external sovereign bonds as an asset class. We compile a new database of 220,000 monthly prices of foreign-currency government bonds traded in London and New York between 1815 (the Battle of Waterloo) and 2016, covering 91 countries. Our main insight is that, as in equity markets, the returns on external sovereign bonds have been sufficiently high to compensate for risk. Real ex-post returns averaged 7% annually across two centuries, including default episodes, major wars, and global crises. This represents an excess return of around 4% above US or UK government bonds, which is comparable to stocks and outperforms corporate bonds. The observed returns are hard to reconcile with canonical theoretical models and with the degree of credit risk in this market, as measured by historical default and recovery rates. Based on our archive of more than 300 sovereign debt restructurings since 1815, we show that full repudiation is rare; the median haircut is below 50%.

Suggested Citation

  • Meyer, Josefin & Reinhart, Carmen M. & Trebesch, Christoph, 2019. "Sovereign Bonds since Waterloo," Working Paper Series rwp19-009, Harvard University, John F. Kennedy School of Government.
  • Handle: RePEc:ecl:harjfk:rwp19-009
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    References listed on IDEAS

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    Cited by:

    1. Trebesch, Christoph, 2018. "Resolving sovereign debt crises: The role of political risk," Kiel Working Papers 2111, Kiel Institute for the World Economy (IfW).
    2. Horn, Sebastian & Reinhart, Carmen M. & Trebesch, Christoph, 2019. "China's Overseas Lending," CEPR Discussion Papers 13867, C.E.P.R. Discussion Papers.

    More about this item

    JEL classification:

    • F30 - International Economics - - International Finance - - - General
    • F34 - International Economics - - International Finance - - - International Lending and Debt Problems
    • G12 - Financial Economics - - General Financial Markets - - - Asset Pricing; Trading Volume; Bond Interest Rates
    • G15 - Financial Economics - - General Financial Markets - - - International Financial Markets
    • N10 - Economic History - - Macroeconomics and Monetary Economics; Industrial Structure; Growth; Fluctuations - - - General, International, or Comparative
    • N20 - Economic History - - Financial Markets and Institutions - - - General, International, or Comparative

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