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Public Debt, Fiscal Solvency, and Macroeconomic Uncertainty in Latin America: The Cases of Brazil, Colombia, Costa Rica, and Mexico

  • Mendoza, Enrique G.
  • Oviedo, P. Marcelo

The ratios of public debt as a share of GDP of Brazil, Colombia, and Mexico were 12 percentage points higher on average during the period 1996-2005 than in the period 1990-1995. Costa Rica's debt ratio remained stable but at a high level near 50 percent. Is there reason to be concerned for the solvency of the public sector in these economies? We provide an answer to this question based on the quantitative predictions of a variant of the framework proposed by Mendoza and Oviedo (2006). This methodology yields forward-looking estimates of debt ratios that are consistent with fiscal solvency for a government that faces revenue uncertainty and can issue only non-state-contingent debt. In this environment, aversion to a collapse in outlays leads the government to respect a ``natural debt limit" equal to the annuity value of the primary balance in a ``fiscal crisis." A fiscal crisis occurs after a long sequence of adverse revenue shocks and public outlays adjust to their tolerable minimum. The debt limit also represents a credible commitment to remain able to repay even in a fiscal crisis. The debt limit is not, in general, the same as the sustainable debt, which is driven by the probabilistic dynamics of the primary balance. The results of a baseline scenario question the sustainability of current debt ratios in Brazil and Colombia, while those in Costa Rica and Mexico are inside the limits consistent with fiscal solvency. In contrast, current debt ratios are found to be unsustainable in all four countries for plausible changes to lower average growth rates or higher real interest rates. Moreover, sustainable debt ratios fall sharply when default risk is taken into account.

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Paper provided by Iowa State University, Department of Economics in its series Staff General Research Papers with number 12700.

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Date of creation: 20 Nov 2006
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Publication status: Published in Economia Mexicana 2009, vol. XVIII no. 2
Handle: RePEc:isu:genres:12700
Contact details of provider: Postal: Iowa State University, Dept. of Economics, 260 Heady Hall, Ames, IA 50011-1070
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Web page: http://www.econ.iastate.edu
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  1. Arellano, Cristina, 2008. "Default risk and income fluctuations in emerging economies," MPRA Paper 7867, University Library of Munich, Germany.
  2. Enrique G. Mendoza & P. Marcelo Oviedo, 2006. "Fiscal Policy and Macroeconomic Uncertainty in Developing Countries: The Tale of the Tormented Insurer," NBER Working Papers 12586, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
  3. James D. Hamilton & Marjorie A. Flavin, 1985. "On the Limitations of Government Borrowing: A Framework for Empirical Testing," NBER Working Papers 1632, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
  4. Guillermo A. Calvo & Alejandro Izquierdo & Ernesto Talvi, 2002. "Sudden Stops, the Real Exchange Rate and Fiscal Sustainability: Argentina's Lessons," IDB Publications (Working Papers) 6821, Inter-American Development Bank.
  5. Carmen M. Reinhart & Kenneth S. Rogoff & Miguel A. Savastano, 2003. "Debt Intolerance," NBER Working Papers 9908, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
    • Reinhart, Carmen & Rogoff, Kenneth & Savastano, Miguel, 2003. "Debt intolerance," MPRA Paper 13932, University Library of Munich, Germany.
  6. repec:rus:hseeco:123922 is not listed on IDEAS
  7. Aiyagari, S Rao, 1994. "Uninsured Idiosyncratic Risk and Aggregate Saving," The Quarterly Journal of Economics, MIT Press, vol. 109(3), pages 659-84, August.
  8. Eaton, Jonathan & Gersovitz, Mark, 1981. "Debt with Potential Repudiation: Theoretical and Empirical Analysis," Review of Economic Studies, Wiley Blackwell, vol. 48(2), pages 289-309, April.
  9. Henning Bohn, 1998. "The Behavior Of U.S. Public Debt And Deficits," The Quarterly Journal of Economics, MIT Press, vol. 113(3), pages 949-963, August.
  10. Enrique G. Mendoza & Assaf Razin & Linda L. Tesar, 1994. "Effective Tax Rates in Macroeconomics: Cross-Country Estimates of Tax Rates on Factor Incomes and Consumption," NBER Working Papers 4864, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
  11. Cristina Arellano, 2005. "Default Risk, the Real Exchange Rate and Income Fluctuations in Emerging Economies," 2005 Meeting Papers 516, Society for Economic Dynamics.
  12. Olivier Jean Blanchard, 1990. "Suggestions for a New Set of Fiscal Indicators," OECD Economics Department Working Papers 79, OECD Publishing.
  13. Talvi, Ernesto & Vegh, Carlos A., 2005. "Tax base variability and procyclical fiscal policy in developing countries," Journal of Development Economics, Elsevier, vol. 78(1), pages 156-190, October.
  14. Nigel Andrew Chalk & Richard Hemming, 2000. "Assessing Fiscal Sustainability in Theory and Practice," IMF Working Papers 00/81, International Monetary Fund.
  15. Michael Gavin & Roberto Perotti, 1997. "Fiscal Policy in Latin America," NBER Chapters, in: NBER Macroeconomics Annual 1997, Volume 12, pages 11-72 National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
  16. Barro, Robert J, 1979. "On the Determination of the Public Debt," Journal of Political Economy, University of Chicago Press, vol. 87(5), pages 940-71, October.
  17. Theodore M. Barnhill & George Kopits, 2003. "Assessing Fiscal Sustainability Under Uncertainity," IMF Working Papers 03/79, International Monetary Fund.
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