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International Reserves: Precautionary versus Mercantilist Views, Theory and Evidence

  • Joshua Aizenman
  • Jaewoo Lee

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. 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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Paper provided by National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc in its series NBER Working Papers with number 11366.

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Date of creation: May 2005
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Publication status: published as Joshua Aizenman & Jaewoo Lee, 2005. "International reserves: precautionary versus mercantilist views, theory and evidence," Proceedings, Federal Reserve Bank of San Francisco.
Handle: RePEc:nbr:nberwo:11366
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  1. Romain Ranciere & Olivier Jeanne, 2006. "The Optimal Level of International Reserves for Emerging Market Countries; Formulas and Applications," IMF Working Papers 06/229, International Monetary Fund.
  2. Carmen M. Reinhart & Kenneth S. Rogoff, 2002. "The Modern History of Exchange Rate Arrangements: A Reinterpretation," NBER Working Papers 8963, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
  3. Bengt Holmstrom & Jean Tirole, 1998. "Private and Public Supply of Liquidity," Journal of Political Economy, University of Chicago Press, vol. 106(1), pages 1-40, February.
  4. 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.
  5. Sebastian Edwards, 2007. "Capital Controls, Sudden Stops, and Current Account Reversals," NBER Chapters, in: Capital Controls and Capital Flows in Emerging Economies: Policies, Practices and Consequences, pages 73-120 National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
  6. Joshua Aizenman & Nancy Marion, 2002. "The High Demand for International Reserves in the Far East: What's Going On?," NBER Working Papers 9266, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
  7. Guillermo A. Calvo, 1998. "Capital Flows and Capital-Market Crises: The Simple Economics of Sudden Stops," Journal of Applied Economics, Universidad del CEMA, vol. 0, pages 35-54, November.
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  9. 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.
  10. 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.).
  11. Samuelson, Paul A, 1994. "Facets of Balassa-Samuelson Thirty Years Later," Review of International Economics, Wiley Blackwell, vol. 2(3), pages 201-26, October.
  12. Aizenman, Joshua & Lee, Yeonho & Rhee, Yeongseop, 2004. "International reserves management and capital mobility in a volatile world: Policy considerations and a case study of Korea," Santa Cruz Department of Economics, Working Paper Series qt1867f7ng, Department of Economics, UC Santa Cruz.
  13. Jaewoo Lee, 2004. "Insurance Value of International Reserves; An Option Pricing Approach," IMF Working Papers 04/175, International Monetary Fund.
  14. Michael P. Dooley & David Folkerts-Landau & Peter Garber, 2003. "An Essay on the Revived Bretton Woods System," NBER Working Papers 9971, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
  15. Shang-Jin Wei & Eswar Prasad, 2005. "The Chinese Approach to Capital Inflows; Patterns and Possible Explanations," IMF Working Papers 05/79, International Monetary Fund.
  16. Bryant, John, 1980. "A model of reserves, bank runs, and deposit insurance," Journal of Banking & Finance, Elsevier, vol. 4(4), pages 335-344, December.
  17. Kravis, Irving B, 1984. "Comparative Studies of National Incomes and Prices," Journal of Economic Literature, American Economic Association, vol. 22(1), pages 1-39, March.
  18. Sebastian Edwards, 2004. "Thirty Years of Current Account Imbalances, Current Account Reversals and Sudden Stops," NBER Working Papers 10276, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
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