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The Role of Foreign Currency Debt in Financial Crises: 1880-1913 vs. 1972-1997

  • Michael D. Bordo
  • Christopher M. Meissner

What is the role of foreign currency debt in precipitating financial crises? In this paper we compare the 1880 to 1913 period to recent experience. We examine debt crises, currency crises, banking crises and the interrelation between these varieties of crises. We pay special attention to the role of hard currency debt, currency mismatches and debt intolerance. We find fairly robust evidence that high exposure to foreign currency debt does not necessarily lead to a high chance of having a debt crisis, currency crisis, or a banking crisis. A key finding is some countries do not suffer from great financial fragility despite high exposure to original sin. In the nineteenth century, the British offshoots and Scandinavia generally avoided severe financial meltdowns while today many advanced countries have high original sin but have had few financial crises. The common denominator in both periods is that currency mismatches matter. A strong reserve position or high exports relative to hard currency liabilities helps decrease the likelihood of a debt crisis, currency crisis or a banking crisis. This strengthens the evidence for the hypothesis that foreign currency debt is dangerous when mis-managed. We discuss the robustness of these results and make some general comparisons based on this evidence from over 60 years of intense international capital market integration.

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Paper provided by National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc in its series NBER Working Papers with number 11897.

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Date of creation: Dec 2005
Date of revision:
Publication status: published as Bordo, Michael D. & Meissner, Christopher M., 2006. "The role of foreign currency debt in financial crises: 1880-1913 versus 1972-1997," Journal of Banking & Finance, Elsevier, vol. 30(12), pages 3299-3329, December.
Handle: RePEc:nbr:nberwo:11897
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  1. Michael D. Bordo & Marc Flandreau, 2003. "Core, Periphery, Exchange Rate Regimes, and Globalization," NBER Chapters, in: Globalization in Historical Perspective, pages 417-472 National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
  2. Carmen M. Reinhart & Kenneth S. Rogoff & Miguel A. Savastano, 2003. "Debt Intolerance," NBER Working Papers 9908, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
  3. Luis Felipe Cespedes & Roberto Chang & Andres Velasco, 2000. "Balance Sheets and Exchange Rate Policy," NBER Working Papers 7840, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
  4. Andrew Berg & Catherine Pattillo, 1999. "Are Currency Crises Predictable? A Test," IMF Staff Papers, Palgrave Macmillan, vol. 46(2), pages 1.
  5. Obstfeld, Maurice & Taylor, Alan M., 2003. "Sovereign Risk, Credibility and the Gold Standard: 1870-1913 versus 1925-31," Center for International and Development Economics Research, Working Paper Series qt6f15n0h0, Center for International and Development Economics Research, Institute for Business and Economic Research, UC Berkeley.
  6. Barry Eichengreen & Ricardo Hausmann & Ugo Panizza, 2003. "Currency Mismatches, Debt Intolerance and Original Sin: Why They Are Not the Same and Why it Matters," NBER Working Papers 10036, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
  7. Barry Eichengreen & Ricardo Hausmann, 1999. "Exchange Rates and Financial Fragility," NBER Working Papers 7418, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
  8. Michael Bordo & Barry Eichengreen & Daniela Klingebiel & Maria Soledad Martinez-Peria, 2001. "Is the crisis problem growing more severe?," Economic Policy, CEPR;CES;MSH, vol. 16(32), pages 51-82, 04.
  9. Meissner, Christopher M., 2005. "A new world order: explaining the international diffusion of the gold standard, 1870-1913," Journal of International Economics, Elsevier, vol. 66(2), pages 385-406, July.
  10. Reuven Glick & Michael Hutchison, 1999. "Banking and currency crises: how common are twins?," Pacific Basin Working Paper Series 99-07, Federal Reserve Bank of San Francisco.
  11. Christopher M Meissner & Michael D Bordo, 2006. "Financial Crises, 1880-1913: The Role of Foreign Currency Debt," WEF Working Papers 0002, ESRC World Economy and Finance Research Programme, Birkbeck, University of London.
  12. Jeffrey A. Frankel & Andrew K. Rose, 1996. "Currency crashes in emerging markets: an empirical treatment," International Finance Discussion Papers 534, Board of Governors of the Federal Reserve System (U.S.).
  13. Marc Flandreau, 2003. "Crises and Punishment : Moral Hazard and the pre-1914 international financial architecture," Sciences Po publications n°3742, Sciences Po.
  14. Reuven Glick & Ramon Moreno & Mark M. Spiegel, 2001. "Financial crises in emerging markets," FRBSF Economic Letter, Federal Reserve Bank of San Francisco, issue mar.23.
  15. Michael D. Bordo & Lars Jonung, 1996. "Monetary Regimes, Inflation And Monetary Reform: An Essay in Honor of Axel Leijonhufvud," Departmental Working Papers 199407, Rutgers University, Department of Economics.
  16. repec:rus:hseeco:124089 is not listed on IDEAS
  17. Ricardo Caballero & Kevin Cowan & Jonathan Kearns, 2005. "Fear of Sudden Stops: Lessons From Australia and Chile," Journal of Economic Policy Reform, Taylor & Francis Journals, vol. 8(4), pages 313-354.
  18. Morris Goldstein & Philip Turner, 2004. "Controlling Currency Mismatches in Emerging Markets," Peterson Institute Press: All Books, Peterson Institute for International Economics, number 373.
  19. Michael D. Bordo & Christopher Meissner & Angela Redish, 2003. "How "Original Sin" was Overcome: The Evolution of External Debt Denominated in Domestic Currencies in the United States and the British Dominions," NBER Working Papers 9841, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
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