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International Liquidity Illusion: On the Risks of Sterilization

  • Ricardo J. Caballero
  • Arvind Krishnamurthy

During the booms that precede crises in emerging economies, policymakers often struggle to limit capital flows and their expansionary consequences. The main policy tool for this task is a sterilization of capital inflows - essentially a swap of international reserves for public bonds. Despite its widespread use, sterilization is often criticized for its ineffectiveness and, in extreme cases, its potential backfiring. We argue that these concerns are justified when countries experience occasional external crises and domestic financial markets are illiquid. In this context, while standard Mundell-Fleming considerations may determine the impact of the sterilization on short term peso interest rates, a potentially more powerful and offsetting mechanism is triggered by the anticipated reversal of this policy in the event of an external crisis. If the instruments used in the sterilization are illiquid or result in fiscal deficits that reduce the liquidity of the private sector, then the effective dollar cost of capital, which considers the whole path of expected future rates, may be lowered rather than raised by this policy. Most importantly, this dollar cost of capital reduction does not reflect a true increase in the country's international liquidity during the external crisis and reversal, as would be the case with a successful sterilization, but just a decline in domestic private liquidity. The impact of the latter on relative asset prices creates a sort of 'international liquidity illusion' which fosters rather than depress aggregate demand, and exacerbates short term capital inflows.

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Paper provided by National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc in its series NBER Working Papers with number 8141.

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Date of creation: Feb 2001
Date of revision:
Handle: RePEc:nbr:nberwo:8141
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  1. Jeffrey A. Frankel, 1997. "Sterilization of money inflows: Difficult (Calvo) or Easy (Reisen)?," Estudios de Economia, University of Chile, Department of Economics, vol. 24(2 Year 19), pages 263-285, December.
  2. Aizenman, Joshua, 1989. "Country Risk, Incomplete Information and Taxes on International Borrowing," Economic Journal, Royal Economic Society, vol. 99(394), pages 147-61, March.
  3. Allen, F. & Gale, D., 1991. "Limited Market Participation and Volatility of Asset Prices," Weiss Center Working Papers 2-92, Wharton School - Weiss Center for International Financial Research.
  4. Diamond, Douglas W, 1991. "Debt Maturity Structure and Liquidity Risk," The Quarterly Journal of Economics, MIT Press, vol. 106(3), pages 709-37, August.
  5. Ricardo J. Caballero & Arvind Krishnamurthy, 2000. "International Liquidity Management: Sterilization Policy in Illiquid Financial Markets," NBER Working Papers 7740, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
  6. Douglas W. Diamond & Philip H. Dybvig, 2000. "Bank runs, deposit insurance, and liquidity," Quarterly Review, Federal Reserve Bank of Minneapolis, issue Win, pages 14-23.
  7. Woodford, Michael, 1990. "Public Debt as Private Liquidity," American Economic Review, American Economic Association, vol. 80(2), pages 382-88, May.
  8. Douglas W. Diamond & Raghuram G. Rajan, 2002. "Liquidity Shortages and Banking Crises," NBER Working Papers 8937, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
  9. Guillermo A. Calvo & Carmen M. Reinhart, 2000. "Fear of Floating," NBER Working Papers 7993, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
  10. Ricardo Caballero & Arvind Krishnamurthy, 2000. "International and Domestic Collateral Constraints in a Model of Emerging Market Crises," NBER Working Papers 7971, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
  11. Bengt Holmstrom & Jean Tirole, 1996. "Private and Public Supply of Liquidity," NBER Working Papers 5817, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
  12. Reinhart, Carmen & Leiderman, Leonardo, 1994. "Capital inflows to Latin America," MPRA Paper 13406, University Library of Munich, Germany.
  13. Thomas J. Sargent & Neil Wallace, 1981. "Some unpleasant monetarist arithmetic," Quarterly Review, Federal Reserve Bank of Minneapolis, issue Fall.
  14. Corbo, Vittorio & Hernandez, Leonardo, 1996. "Macroeconomic Adjustment to Capital Inflows: Lessons from Recent Latin American and East Asian Experience," World Bank Research Observer, World Bank Group, vol. 11(1), pages 61-85, February.
  15. Ricardo J. Caballero & Arvind Krishnamurthy, 2000. "Dollarization of Liabilities: Underinsurance and Domestic Financial Underdevelopment," NBER Working Papers 7792, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
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