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The sustainability of African debt

Author

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  • Cohen, Daniel

Abstract

The role of debt forgiveness is to alleviate what is known as"debt overhang". This concept is the core idea of the Brady deals, and it now comes to the African debt crisis. How can one gauge the hypothesis of the debt overhang? To what extent can one attribute the growth slowdown of the 1990s to the debt crisis of the 1980s? Using data from the past decade, the author finds that debt variables play a significant role in that slowdown. In one exercise, he finds that more than half the growth slowdown of the large debtor countries in the 1980s could be attributed to the debt crisis. To what reasonable debt ratio should African debt be written down? Most exercises set the threshold of sustainability of debt at about 200 percent. The easiest way to rationalize such a threshold is first to measure the average value of debt-to-export ratios reached at the time of the first rescheduling of debt in a given country. Using Latin America as a benchmark, one finds an average threshold of 248 percent. However short-sighted such a ratio might be, it goes a long way toward rationalizing the view that a debt-to-export ratio between 200 and 300 percent is a strong signal of a forthcoming crisis. This naive approach takes no account of the changing environment (growth and interest rates) a country must confront. A more subtle approach should allow for the prospect of a country's growth to assess the sustainability of the debt it inherits. With the author's formula for so doing, Africa's debt-to-export ratio should be brought to 198 percent. Another way to assess the sustainability of debt is to look at the secondary market, which allows one to estimate the prospect of repayment expected by market participants. Few African debts are actually quoted on secondary markets, but the author presents a formula for reconstructing estimates of repayment prospects econometrically. By that method, Africa's debt-to-export ratio should be 210 percent, suggesting that a threshold between 200 and 250 percent is about right.

Suggested Citation

  • Cohen, Daniel, 1996. "The sustainability of African debt," Policy Research Working Paper Series 1621, The World Bank.
  • Handle: RePEc:wbk:wbrwps:1621
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    References listed on IDEAS

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    1. Leonardo Bartolini & Avinash Dixit, 1991. "Market Valuation of Illiquid Debt and Implications for Conflicts among Creditors," IMF Staff Papers, Palgrave Macmillan, vol. 38(4), pages 828-849, December.
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    Cited by:

    1. Peter Hjertholm, 2004. "Explaining the Enhanced HIPC Initiative: A Response to Michaelowa (2003)," Public Choice, Springer, vol. 121(3), pages 481-483, February.
    2. Easterly, William, 2002. "How Did Heavily Indebted Poor Countries Become Heavily Indebted? Reviewing Two Decades of Debt Relief," World Development, Elsevier, vol. 30(10), pages 1677-1696, October.
    3. Maier, Rolf, 2005. "External Debt and Pro-Poor Growth," Proceedings of the German Development Economics Conference, Kiel 2005 23, Verein für Socialpolitik, Research Committee Development Economics.
    4. Simone Bertoli & Giovanni Andrea Cornia & Francesco Manaresi, 2007. "Aid performance and its determinants. A comparison of Italy with the OECD norm," Banca Nazionale del Lavoro Quarterly Review, Banca Nazionale del Lavoro, vol. 60(242), pages 271-321.
    5. Green, Keith, 2005. "The fragile panacea of debt relief for developing countries," MPRA Paper 18098, University Library of Munich, Germany.
    6. Danny Cassimon & Bjorn Van Campenhout, 2007. "Aid Effectiveness, Debt Relief and Public Finance Response: Evidence from a Panel of HIPC Countries," Review of World Economics (Weltwirtschaftliches Archiv), Springer;Institut für Weltwirtschaft (Kiel Institute for the World Economy), vol. 143(4), pages 742-763, December.
    7. Simone Bertoli & Giovanni Andrea Cornia & Francesco Manaresi, 2007. "Aid performance and its determinants. A comparison of Italy with the OECD norm," Banca Nazionale del Lavoro Quarterly Review, Banca Nazionale del Lavoro, vol. 60(242), pages 271-321.
    8. Gunter, Bernhard G., 2001. "Does the HIPC Initiative Achieve its Goal of Debt Sustainability?," WIDER Working Paper Series 100, World Institute for Development Economic Research (UNU-WIDER).
    9. Easterly, William, 1999. "How did highly indebted poor countries become highly indebted? : reviewing two decades of debt relief," Policy Research Working Paper Series 2225, The World Bank.
    10. Rolf Maier, 2005. "External Debt and Pro-Poor Growth," Macroeconomics 0504031, University Library of Munich, Germany.
    11. Olav Bjerkholt, 2004. "New approaches to debt relief and debt sustainability in LDCs," CDP Background Papers 005, United Nations, Department of Economics and Social Affairs.
    12. Cassimon, Danny & Vaessen, Jos, 2007. "Theory, practice and potential of debt for development swaps in the Asian and Pacific region," Economic Systems, Elsevier, vol. 31(1), pages 12-34, March.
    13. Francisco Nadal De Simone, 1997. "Current account and exchange rate behaviour under inflation targeting in a small open economy," Reserve Bank of New Zealand Discussion Paper Series G97/4, Reserve Bank of New Zealand.
    14. Aart Kraay & Vikram Nehru, 2006. "When Is External Debt Sustainable?," World Bank Economic Review, World Bank Group, vol. 20(3), pages 341-365.
    15. Peter Burgold, 2013. "Nominale Abwertung innerhalb einer Währungsunion," Global Financial Markets Working Paper Series 47-2013, Friedrich-Schiller-University Jena.
    16. Cassimon, Denis & Moreno-Dodson, Blanca & Wodon, Quentin, 2008. "Debt Sustainability for Low-Income Countries: A Review of Standard and Alternative Concepts," MPRA Paper 11077, University Library of Munich, Germany.

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