Best of the Week
Most Popular
1. 2019 From A Fourth Turning Perspective - James_Quinn
2.Beware the Young Stocks Bear Market! - Zeal_LLC
3.Safe Havens are Surging. What this Means for Stocks 2019 - Troy_Bombardia
4.Most Popular Financial Markets Analysis of 2018 - Trump and BrExit Chaos Dominate - Nadeem_Walayat
5.January 2019 Financial Markets Analysis and Forecasts - Nadeem_Walayat
6.Silver Price Trend Analysis 2019 - Nadeem_Walayat
7.Why 90% of Traders Lose - Nadeem_Walayat
8.What to do With Your Money in a Stocks Bear Market - Stephen_McBride
9.Stock Market What to Expect in the First 3~5 Months of 2019 - Chris_Vermeulen
10.China, Global Economy has Tipped over: The Surging Dollar and the Rallying Yen - FXCOT
Last 7 days
UKIP No Longer About BrExit, Becomes BNP 2.0, Muslim Hate Party - 21st Mar 19
A Message to the Gold Bulls: Relying on the CoT Gives You A False Sense of Security - 20th Mar 19
The Secret to Funding a Green New Deal - 20th Mar 19
Vietnam, Part I: Colonialism and National Liberation - 20th Mar 19
Will the Fed Cut its Interest Rate Forecast, Pushing Gold Higher? - 20th Mar 19
Dow Jones Stock Market Topping Pattern - 20th Mar 19
Gold Stocks Outperform Gold but Not Stocks - 20th Mar 19
Here’s What You’re Not Hearing About the US - China Trade War - 20th Mar 19
US Overdosing on Debt - 19th Mar 19
Looking at the Economic Winter Season Ahead - 19th Mar 19
Will the Stock Market Crash Like 1937? - 19th Mar 19
Stock Market VIX Volaility Analysis - 19th Mar 19
FREE Access to Stock and Finanacial Markets Trading Analysis Worth $1229! - 19th Mar 19
US Stock Markets Price Anomaly Setup Continues - 19th Mar 19
Gold Price Confirmation of the Warning - 18th Mar 19
Split Stock Market Warning - 18th Mar 19
Stock Market Trend Analysis 2019 - Video - 18th Mar 19
Best Precious Metals Investment and Trades for 2019 - 18th Mar 19
Hurdles for Gold Stocks - 18th Mar 19
Pento: Coming QE & Low Rates Will Be ‘Rocket Fuel for Gold’ - 18th Mar 19
"This is for Tommy Robinson" Shouts Knife Wielding White Supremacist Terrorist in London - 18th Mar 19
This Is How You Create the Biggest Credit Bubble in History - 17th Mar 19
Crude Oil Bulls - For Whom the Bell Tolls - 17th Mar 19
Gold Mining Stocks Fundamentals - 17th Mar 19
Why Buy a Land Rover - Range Rover vs Huge Tree Branch Falling on its Roof - 17th Mar 19
UKIP Urged to Change Name to BNP 2.0 So BrExit Party Can Fight a 2nd EU Referendum - 17th Mar 19
Tommy Robinson Looks Set to Become New UKIP Leader - 16th Mar 19
Gold Final Warning: Here Are the Stunning Implications of Plunging Gold Price - 16th Mar 19
Towards the End of a Stocks Bull Market, Short term Timing Becomes Difficult - 16th Mar 19
UKIP Brexit Facebook Groups Reveling in the New Zealand Terror Attacks Blaming Muslim Victims - 16th Mar 19
Gold – US Dollar vs US Dollar Index - 16th Mar 19
Islamophobic Hate Preachers Tommy Robinson and Katie Hopkins have Killed UKIP and Brexit - 16th Mar 19
Countdown to The Precious Metals Gold and Silver Breakout Rally - 15th Mar 19
Shale Oil Splutters: Brent on Track for $70 Target $100 in 2020 - 15th Mar 19
Setting up a Business Just Got Easier - 15th Mar 19
Stock Market Elliott Wave Analysis Trend Forercast - Video - 15th Mar 19
Gold Warning - Here Are the Stunning Implications of Plunging Gold Price - Part 1 - 15th Mar 19
UK Weather SHOCK - Trees Dropping Branches onto Cars in Stormy Winds - Sheffield - 15th Mar 19
Best Time to Trade Forex - 15th Mar 19
Why the Green New Deal Will Send Uranium Price Through the Roof - 14th Mar 19
S&P 500's New Medium-Term High, but Will Stock Market Uptrend Continue? - 14th Mar 19
US Conservatism - 14th Mar 19
Gold in the Age of High-speed Electronic Trading - 14th Mar 19
Britain's Demographic Time Bomb Has Gone Off! - 14th Mar 19
Why Walmart Will Crush Amazon - 14th Mar 19
2019 Economic Predictions - 14th Mar 19
Tax Avoidance Bills Sent to Thousands of Workers - 14th Mar 19

Market Oracle FREE Newsletter

Stock Market Trend Forecast March to September 2019

The Risk of Sovereign Debt

Interest-Rates / Eurozone Debt Crisis Dec 07, 2011 - 10:05 AM GMT

By: David_Howden

Interest-Rates

Best Financial Markets Analysis ArticleWith a 50 percent haircut recently given on the Greek sovereign-debt question, investors are increasingly asking what the real risk of sovereign debt is. It would appear that investors underpriced the risk inherent in sovereign debt, especially that of Europe's periphery. One might even go so far as to say that investors made foolish choices in the past and are now getting their just deserts.


Such statements require an assessment of what the specific risk is of holding sovereign debt, and how specific European institutions affected these risk factors.

Debt is in almost all cases collateralized by some asset. A mortgage is backed by the value of the house that it is borrowed against. Student loans are backed against the future earnings ability of the student (or their parents' income and assets if cosigned). In almost all cases debt is collateralized by the asset that it is used to purchase.

Sovereign debt is slightly different, as no clear asset stands ready to serve as collateral. Instead, borrowing is backed by the future taxing capacity of the state. When investors purchase sovereign debt, they do so knowing that if their plans turn out wrong they will not be receiving some portion of that state's assets as the consolation prize. They purchase the bond knowing that the ability to repay is conditioned by the future economic health of the country, and also by its future taxing power. As there is a general negative relationship between tax rates and economic health there is an upper bound on how much tax revenue can be raised in the future to pay off debts incurred today.

When we say that sovereign debt is "risk free," we mean that there is no credit risk. A state is forever able to pay off its nominal liabilities in one of two ways: either it increases its taxes to raise more revenue (through direct taxes), or it monetizes its debt by increasing the money supply (an inflation tax).

Central banks are, by and large, granted some degree of operational independence in order to avoid the second circumstance. The inflation tax is an extremely attractive way for a state to pay for its liabilities. No one pays it directly, and hence there is a reduced chance for "taxpayers" to see the wealth appropriation. A government given direct control of the printing press has an incentive to give higher rates of inflation than the public desires, if only to pay off the debts it incurs. Central-bank independence removes this option.

Sovereign debt is not risk free; the real payoff may differ from the nominal promise. For domestic-debt holders, this arises when inflation occurs. For foreign-debt holders, this risk mainly arises through foreign-exchange risk. In either case the source is the same — inflation reduces the purchasing power of the currency of denomination and thus reduces the real value of the future payment.

Interest rates are set on sovereign debt with these risks in mind. Importantly, if direct default risk is minimized through the state's future taxing capabilities, the lone risk remaining is through inflation or an adverse exchange-rate movement.

The advent of the European Monetary Union brought about an interesting change to the way that investors calculated these risks.

Twelve years ago, what was the risk of purchasing sovereign Greek debt? Direct credit risk was minimized as the Greek government pledged to pay back its investor by increasing future taxes if need be, or by inflating its woes away. Accession to the European Monetary Union made an important change to this risk perception. The European Central Bank (ECB) has, since its inception, been the model of an independent central bank. It was modeled after the German Bundesbank to be wholly separate from the political realm, and thus faced no conflict of interest with eurozone governments when their debt loads became unmanageable.

With Greece's monetary affairs no longer in its own hands, the risk of the country inflating away the nominal value of its debt was removed. No longer did investors need to concern themselves with investing in a bond that would be prone to the political desire for an easy solution. Inflation risk was automatically hedged.

The exchange-rate risk was also eliminated if the potential investor was from the eurozone. With one common currency for what is now 17 countries, no adverse movements could compromise the investor's earnings. International investors still faced this risk, but luckily any exchange-rate movement against the low-inflation and rule-based euro would be more predictable than the discretionary whims of the old Greek drachma.

The result was a quick and substantial reduction in risk on sovereign debt upon accession to the euro. With inflation and exchange-rate risk largely eliminated, investors needed only to weigh whether or not the future taxing capabilities of a state would be adequate to pay off its debt obligations. With the robust economy of Europe's mid-2000s, this was a fairly certain bet.

Indeed, if insolvency occurs, it generally means that your pledged assets are liquidated to pay off your liabilities. For a country, this means that if your only asset is your future taxing power and your liabilities are ongoing expenditures, the hint of insolvency calls for either increased tax revenues (higher taxes) or lower expenditures (fewer government services). Hence, for an investor in Greece, it was reasonable to assume that if the government found itself nearing insolvency in the future, the country would

1.reduce government expenditures, or
2.increase tax revenues to pay off debt holders.

The sharp increase in interest rates over the past few years has made clear that the risk perception of Greek debt (and that of other periphery European countries) has changed drastically. With the ECB still firmly committed against direct bailouts to specific member states, the increase in yields is not directly attributable to inflation risk. Instead, the increase in risk is created directly by the Greek government's refusal to substantially reduce expenditures or increase its tax revenues. In effect, a sovereign debt that was once free of credit risk is now increasingly at risk.

The recent haircut on Greek debt proves this point, and will in fact exacerbate this situation. The haircut has proven that Greek debt is not risk free and that default, if only partial, is a real possibility. Instead of easing investors' fears of a Greek default, events have concretely demonstrated that the risk expectations on Greek debt should be reset higher. Corresponding higher borrowing costs for the small Hellenic nation will follow.

David Howden is a PhD candidate at the Universidad Rey Juan Carlos, in Madrid, and winner of the Mises Institute's Douglas E. French Prize. Send him mail. See his article archives. Comment on the blog.

© 2011 Copyright Ludwig von Mises - All Rights Reserved Disclaimer: The above is a matter of opinion provided for general information purposes only and is not intended as investment advice. Information and analysis above are derived from sources and utilising methods believed to be reliable, but we cannot accept responsibility for any losses you may incur as a result of this analysis. Individuals should consult with their personal financial advisors.


© 2005-2019 http://www.MarketOracle.co.uk - The Market Oracle is a FREE Daily Financial Markets Analysis & Forecasting online publication.


Post Comment

Only logged in users are allowed to post comments. Register/ Log in

6 Critical Money Making Rules