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Federal Reserve Bank of New York
Staff Reports
International Trade, Risk and the Role of Banks
Friederike Niepmann
Tim Schmidt-Eisenlohr

Banks play a critical role in international trade by providing trade finance products that reduce the risk of exporting. This paper employs two new data sets to shed light on the magnitude and structure of this business, which, as we show, is highly concentrated in a few large banks. The two principal trade finance instruments, letters of credit and documentary collections, covered about 10 percent of U.S. exports in 2012. They are preferred for larger transactions, which indicates the existence of substantial fixed costs in the provision and use of these instruments. Letters of credit are employed the most for exports to countries with intermediate degrees of contract enforcement. Compared to documentary collections, they are used for riskier destinations. We provide a model of payment contract choice that rationalizes these empirical findings, and we discuss implications for the ongoing provision of trade finance.

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Friederike Niepmann & Tim Schmidt-Eisenlohr, International Trade, Risk and the Role of Banks, Federal Reserve Bank of New York, Staff Reports 633, 01 Sep 2013, revised 01 Nov 2014.
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Note: Previous title: “Banks in International Trade Finance: Evidence from the U.S.”
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Keywords: trade finance; multinational banks; risk; letter of credit
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