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Jel Classification:H63 

Working Paper
Optimal time-consistent government debt maturity
The current literature on a government's optimal debt maturity structure contends that by purchasing short-term assets and selling long-term debt, it is possible to fully insulate the economy against fiscal shocks. The required short and long positions are large relative to GDP and constant. The market value of debt adjusts automatically and the constant debt positions and fluctuating bond prices insulate against potential shocks. However, achieving the goal of averting future shocks depends on the government perfectly committing to the future fiscal policy, for without this sustained commitment, the large debt positions required to insure against future spending shocks are extremely expensive to service; moreover, the government faces a tradeoff between using the debt maturity structure to service its debt obligations and using it to protect against economic shocks. As the authors point out, in practice a government chooses tax, spending, and debt levels sequentially in each period, taking into account its outstanding debt portfolio and anticipating the behavior of future governments. The paper develops an alternative model of optimal debt maturity that solves the problem of a government's lack of commitment.
AUTHORS: Nunes, Ricardo; Debortoli, Davide; Yared, Pierre
DATE: 2016-05-17

Working Paper
Is Inflation Default? The Role of Information in Debt Crises
We consider a two-period Bayesian trading game where in each period informed agents decide whether to buy an asset ("government debt") after observing an idiosyncratic signal about the prospects of default. While second-period buyers only need to forecast default, first-period buyers pass the asset to the new agents in the secondary market, and thus need to form beliefs about the price that will prevail at that stage. We provide conditions such that coarser information in the hands of second-period agents makes the price of debt more resilient to bad shocks not only in the last period, but in the first one as well. We use this model to study the consequences of issuing debt denominated in domestic vs. foreign currency: we interpret the former as subject to inflation risk and the latter as subject to default risk, with inflation driven by the information of a less-sophisticated group of agents endowed with less precise information, and default by the information of sophisticated bond traders. Our results can be used to account for the behavior of debt prices across countries following the 2008 financial crisis, and also provide a theory of "original sin."
AUTHORS: Galli, Carlo; Bassetto, Marco
DATE: 2017-03-17

Journal Article
Fiscal Sustainability: A Cross-Country Analysis
Since the global financial crisis, public debt has risen rapidly in many advanced and emerging market economies. Every country faces a fiscal limit at which taxes and spending can no longer adjust to stabilize debt. But quantifying fiscal limits can be challenging. Different countries have different capacities to service their debt. Moreover, two countries with similar debt levels may face drastically different default risks. {{p}} Huixin Bi introduces a new, country-specific framework of fiscal limits to quantify the maximum level of debt a government can sustain given its economic and policy environment. She finds that countries with relatively low government expenditures have significantly higher fiscal limits than countries with relatively high government expenditures. She also finds that sovereign default risks rise rapidly during an economic downturn, suggesting that debt levels viewed as safe in good times can quickly become unsustainable.
AUTHORS: Bi, Huixin
DATE: 2017-10

Working Paper
The Stock of External Sovereign Debt: Can We Take the Data at ‘Face Value’?
The stock of sovereign debt is typically measured at face value. Defined as the undiscounted sum of future principal repayments, face values are misleading when debts are issued with different contractual forms or maturities. In this paper, we construct alternative measures of the stock of external sovereign debt for 100 developing countries from 1979 through 2006 that correct for differences in contractual form and maturity. We show that our alternative measures: (1) paint a very different quantitative, and in some cases also qualitative, picture of the stock of developing country external sovereign debt; (2) often invert rankings of indebtedness across countries, which historically defined eligibility for debt forgiveness; (3) indicate that the empirical performance of the benchmark quantitative model of sovereign debt deteriorates by roughly 50% once model-consistent measures of debt are used; (4) show how the spread of aggregation clauses in debt contracts that award creditors voting power in proportion to the contractual face value may introduce inefficiencies into the process of restructuring sovereign debts; and (5) illustrate how countries have manipulated their debt issuance to meet fiscal targets written in terms of face values.
AUTHORS: Dias, Daniel A.; Richmond, Christine; Wright, Mark L. J.
DATE: 2014-05-09

Working Paper
Fiscal Austerity in Ambiguous Times
This paper analyzes optimal fiscal policy with ambiguity aversion and endogenous government spending. We show that, without ambiguity, optimal surplus-to-output ratios are acyclical and that there is no rationale for either reduction or further accumulation of public debt. In contrast, ambiguity about the cycle can generate optimally policies that resemble "austerity" measures. Optimal policy prescribes higher taxes in adverse times and front-loaded fiscal consolidations that lead to a balanced primary budget in the long-run. This is the case when interest rates are sufficiently responsive to cyclical shocks?that is, when the intertemporal elasticity of substitution is sufficiently low.
AUTHORS: Ferrière, Axelle; Karantounias, Anastasios G.
DATE: 2016-03-01

Working Paper
The Implications of a graying japan for government policy
Japan is in the midst of a demographic transition that is both rapid and large by international standards. As recently as 1990, Japan had the youngest population among the Group of 6 large, developed countries. However, the combined effects of aging of the baby boomer generation and low fertility rates have produced very rapid aging. Japan now finds itself with the oldest population among the Group of 6, and its population will continue to age at a rapid pace in future years. Aging is already placing a burden on government finances, and Japan's ability to confront the negative fiscal implications of future aging is constrained by its very high debt-to-GDP ratio. We find that Japan faces a severe fiscal crisis if remedial action is not undertaken soon, and we analyze alternative strategies for correcting Japan's fiscal imbalances.
AUTHORS: Braun, R. Anton; Joines, Douglas H.
DATE: 2014-11-01

Working Paper
Optimal Fiscal Policy with Recursive Preferences
I study the implications of recursive utility, a popular preference specification in macrofinance, for the design of optimal fiscal policy. Standard Ramsey tax-smoothing prescriptions are substantially altered. The planner overinsures by taxing less in bad times and more in good times, mitigating the effects of shocks. At the intertemporal margin, there is a novel incentive for introducing distortions that can lead to an ex-ante capital subsidy. Overall, optimal policy calls for a much stronger use of debt returns as a fiscal absorber, leading to the conclusion that actual fiscal policy is even worse than we thought.
AUTHORS: Karantounias, Anastasios G.
DATE: 2013-09-01

Working Paper
A Tax Plan for Endogenous Innovation
In times when elevated government debt raises concerns about dimmer global growth prospects, we ask: How can the government provide incentives for innovation in a fiscally sustainable way? We address this question by examining the Ramsey problem of finding optimal tax and subsidy schemes in a model in which growth is endogenously sustained by risky innovation. We characterize the shadow value of growth and entry in the innovation sector. We find that a profit tax is required to replicate the first-best in order to balance the externalities associated with innovative activity. At the second-best, the profit tax is designed to optimally respond to growth shocks above and beyond what is prescribed by the standard tax-smoothing incentives in economies with exogenous growth. The interplay of risk and innovation opens a new margin for optimal taxation.
AUTHORS: Croce, Mariano; Karantounias, Anastasios G.; Raymond, Stephen; Schmid, Lukas
DATE: 2017-11-01

Working Paper
Optimal Time-Consistent Taxation with Default
We study optimal time-consistent distortionary taxation when the repayment of government debt is not enforceable. The government taxes labor income or issues noncontingent debt in order to finance an exogenous stream of stochastic government expenditures. The government can repudiate its debt subject to some default costs, thereby introducing some state-contingency to debt. We are motivated by the fact that domestic sovereign default is an empirically relevant phenomenon, as Reinhart and Rogoff (2011) demonstrated. Optimal policy is characterized by two opposing incentives: an incentive to postpone taxes by issuing more debt for the future and an incentive to tax more currently in order to avoid punishing default premia. A generalized Euler equation (GEE) captures these two effects and determines the optimal back-loading or front-loading of tax distortions.
AUTHORS: Karantounias, Anastasios G.
DATE: 2017-11-01

Working Paper
Exposure to international crises: trade vs. financial contagion
I identify new patterns in countries' economic performance over the 2007-2014 period based on proximity through distance, trade, and finance to the US subprime mortgage and Eurozone debt crisis areas. To understand the causes of the cross-country variation, I develop an open economy model with two transmission channels that can be shocked separately: international trade and finance. The model is the first to include a government and heterogeneous firms that can default independently of one another and has a novel endogenous cost of sovereign default. I calibrate the model to the average experiences of countries near to and far from the crisis areas. Using these calibrations, disturbances on the order of those observed during the late 2000s are separately applied to each channel to study transmission. The results suggest credit disruption as the primary contagion driver, rather than the trade channel. Given the substantial degree of financial contagion, I run a series of counterfactuals studying the efficacy of capital controls and find that they would be a useful tool for preventing similarly severe contagion in the future, so long as there is not capital immobility to the degree that the local sovereign can default without suffering capital flight.
AUTHORS: Grant, Everett
DATE: 2016-08-01


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