IMF sees domestic debt restructuring playing big role in future debt crisis

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The International Monetary Fund (IMF) sees restructuring of domestic debts playing a big role in the resolution of future debt crises by countries following the rise to 46 percent from 31 percent of total sovereign domestic debt for emerging market developing economies (EMDEs) over the past two decades.

In a paper titled, ‘Sovereign Domestic Debt restructuring: Handle with care,’ the IMF stated that domestic debt restructuring is a tool that can be used by sovereigns facing fiscal and economic stress which should be well designed to avoid doing more harm than good. It also noted that sovereign domestic debt restructuring should be part of a broader policy package that effectively addresses the underlying problems and debt vulnerabilities.

With rising debt vulnerabilities and growing stocks of sovereign domestic debt in emerging and developing economies, the questions of when and how to restructure such debt are now more acute than ever. Also, much of the Fund’s and academic work on sovereign debt problems has focused on the implications of restructuring sovereign external debt, by altering the terms of the debt such as the amount owed or the repayment period through negotiations with different types of external creditors, till date, the paper noted.

The IMF paper stated that domestic debt restructuring may be easier to accomplish, on one hand, but it noted that fiscal authorities may simply elect to alter the terms of debt contracts through changing domestic law. This may avoid some costly consequences associated with external debt restructurings, such as the loss of access to external debt markets. On the other hand, it noted that domestic debt is often held predominantly by domestic creditors who will suffer losses. Through this channel, the IMF says, sovereign debt distress can easily be spread to domestic banks, pension funds, households and other parts of the domestic economy and can add to the economic malaise that made the debt restructuring necessary in the first place.

 “The decision to restructure domestic debt or not is always the sovereign’s prerogative and entails the responsibility to limit the damage and help mitigate the effects of a restructuring on the domestic economy. For example, to avoid compromising the viability of the domestic financial system, the government may be required to recapitalize some banks or replenish pension savings. Similarly, ensuring the continued effective functioning of the central bank may require fiscal support.

 “The net benefit calculation will determine whether or not the domestic debt should be part of a restructuring, together with external debt, or on a standalone basis,” it asserted.