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date: 08 July 2020

Summary and Keywords

Sovereign borrowing and debt default have long been a part of a nation’s existence. Sovereign debt defaults (that is, the suspension of interest or principal payment on due debt) were common from the sixteenth century, when Edward III declared a default after military defeat in 1340, to the nineteenth century, when Latin American countries defaulted on some of their debts. Early loans were made in the form of repayable taxes until the system evolved to allow for sovereign loans, transparent enough that secondary markets for these debts were soon developed. A government may default on its debt due to unwillingness or inability to pay. In both cases, default is a difficult political decision whose real costs remain somewhat ambiguous from a theoretical standpoint. The costs of default are often contingent on the type of debt restructuring deal reached between the debtor and the creditor. The scholarly literature on sovereign debt crises is substantial, particularly with respect to the economic, legal, and political costs of default. More recent theoretical work has focused on the trend toward increased domestic debt, which is expected to help reduce the probability of a debt crisis. However, domestically issued sovereign debt can lead to other types of risk. While relying on domestic institutional investors in local economies can help smooth cycles of liquidity shortages, over-reliance on those investors (particularly pension funds) can undermine the solvency of domestic banks and social security arrangements.

Keywords: sovereign debt, sovereign debt default, debt restructuring, domestic debt, debt crisis, institutional investors, sovereign loans, sovereign borrowing

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