From Financial Repression to External Distress: The Case of Venezuela

CID Faculty Working Paper No. 293
Carmen Reinhart, Miguel Angel Santos
April 2015 (Updated June 2015)


Recent work has supported that there is a connection between domestic debt level and sovereign default on external debt. We examine the potential linkages in a case study of Venezuela from 1984 to 2013. This unique example encompasses multiple financial crises, cycles of liberalization and policy reversals, and alternative exchange rate arrangements. The Venezuelan experience reveals a nexus among domestic debt, financial repression, and external vulnerability. Unlike foreign currency-denominated debt, debt in domestic currency may be reduced through financial repression, a tax on bondholders and savers producing negative real interest rates. Using a variety of methodologies we estimate the magnitude of the tax from financial repression. On average, this financial repression tax (as a share of GDP) is similar to those of OECD economies, in spite of much higher domestic debt-to-GDP ratios in the latter. The financial repression "tax rate" is significantly higher in years of exchange controls and legislated interest rate ceilings. In line with earlier literature on capital controls, our comprehensive measures of capital flight document a link between domestic disequilibrium and a weakening of the net foreign asset position via private capital flight. We suggest these findings are not unique to the Venezuelan case.

JEL Classification: E66, F32, F34.

Keywords: Financial repression, external debt, default, domestic debt, capital flight, capital and exchange controls, inflation, and interest rates


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Affiliated Research Program:
Growth Lab