The Cost of Holding Foreign Exchange Reserves

CID Faculty Working Paper Series No. 353

Eduardo Levy Yeyati and Juan Francisco Gómez
May 2019

Recent studies that have emphasized the costs of accumulating reserves for self-insurance purposes have overlooked two potentially important side-effects. First, the impact of the resulting lower spreads on the service costs of the stock of sovereign debt, which could substantially reduce the marginal cost of holding reserves. Second, when reserve accumulation reflects countercyclical LAW central bank interventions, the actual cost of reserves should be measured as the sum of valuation effects due to exchange rate changes and the local-to-foreign currency exchange rate differential (the inverse of a carry trade profit and loss total return flow), which yields a cost that is typically smaller than the one arising from traditional estimates based on the sovereign credit risk spreads. We document those effects empirically to illustrate that the cost of holding reserves may have been considerably smaller than usually assumed in both the academic literature and the policy debate.

Keywords: International reserves, exchange rate policy, capital flows, financial crisis

JEL Classifications: E42, E52, F33, F41

Affiliated Research Program: Growth Lab