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NBER: From Financial Crash to Debt Crisis

Authors: Carmen M. Reinhart, Research Associate, National Bureau of Economic Research; and Vincent Reinhart, Resident Scholar, American Enterprise Institute, and Kenneth S. Rogoff, Professor of Economics and Thomas D. Cabot Professor of Public Policy, Harvard University
March 1, 2010

Newly developed long historical time series on public debt, along with modern data on external debts, allow a deeper analysis of the cycles underlying serial debt and banking crises. The evidence confirms a strong link between banking crises and sovereign default across the economic history of great many countries, advanced and emerging alike. The focus of the analysis is on three related hypotheses tested with both "world" aggregate levels and on an individual country basis. First, private debt surges are a recurring antecedent to banking crises; governments quite contribute to this stage of the borrowing boom. Second, banking crises (both domestic ones and those emanating from international financial centers) often precede or accompany sovereign debt crises. Indeed, we find they help predict them. Third, public borrowing accelerates markedly ahead of a sovereign debt crisis; governments often have "hidden debts" that far exceed the better documented levels of external debt (PDF).

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