Tuesday, January 24, 2012

Pricing of Sovereign Credit Risk: Evidence from Advanced Economies During the Financial Crisis

Pricing of Sovereign Credit Risk: Evidence from Advanced Economies During the Financial Crisis. By C. Emre Alper, Lorenzo Forni and Marc Gerard
IMF Working Paper WP/12/24
January, 2012

Summary: We investigate the pricing of sovereign credit risk over the period 2008-2010 for selected advanced economies by examining two widely-used indicators: sovereign credit default swap (CDS) and relative asset swap (RAS) spreads. Cointegration analysis suggests the existence of an imperfect market arbitrage relationship between the cash (RAS) and the derivatives (CDS) markets, with price discovery taking place in the latter. Likewise, panel regressions aimed at uncovering the fundamental drivers of the two indicators show that the CDS market, although less liquid, has provided a better signal for sovereign credit risk during the period of the recent financial crisis.

This paper addressed the linkages and determinants of two widely used indicators of sovereign risk: CDS and RAS spreads. It focused on advanced economies during the recent financial crisis and the sovereign market tensions that followed. It showed strong co-movements between both series, especially for those countries that have come under significant market pressure. At the same time, arbitrage distortions have remained pervasive in the biggest economies. This suggests that the liquidity of the derivatives market is of paramount importance for CDS spreads to fully reflect sovereign credit risk. For those economies where the evidence stands in favor of a cointegration relationship, deviations from arbitrage have been long lasting, though in line with results in the literature. Also, CDS spreads were found to anticipate changes in RAS, suggesting that the derivatives market has been leading in the process of pricing sovereign credit risk. Regarding the role of fundamentals, we showed that variables related to fiscal sustainability are able to explain only a limited share of the variation of CDS spreads. Spreads seem to respond more to financial variables (such as domestic banking sector capitalization, short-term liquidity conditions, large-scale long-term bond purchases by major central banks) or purely global variables (global growth, global risk aversion, dummies for the different stages of the crisis).

These results refer to a specific group of advanced countries over a short span of time. They suggest that movements in CDS and RAS spreads need to be interpreted with caution. First, while in theory they should be strictly connected, CDS and RAS spreads do not, generally, follow the pattern suggested by the no-arbitrage condition. Moreover, they are affected by several factors, with global and financial considerations playing a dominant role, while at the same time leaving room for a large unexplained component. In general, however, CDS spreads seem to have provided better signals than RAS regarding the market assessment of sovereign risk: over the period covered by the analysis, they have led the process of price discoveries in those countries under market pressure and have been more correlated than RAS to those fundamentals that are expected to affect sovereign risk.
PDF here: http://www.imf.org/external/pubs/ft/wp/2012/wp1224.pdf

The Challenge of Public Pension Reform in Advanced and Emerging Economies

The Challenge of Public Pension Reform in Advanced and Emerging Economies. Prepared by the Fiscal Affairs Department
December 28, 2011

Summary: This paper reviews past trends in public pension spending and provides projections for 27 advanced and 25 emerging economies over 2011–2050. In constructing these projections, the paper incorporates the impact of recent pension reforms and highlights the key assumptions underlying these projections and associated risks. The paper also presents reform options to address future pension spending pressures in the advanced and emerging economies. These reforms—mainly increasing retirement ages, reducing replacement rates, or increasing payroll taxes—are discussed in the context of their role in fiscal consolidation, and their implications for both equity and economic growth. In addition, the paper examines the challenge of emerging economies of expanding coverage in a fiscally sustainable manner.

Executive Summary
Public pension reform will be a key policy challenge in both advanced and emerging economies over coming decades. Many economies will need to achieve significant fiscal consolidation over the next two decades. Given high levels of taxation, particularly in advanced economies, fiscal consolidation will often need to focus on the expenditure side. As public pension spending comprises a significant share of total spending, and is projected to rise further, efforts to contain these increases will in most cases be a necessary part of fiscal consolidation packages. Pension reforms can also help avoid the need for even larger cuts in pro-growth spending, such as public investment, and help prevent the worsening of intergenerational equity caused by rising life expectancies (at a pace faster than expected) and longer periods of retirement. Finally, some pension reforms, such as increases in retirement ages, can raise potential growth. Thus, while the appropriate level of pension spending and the design of the pension system are ultimately matters of public preference, there are several potential benefits for countries that choose to undertake pension reform. Against this background, this paper provides: (i) an assessment of the main drivers underlying spending trends over recent decades; (ii) new projections for public pension spending in advanced and emerging economies over the next 20 to 40 years; (iii) an assessment of the sensitivity of the country projections to demographic and macroeconomic factors, and risks of reform reversal; and (iv) country-specific policy recommendations to respond to pension spending pressures.

Pension spending is projected to rise in advanced and emerging economies by an average of 1 and 2½ percentage points of GDP over the next two and four decades, respectively, and is subject to a number of risks. During 2010–2030, increases in spending in excess of 2 percentage points of GDP are projected in nine advanced and six emerging economies. There is considerable uncertainty with respect to these projections, but risks are on the upside for a number of countries. Under a scenario where life expectancy is higher than anticipated—life expectancy projections have in the past underestimated actual increases—pension spending would be over 1 percentage point of GDP higher than projected in 2030 in five economies.  Under a low labor productivity scenario, pension spending would be over ½ percentage point of GDP higher in three economies. Sizable risks are also associated with implementing enacted reforms as well as contingent fiscal risks if governments have to supplement private pensions should these fail to deliver adequate benefits.

The appropriate reform mix depends on country circumstances and preferences, although increasing retirement ages has many advantages. It is important that pension reforms do not undermine the ability of public pensions to alleviate poverty among the elderly.  Raising retirement ages avoids the need for further cuts in replacement rates on top of those already legislated, and in many countries the scope for raising contributions may be limited in light of high payroll tax burdens. Longer working lives also raise potential output over time. In many advanced economies there is room for more ambitious increases in statutory retirement ages in light of continued gains in life expectancy, but this should be accompanied by measures that protect the incomes of those who cannot continue to work. In emerging Europe, one possible strategy would be to equalize retirement ages of men and women. In other emerging economies, where pension coverage is low, expansion of non-contributory “social pensions” could be considered, combined with reforms that place pension systems on sound financial footing, including raising the statutory age of retirement. Where average pensions are high relative to average wages, efforts to increase statutory ages could be complemented by reductions in the generosity of pensions. Where taxes on labor income are relatively low, increasing revenues could be considered, and all countries should strive to improve the efficiency of payroll contribution collections.

PDF here: http://www.imf.org/external/np/pp/eng/2011/122811.pdf