Friday, October 5, 2012

Sovereign Risk and Asset and Liability Management—Conceptual Issues

Sovereign Risk and Asset and Liability Management—Conceptual Issues. By Udaibir S. Das, Yinqiu Lu, Michael G. Papaioannou, and Iva Petrova
IMF Working Paper 12/241
Oct 2012

Summary: Country practices towards managing financial risks on a sovereign balance sheet continue to evolve. Each crisis period, and its legacy on sovereign balance sheets, reaffirms the need for strengthening financial risk management. This paper discusses some salient features embedded in in the current generation of sovereign asset and liability management (SALM) approaches, including objectives, definitions of relevant assets and liabilities, and methodologies used in obtaining optimal SALM outcomes. These elements are used in developing an analytical SALM framework which could become an operational instrument in formulating asset management and debtor liability management strategies at the sovereign level. From a portfolio perspective, the SALM approach could help detect direct and derived sovereign risk exposures. It allows analyzing the financial characteristics of the balance sheet, identifying sources of costs and risks, and quantifying the correlations among these sources of risk. The paper also outlines institutional requirements in implementing an SALM framework and seeks to lay the ground for further policy and analytical work on this topic.


The financial crises of the last thirty years have amply demonstrated that unattended public and private sector risks can be at crises’ origins. Sovereigns are susceptible to various risks and uncertainties relating to their financial assets and liabilities, depending on the country’s level of economic and financial development. Typically, emerging market sovereigns face increased market exposure of their net foreign asset and debt portfolios, especially as they expand access to domestic and international capital markets. Many frontier market sovereigns are exposed to risks arising from terms-of-trade shocks and changes in debt refinancing terms, and tend to be more vulnerable to exogenous shocks than other countries.

Advanced markets face market risk exposure as well, particularly those that rely on capital market access and are systemically important issuers of public debt. In addition, they face other financial risks associated with an aging population, structural issues that need reform ( health and pension), and contingent liabilities arising from systemically important financial or corporate firms, and or potentially weak financial sectors and/or subnational entities. These risks, if realized, could cause a significant fiscal and financial drain and a consequent fall in the country’s domestic absorption and potential output.

To help identify and manage effectively the key financial exposures, a sovereign asset and liability management (SALM) framework, based on the balance-sheet approach, can be employed. This framework can also be used to inform the macroeconomic and financial stability policy design. SALM focuses on managing and containing the financial risk exposure of the public sector as a whole, so as to preserve a sound balance sheet needed to support a sustainable policy path and economic growth. The SALM approach entails monitoring and quantifying the impact of movements in exchange rates, interest rates, inflation, and commodity prices on sovereign assets and liabilities and identifying other debt-related vulnerabilities (Rosenberg et al., 2005) in a coordinated if not an integrated way (Figure 1).

The SALM approach can also be utilized to facilitate a country’s long-term macroeconomic and developmental objectives such as economic diversification, broadening of the export market, or reducing the dependence on key import products. Further, the SALM approach can help identify long-term fiscal challenges, such as unfunded social security liabilities, implying a future claim on resources (Traa and Carare, 2007). In this context, the SALM framework forms an integral part of an overall macroeconomic management strategy (e.g., Au-Yeung et al., 2006, Bolder, 2002, CREF South Africa, 1995, Danmarks Nationalbank, 2000, Grimes, 2001, Horman, 2002).

For commodity-exporting countries, the SALM approach can highlight the potential asset management challenges that stem from a medium-term fiscal strategy (Leigh and Olters, 2006). For example, high commodity prices lead to higher revenues, concurrently strengthening their (unadjusted) fiscal positions. However, commodity depletion leads to lower future revenues, which could be mitigated with appropriate asset management to ensure that future fiscal expenditures are sustainable.

From a portfolio perspective, the SALM approach could help detect sovereign risk exposures.  It allows analyzing the financial characteristics of the balance sheet, identifying sources of costs and risks, and quantifying the correlations among these sources ((Claessens, 2005; Lu, Papaioannou, and Petrova, 2007; Zacho, 2006). If the match of financial characteristics of the assets and liabilities is only partial, risk management could focus on the unmatched portions, i.e., net financial positions. In a short- to medium-term perspective, a financial risk management strategy could then be developed to reduce exposures. For example, if the net position results in a liability exposure, appropriate strategies should be developed to manage the risks associated with such exposure.

The application of the SALM framework could be constrained by a number of policy and institutional factors. Monetary policy objectives have an impact on SALM strategies, by affecting either market—interest rate and exchange rate—risk management or directly the size of the balance sheet. Fiscal policy objectives that aim at limiting annual debt service costs may put constraints on the duration and currency composition of public debt, since high shares of short-term debt are perceived to lead to greater volatility of service costs.

The structure of international and domestic capital markets also shapes the SALM implementation. Some developing countries cannot issue domestic debt because of illiquid and/or shallow domestic debt capital markets and a lack of a reliable local investor base. Their attempts to issue domestic-currency external debt have also not been well-received in international markets owing, in part, to their vulnerability to shocks, restrictions on foreign investors to buy local-currency debt (e.g., on type of instruments, minimum holding period), poor transparency, and/or a lack of interest rate and exchange rate hedging instruments.

In addition, some have argued that combining the management of sovereign assets and liabilities under one framework may not be optimal.5 Cassard and Folkerts-Landau (2000) points out a potential conflict of interest between monetary policy and debt management if a central bank assumes an operational role or actively participates in debt markets. For example, the central bank may be reluctant to increase the interest rates in the face of growing inflation concerns for fear of raising debt rollover costs. Also, the central bank’s intervention policy may be in conflict with its daily task of managing the liquidity of the foreign currency debt.

While risk management approaches for sovereigns may differ from those for the private sector (see Box 1), this paper discusses the salient features embedded in countries’ approaches to SALM, including main objectives, definitions of relevant assets and liabilities, and methodologies used in obtaining optimal debt and asset outcomes. These considerations are typically taken into account when developing an analytical SALM framework, which may evolve into an operational instrument for formulating asset and debt/liability management strategies. Also, the paper outlines common institutional requirements and constraints in implementing an SALM framework, and, based on select country experiences with the SALM approach, draws some stylized lessons and general policy guidelines on adopting an SALM approach.