Wednesday, April 11, 2012

How Sovereign Debt Differs from Private Debt

Sovereign debt differs from private-sector debt, or debt incurred by households and corporations, for two reasons according to the Congressional Research Service report "Sovereign Debt in Advanced Economies: Overview and Issues for Congress".

debt
debt (Photo credit: Alan Cleaver)
First, there is no international bankruptcy court that can enforce debt contracts between private investors and sovereign governments. In the domestic context, private borrowers cannot simply refuse to repay debts to creditors. Domestic laws and courts can force debtors to turn over existing assets to creditors or put the debtor through bankruptcy proceedings, during which the borrower liquidates its assets and turns them over to the creditor. In the international context, by contrast, there are no internationally accepted laws or bankruptcy courts to provide creditors recourse against governments that refuse to repay their debts. 

Debt contracts between governments and private creditors often include provisions that stipulate what jurisdiction’s law is to be applied in the event of a dispute about the contract. 

However, there is no way to force a government that has defaulted on its debt to abide by another country’s court ruling that it must repay the loan. Proposals for creating internationally accepted bankruptcy proceedings and regulations, possibly to be overseen by the IMF, have not been fruitful.

A second reason why public debt differs from some private debt contracts is that sovereign debt is “unsecured,” or not backed by collateral. Governments cannot credibly commit to turn over assets if they are unable to repay their debts, because, again, there is no international authority to compel them do to so. 

This contrasts with the private sector, where debt contracts are frequently backed by collateral. For example, property serves as collateral for mortgages in most countries. Some private-sector debt is not backed by collateral. Credit card debt, for example, is unsecured.

This is not to say that public debt is inherently more risky than private debt. In fact, some credit rating agencies use the credit rating of the sovereign as an upper limit for the ratings that domestic borrowers in that country can receive. 

However, the strict use of a sovereign credit rating ceiling for domestic borrowers has waned in recent years. Sovereign debt may be less risky than private-sector debt because governments have the power of taxation to raise money in order to service debt, unlike private borrowers
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1 comment:

  1. Each has several factors to consider. This acts the same in long island mortgage as well.

    ReplyDelete

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