DP15336 Legal Air Cover

Author(s): Patrick Bolton, Mitu Gulati, Ugo Panizza
Publication Date: October 2020
Keyword(s): debt restructuring, Incomplete Contracts, sovereign default
JEL(s): F34, F51
Programme Areas: Financial Economics, International Macroeconomics and Finance
Link to this Page: cepr.org/active/publications/discussion_papers/dp.php?dpno=15336

The economic harm being caused by the novel coronavirus may soon result in multiple sovereign debtors moving into default territory. But the existing playbook for dealing with multi-sovereign emerging market debt crises is blank. The only debt crisis scenario we know is protracted country-by-country and contract-by-contract negotiated workouts. As of this writing, expert groups are working on the design of a mechanism to run multiple sovereign debt workouts simultaneously. Those designs, however, will take time to configure and get international buy-in. This paper sets forth some options to provide temporary legal protection to the debtor countries in the meantime; while they are in need of diverting resources toward Covid amelioration. This is the notion of "legal air cover". The options we propose involve ex post state intervention in debt contracts. They are extreme and may come with risks. But we show that in the case of Greece, when intervention such as we envision was necessary, there were no negative spillovers on periphery Eurozone debt markets associated with the Greek ex post modification of contract terms.