The contractual approach to sovereign debt restructuring

Working papers set out research in progress by our staff, with the aim of encouraging comments and debate.
Published on 16 February 2011

Working Paper No. 409
By Sergi Lanau 

The contractual approach proposes the introduction of clauses in sovereign debt contracts to address a number of inefficiencies in sovereign debt markets. Two of its central innovations are collective action clauses and seniority clauses. This paper analyses these two clauses when: (1) repayment is endogenous and depends on creditor lobbying effort; (2) litigation for full repayment does not increase the payment to be extracted from the creditor. There is a positive externality of effort that strongly interacts with asset distribution and contractual clauses. Individual litigation is not desirable from the creditors’ point of view since it weakens the incentives to exert effort. Collective action clauses block litigation and maximise repayment, especially when creditors are heterogeneous in the amount of debt they hold. The adoption of seniority clauses modifies the incentives to exert effort and thus repayment. This effect can be positive or negative. If average portfolio sizes are similar but the marginal loan being repaid is unevenly distributed among creditors, repayment falls. Since effort decisions are influenced by asset distribution, the paper also identifies and analyses a novel role for secondary markets.

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