By Guilherme Bandeira
This paper investigates the welfare and economic stabilization properties of a fiscal transfers scheme between members of a monetary union subject to sovereign spread shocks. The scheme, which consists of cross-country transfer rules triggered when sovereign spreads widen, is incorporated in a two-country model with financial frictions. In particular, banks hold government bonds in their portfolios, being exposed to sovereign risk. When this increases, a drop bank’s equity value forces them to contract credit and to raise lending rates at the same time as they retain funds to build up their net worth. I show that, when domestic fiscal policy is not distortionary, fiscal transfers improve welfare and macroeconomic stability. This is because fiscal transfers can reduce banks’ exposure to government debt, freeing credit supply to the private sector. On the contrary, when domestic fiscal policy is distortionary, fiscal transfers cause welfare losses, despite stabilizing the economy. This result arises because the distortions caused by funding the scheme outweigh the positive effects of fiscal transfers in smoothing the adjustment of the economy hit by the shock.
Cool paper that shows that such an automatic balancing mechanism across countries may not be a good idea due to the distortionary nature of taxes. That said, I do not understand the European obsession with avoiding sovereign spreads. They reflect risk differentials and sovereign should be sensitive to such price signals. If they are not, they should pay for the consequences of their policies.