Basics Of Dollarization

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Basics ofDollarizationJuly 1999(updated January 2000)Joint Economic CommitteeOffice of the Chairman,Senator Connie Mack349

SUMMARYDollarization occurs when residents of a country extensively useforeign currency alongside or instead of the domestic currency.Dollarization can occur unofficially, without formal legal approval, orit can be official, as when a country ceases to issue a domestic currencyand uses only foreign currency. The idea of dollarization has gainedprominence in the last year because several countries have consideredofficial dollarization. As of late January 2000, Ecuador is seriouslyconsidering it.Since interest in official dollarization is fairly new, publishedinformation on the subject is scarce, though it has been expanding inthe six months since the original version of this study appeared. Thisstudy explains the basic features of dollarization: what varieties ittakes, where it exists, how it works, what the costs and benefits ofofficial dollarization are, and what issues arise in implementing officialdollarization.350

CONTENTSSummary .3501. Introduction.3522. Varieties of Dollarization .3533. How Dollarization Works .3614. Costs and Benefits for the United States.3645. Costs and Benefits for Dollarizing Countries .3676. Which Countries Are Candidates forOfficial Dollarization? .3747. Issues in Implementing Official Dollarization .3788. Steps in Implementing Official Dollarization .3829. Further Technical Issues in Official Dollarization.38510. The International Monetary Stability Act .38711. Conclusion.388References .390351

1. INTRODUCTIONDollarization occurs when residents of a country extensively usethe U.S. dollar or another foreign currency alongside or instead of thedomestic currency. Unofficial dollarization occurs when individualshold foreign-currency bank deposits or notes (paper money) to protectagainst high inflation in the domestic currency. Official dollarizationoccurs when a government adopts foreign currency as the predominantor exclusive legal tender.Unofficial dollarization has existed in many countries for years. Ithas attracted much study by economists, but far less political attentionbecause it is to a certain extent beyond the control of governments.Dollarization has been in the news lately because of interest in officialdollarization. In early 1999 the government of Argentina stated that itsought a formal agreement with the United States to become officiallydollarized. Argentina or any other country can become officiallydollarized even without a formal agreement, but there may beeconomic and political benefits to a formal agreement. Ar gentina’saction sparked discussion of official dollarization in other LatinAmerican countries, including Ecuador. On January 9, 2000, Ecuador’spresident proposed dollarization as a way of helping his country out ofa deep recession and political turmoil. On January 21 political unrestforced him out of office, but his successor has expressed support fordollarization. As of late January it remains to be seen whether Ecuadorwill implement dollarization. On January 24, administrators of theUnited Nations announced that for the time being, the dollar will be theofficial currency of East Timor, which recently regained independencefrom Indonesia.The largest independent country that currently has officialdollarization is Panama. However, dollarization potentially haswidespread application in developing countries because few havecurrencies that have performed as well as the U.S. dollar. Consider asimple three-part test of currency quality from 1971 (the last year ofthe gold standard) to the present: no years of inflation over 20 percent,loss of value against the dollar of no more than 25 percent, and norestrictions on buying foreign currency since the end of the goldstandard. The United States passes the test, but among developingcountries that are members of the International Monetary Fund (IMF),only Panama passes. This indicates that many developing countriescould have had much higher-quality currencies by replacing theirdomestically issued currencies with the dollar. Had they not wanted touse the dollar, they could also have done well by using the Germanmark or Japanese yen, the two other leading international currencies.352

Until 1999, official dollarization received practically no attentionbecause it was considered a political impossibility. Publishedinformation on official dollarization is therefore scarce, though it hasbeen expanding since the original version of this study appeared in July1999.1 To make information more widely available, this report explainsthe basic features of dollarization: what varieties it takes, where itexists, how it works, what the costs and benefits of officialdollarization are, and what issues arise in implementing officialdollarization.A previous Joint Economic Committee staff report (JEC 1999)focused on official dollarization from the standpoint of the UnitedStates and discussed “dollarization” in terms of the U.S. dollar only.This report has a broader focus, so “dollarization” here refers to anyforeign currency used alongside or instead of the domestic currency,whether officially or unofficially. Official dollarization using the U.S.dollar will, however, receive special emphasis since it is the variety ofdollarization most relevant for policy discussion in the United States.This report focuses on practical aspects of dollarization. A companionstaff report from the Senate Banking Committee (Stein 1999a) surveyseconomic arguments for and against official dollarization.2. VARIETIES OF DOLLARIZATIONDollarization has three main varieties: unofficial dollarization,semiofficial dollarization, and official dollarization.Unofficial dollarization. Unofficial dollarization occurs whenpeople hold much of their financial wealth in foreign assets eventhough foreign currency is not legal tender. (Legal tender means that acurrency is legally acceptable as payment for all debts, unless perhapsthe parties to the payment have specified payment in another currency.Legal tender differs from forced tender, which means that people mustaccept a currency in payment even if they would prefer to specifyanother currency.) The term “unofficial dollarization” covers bothcases where holding foreign assets is legal and cases where it is illegal.In some countries it is legal to hold some kinds of foreign assets, suchas dollar accounts with a domestic bank, but illegal to hold other kinds1See in particular the conference papers from the Instituto TecnológicoAutónomo de México and the Inter-American Development Bank, availableonline and listed at the end of the references. The Federal Reserve Bank ofDallas will hold a conference March 5-6, 2000. Because of interest in officialdollarization in Latin America, almost as much has been written on the subjectin Spanish as in English; the most comprehensive work so far in eitherlanguage is Schuldt (1999).353

of foreign assets, such as bank accounts abroad, unless specialpermission has been granted.Unofficial dollarization can include holding any of the following: Foreign bonds and other nonmonetary assets, generally heldabroad. Foreign-currency deposits abroad. Foreign-currency deposits in the domestic banking system. Foreign notes (paper money) in wallets and mattresses.Unofficial dollarization often occurs in stages that correspond tothe textbook functions of money as a store of value, means of payment,and unit of account. In the first stage, which economists sometimes call“asset substitution,” people hold foreign bonds and deposits abroad asstores of value. They do so because they want to protect against losingwealth through inflation in the domestic currency or through theoutright confiscations that some countries have made. In the secondstage of unofficial dollarization, which economists sometimes call“currency substitution,” people hold large amounts of foreign-currencydeposits in the domestic banking system (if permitted), and laterforeign notes, both as a means of payment and as stores of value.Wages, taxes, and everyday expenses such as groceries and electricbills continue to be paid in domestic currency, but expensive itemssuch as automobiles and houses are often paid in foreign currency. Inthe final stage of unofficial dollarization, people think in terms offoreign currency, and prices in domestic currency become indexed tothe exchange rate.Where unofficial dollarization exists. Measuring the extent ofunofficial dollarization is difficult. Accurate statistics on how muchpeople hold in foreign bonds, bank deposits, or notes and coins areusually unavailable. However, estimates of the extent to which notes ofthe U.S. dollar and a few other currencies circulate outside theircountries of origin give a rough idea of how widespread unofficialdollarization is. Researchers at the Federal Reserve System estimatethat foreigners hold 55 to 70 percent of U.S. dollar notes, mainly as 100 bills (Porter and Judson 1996, p. 899). The amount of dollarcurrency in circulation is currently about 480 billion, which impliesthat foreigners hold roughly 300 billion. A study by the Bundesbank,Germany’s central bank, estimates that foreigners hold 40 percent ofGerman mark notes (Seitz 1995).Another way to measure unofficial dollarization is by theproportion of foreign-currency deposits in the domestic bankingsystem. A recent survey of selected developing countries by the IMF354

found 52 that were highly or moderately dollarized as of 1995 (Baliñoand others 1999, pp. 2-3).2 The notes to Table 1 list the countries.In most unofficially dollarized countries, the U.S. dollar is theforeign currency of choice. That is particularly true in Latin Americaand the Caribbean, where the United States is the largest or secondlargest trading partner and the largest source of foreign investment foralmost every country. Russia is also dollarized unofficially to a largeextent: it has been estimated that Russians hold as much as 40 billionof dollar notes (Melloan 1998). The German mark is the foreigncurrency of choice in the Balkans. Like the French franc, Italian lira,Spanish peseta, and a number of other Western European currencies,the mark is now a subdivision of the European euro. Euro notes andcoins will replace national notes and coins throughout the “Euroland”in 2002. The euro should then become a stronger rival to the dollar asthe foreign currency of choice in the former Soviet Union, Africa, andthe Middle East.Table 1 lists countries that have unofficial dollarization in thesense of widespread use of any foreign currency, not just the U.S.dollar. The dollar and the German mark are the only currencies sowidely used outside their countries of origin as to have worldwidesignificance. The use of other currencies abroad is limited; inparticular, despite the large size of Japan’s economy, the Japanese yenseems to be little used abroad.Semiofficial dollarization. More than a dozen countries have whatmight be called semiofficial dollarization or officially bimonetarysystems. Under semiofficial dollarization, foreign currency is legaltender and may even dominate bank deposits, but plays a secondaryrole to domestic currency in paying wages, taxes, and everydayexpenses such as grocery and electric bills. Unlike officially dollarizedcountries, semiofficially dollarized ones retain a domestic central bankor other monetary authority and have corresponding latitude to conducttheir own monetary policy. Table 1 lists semiofficially dollarizedcountries.Official dollarization. Official dollarization, also called fulldollarization, occurs when foreign currency has exclusive orpredominant status as full legal tender. That means not only is foreigncurrency legal for use in contracts between private parties, but thegovernment uses it in payments. If domestic currency exists, it is2Extensive foreign-currency deposits are not confined to developingcountries: in Britain they exceeded 15 percent of the total in 1995. However,foreign-currency deposits in developed countries typically result frominvolvement in international finance rather than from people seeking to hedgeagainst high inflation in the domestic currency.355

Table 1. Unofficially and SemiofficiallyDollarized Countries as of January 2000Unofficially dollarized—U.S. dollar: Most of LatinAmerica and the Caribbean, especially Argentina, Bolivia,Mexico, Peru, and Central America; most of the former SovietUnion, especially Armenia, Azerbaijan, Georgia, Russia, andUkraine; various other countries, including Mongolia,Mozambique, Romania, Turkey, and mas,Cambodia, Haiti, Laos (also Thai baht), Liberia.Unofficially dollarized—other currencies: French franc—some former French colonies in Africa; German mark—Balkans; Hong Kong dollar—Macau and southern China;Russian ruble—Belarus.Semiofficially dollarized—other currencies: Bhutan(Indian rupee); Bosnia (German mark, Croatian kuna, Yugoslavdinar); Brunei (Singapore dollar); Channel Islands, Isle of Man(British pound); Lesotho (South African rand); Luxembourg(Belgian franc); Montenegro (German mark, Yugoslav dinar);Namibia (South African rand); Tajikistan (use of foreigncurrencies permitted—Russian ruble widespread).Notes: Unofficial dollarization is hard to measure. An IMF surveybased on data of foreign-currency deposits alone classifies 18 countriesas “highly dollarized” as of 1995, meaning foreign-currency depositsexceeded 30 percent of a broad measure of the money supply. Thecountries are Argentina, Azerbaijan, Belarus, Bolivia, Cambodia,Costa Rica, Croatia, Georgia, Guinea-Bissau, Laos, Latvia,Mozambique, Nicaragua, Peru, São Tomé and Principe, Tajikistan,Turkey, and Uruguay. The survey classifies as “moderately dollarized”another 34 countries, where foreign-currency deposits averaged 16.4percent of a broad measure of the money supply. Those countries areAlbania, Armenia, Bulgaria, the Czech Republic, Dominica, Ecuador,Egypt, El Salvador, Estonia, Guinea, Honduras, Hungary, Jamaica,Jordan, Lithuania, Macedonia, Malawi, Mexico, Moldova, Mongolia,Pakistan, the Philippines, Poland, Romania, Russia, Sierra Leone,Slovak Republic, Trinidad and Tobago, Uganda, Ukraine, Uzbekistan,Vietnam, Yemen, and Zambia (Baliño and others 1999, pp. 2-3).Semiofficially dollarized countries are those that the IMF (1998)identifies as having foreign currency as “other legal tender,” meaningthat foreign currency circulates widely but plays a secondary legal roleto the domestic currency.356

confined to a secondary role, such as being issued only in the form ofcoins having small value.Officially dollarized countries vary concerning the number offoreign currencies they allow to be full legal tender and concerning therelationship between domestic currency—if it exists—and foreigncurrency. Official dollarization need not mean that just one or twoforeign currencies are the only full legal tenders; freedom of choice canprovide some protection from bein g stuck using a foreign currency thatbecomes unstable. Most officially dollarized countries give only oneforeign currency status as full legal tender, but Andorra gives it to boththe French franc and the Spanish peseta. In most dollarized countries,private parties are permitted to make contracts in any mutuallyagreeable currency.Some dollarized countries do not issue domestic currency at all,while others, such as Panama, issue it in a secondary role. Panama hasa unit of account called the balboa equal to the dollar and issues coinsbut not notes. In practice, there is no difference between the balboa andthe dollar; the balboa is simply the Panamanian name for the dollar.Where official dollarization exists. Many countries have usedforeign currency at some point in their history: in the United States,foreign coins were legal tender until 1857.3 As Table 2 shows, 29countries today officially use the U.S. dollar or some other foreigncurrency as their predominant currency. Of those, 15 are territories thatare not independent, such as the U.S. Virgin Islands. With minorexceptions they use the currency of their “mother” country. The tableincludes only dependencies that have a high degree of self-government,but there are some borderline cases that other observers might count asbeing part of the mother country.Of the 14 officially dollarized countries that are independent,Panama is several times larger in population and economy than all therest combined. As of 1997, Panama had 2.7 million people and a grossdomestic product (GDP) of 8.7 billion. Independent officiallydollarized countries use either the currency of a large neighbor or, inthe case of Pacific Ocean islands, the currency of their former colonialpower. Official dollarization is rare today except among very smallcountries because of the political symbolism of a national currency andeconomic factors such as the perceived costs of dollarization.Argentina, which brought official dollarization to its currentprominence, has 33 million people and a GDP of about 300 billion, soofficial dollarization there would be a giant leap in scale compared tothe countries where it now exists. Yet compared to the United States,3At the time, Americans predominantly used coins rather than notes in retailtrade.357

Table 2. Officially Dollarized CountriesCountryPopulationGDP( ependent12786000.018,5000.1N.Z. 1.4Turkish lira1974857,0000.2AustralianexternalterritoryNew Zealandself-governingterritoryde factoindependentindependentFrench andSpanishcurrencies,own ndsU.S. 2,0003.00.1Danish selfgoverningregionU.S. cronesiaMonaco31,0000.7independentU.S. dollarAustraliandollar, owncoinsSwiss francpriorto18001898194361,0000.1independentU.S. dollar1944120,0000.2independentU.S. andollarNorthernMarianasPalau48,0000.5U.S. dollarPriorto1900?194417,0000.2New AustraliandollarN.Z. dollarU.S. dollar19443581955192119141901

Table 2 (continued)CountryPopulationGDP( bn)Panama2.7 nSanMarinoTokelauTurks andCaicos Is.TuvaluVaticanCityVirgin Is.,BritishVirgin 7independent1904420.03.8 tish colonyU.S. dollar,own coinsN.Z. andU.S. dollarsU.S. dollar60,0000.2U.S. territory26,0000.1independent1,5000.014,0000.1New ZealandterritoryBritish 00.197,0001.2BritishdependencyU.S. territory268 mn8,100independentBritishpoundU.S. dollar1800s189918341899Italian lira,own coinsN.Z. dollar1897U.S. dollar1973Australiandollar, owncoinsItalian lira,own coinsU.S. dollar18921973U.S. dollar1934U.S. dollar1700s19261929Sources: CIA 1998; The Statesman’s Year-Book; IMF 1998; WorldBank 1999.Notes: Italics indicate countries using the U.S. dollar. Populationand gross domestic product (GDP) are 1997 or most recent prior yearavailable. The United States (bold italics) is included for comparison.As of mid January 2000, Ecuador is debating official dollarization.Kosovo, which uses the German mark as its official currency, is not onthe list because it is still officially part of Serbia.359

the economy of Argentina or any other developing country is small.Argentina’s economy is nearly the same size as Michigan’s—3.4percent of the U.S. economy.Performance of dollarized countries. The economic performanceof unofficially and semiofficially dollarized countries has been highlyvariable, but generally unimpressive. One reason is that their domesticcurrencies have often been of low quality, and have hamperedeconomic growth by causing high inflation and other problems. Lawsthat compel people to use the domestic currency, especially forpayment of wages and taxes, create some artificial demand even for alow-quality domestic currency.There seem to be no studies that systematically compare theperformance of officially dollarized countries with the performance ofcountries having other monetary systems. Part of the explanation is thatdata are hard to find except for Panama. Panama has had respectablethough not spectacular economic growth, an average rate of inflationeven lower than that of the United States, and no major bank failures.Interest rates for retail borrowers and lenders have been roughly twopercentage points higher than rates in the United States, whileinterbank rates have been even closer to U.S. levels. Other than theU.S. commonwealth of Puerto Rico, Panama is the only LatinAmerican country where private lenders are willing to make 30-yearfixed-rate mortgages. A previous report (JEC 1999, p. 33) summarizedPanama’s performance, and detailed information is available elsewhere(Moreno-Villalaz 1999).Although systematic studies focusing on officially dollarizedcountries are lacking, more general studies exist. They compare theperformance of developing countries with central banks to developingcountries with more rule-bound monetary systems, including officialdollarization and currency boards. These studies find that the morerule-bound monetary systems have generally outperformed centralbanking in developing countries (Ghosh and others 1998, Hanke 1999,Hausmann and others 1999, Schuler 1996). Another important butfrequently neglected body of evidence comes from internal rather thancross-country experience. Official dollarization works much like themonetary system among regions of a single country: Panama has muchthe same relationship to New York that Pennsylvania and Puerto Ricodo. Among regions of a single country, monetary systems typicallyoperate without many of the problems that arise at the internationallevel because countries have separate currencies (Ingram 1962).360

3. HOW DOLLARIZATION WORKSUnofficial dollarization. Most studies economists have writtenabout dollarization have concerned unofficial dollarization, especiallyits “currency substitution” phase. (That is the phase at which peopleuse foreign currency to pay for expensive items even though legallythey are supposed to use the domestic currency.) The findings of thestudies have varied widely because unofficial dollarization has mixedeffects. On the one hand, it can make demand for the domesticcurrency unstable. If people switch into foreign currency suddenly, thatcan cause the domestic currency to depreciate, starting an inflationaryspiral. Where people hold extensive foreign-currency deposits, achange in domestic or foreign interest rates can trigger large shiftsfrom one currency to the other, as a means of speculating about theexchange rate. Such shifts complicate the job of a central bank that istrying to target the domestic money supply.On the other hand, unofficial dollarization provides a hedge againstinflation in the domestic currency and can increase the stability of thebanking system. Allowing domestic banks to accept deposits in foreigncurrency means that depositors do not have to send their money out ofthe country when they want to switch it into foreign currency. The riskof a currency devaluation causing a bank run therefore becomessmaller. In some cases the “instability effect” on the demand for moneyis more important, while in other cases the “stability effect” on thebanking system is more important. Accordingly, economists aredivided about whether unofficial and semiofficial dollarization aredesirable or undesirable (see Revista 1992).Official dollarization. Official dollarization is easier to analyzethan unofficial dollarization because by eliminating the domesticcurrency it eliminates problems from shifts between domestic currencyand foreign currency. And since high inflation and other monetaryproblems in developing countries more often originate from thedomestic currency rather than from the most widely used foreigncurrencies, official dollarization eliminates those problems.An officially dollarized country is part of a unified currency zonewith the country whose currency it uses, hereafter called the issuingcountry. To repeat, Panama has much the same relationship to NewYork that Pennsylvania and Puerto Rico do. An officially dollarizedcountry relinquishes an independent monetary policy and “imports” themonetary policy of the country whose currency it uses. Within theunified currency zone, arbit rage—buying and selling to takeadvantages of differences in prices—tends to keep prices of similargoods within a narrow range. If a computer costs 500 in the UnitedStates, in Panama it cannot cost more than 500 plus extra taxes and361

shipping costs, otherwise it becomes profitable to ship computers fromthe United States to Panama until the difference in price vanishes. Thesame is also true of trade in computers between the United States andMexico, but because Mexico has a separate currency, currency riskimposes extra costs to arbitrage that do not exist for trade between theUnited States and Panama.Because arbitrage tends to keep prices of similar goods within anarrow range throughout the unified currency zone, inflation rates tendto be broadly similar throughout the zone. Inflation need not be exactlythe same all over the zone, however: prices for goods that are notmobile, particularly real estate and labor, can rise faster than average infast-growing areas, reflecting that economic growth is making thegoods more valuable. There is nothing unusual about that; the samehappens to different regions of a single country.Interest rates also tend to be broadly similar throughout the zone: if30-year mortgages have an interest rate of 8 percent in the UnitedStates, the rate cannot be too much higher in Panama, otherwise itbecomes profitable for banks to lend for mortgages in Panama until thedifference vanishes. Some difference in interest rates can persist,however, because of country risk (political factors that affect thesecurity of property rights). Interest rates will be most closelysynchronized if there is financial integration, which is discussed below.Just as for a region within a country, in an officially dollarizedcountry the supply of money is determined “automatically” by thebalance of payments, which itself reflects people’s preferences forholding versus spending money. The issuing country determines theamount of the monetary base in existence (notes and coins incirculation, plus bank reserves). The monetary base then comes to beheld by people in various regions or countries according to theintensity of their demand for it. If people want to acquire more foreigncurrency notes, they have to spend less, other things being equal; ifthey have more foreign-currency notes than they want, they can get ridof them by spending more.As for a region, though, the current-account balance (trade ingoods and services) does not rigidly determine the supply of money,because people can also acquire or dispose of spending power throughcapital-account transactions (trade in financial assets—in other words,obtaining or making loans). Suppose that in one year Panama has sold 6 billion of goods and services to the rest of the world but has bought 7 billion; then its current-account deficit for the year is 1 billion.That does not mean its money supply must contract by 1 billion. Ifduring the same year Panamanians invest nothing abroad andforeigners invest 2 billion in Panama, the capital-account surplus is 2362

billion, making the combined surplus 1 billion and meaning that themoney supply can expand rather than contract.An officially dollarized country cannot respond to economicshocks, such as an increase in the price of oil, by altering the exchangerate of its currency. However, it still has other methods of adjustmentat its disposal: flows of capital into or out of the country to offset theshock, changes in the government budget, and changes in prices and(less often) wages. A country experiencing a “real” economic shockultimately has to adjust by experiencing “real” pain or gain. Alteringthe exchange rate can perhaps soften but not avoid the need for realadjustment.Financial integration. If official dollarization goes no further thanusing a foreign currency, it does not achieve its full potential benefits.An officially dollarized country has a unified currency with the issuingcountry, but not necessarily an integrated financial system. To achievefinancial integration, a country must allow foreign financial institutionsto compete with domestic financial institutions. Full financialintegration occurs when the law allows financial institutions extensivefreedom of action to compete and does not discriminate against foreigninstitutions. In particular, it means that foreign financial institutionscan establish branches, accept deposits and make loans, buy up to 100percent of domestic institutions, and move funds freely into and out ofthe country.Financial integration plus officia l dollarization using a leadinginternational currency (the dollar, euro, or yen) makes a country part ofa large and liquid int

bills continue to be paid in domestic currency, but expensive items such as automobiles and houses are often paid in foreign currency. In the final stage of unofficial dollarization, people think in terms of foreign currency, and prices in domestic currency become indexed to the excha