Amended on December 9, 2003
I. What is Public Debt Management and Why is it Important?
1. Sovereign debt management is the process of establishing and executing a strategy for managing the government's debt in order to raise the required amount of funding, achieve its risk and cost objectives, and to meet any other sovereign debt management goals the government may have set, such as developing and maintaining an efficient market for government securities.
2. In a broader macroeconomic context for public policy, governments should seek to ensure that both the level and rate of growth in their public debt is fundamentally sustainable, and can be serviced under a wide range of circumstances while meeting cost and risk objectives. Sovereign debt managers share fiscal and monetary policy advisors' concerns that public sector indebtedness remains on a sustainable path and that a credible strategy is in place to reduce excessive levels of debt. Debt managers should ensure that the fiscal authorities are aware of the impact of government financing requirements and debt levels on borrowing costs. 1 Examples of indicators that address the issue of debt sustainability include the public sector debt service ratio, and ratios of public debt to GDP and to tax revenue.
3. Poorly structured debt in terms of maturity, currency, or interest rate composition and large and unfunded contingent liabilities have been important factors in inducing or propagating economic crises in many countries throughout history. For example, irrespective of the exchange rate regime, or whether domestic or foreign currency debt is involved, crises have often arisen because of an excessive focus by governments on possible cost savings associated with large volumes of short-term or floating rate debt. This has left government budgets seriously exposed to changing financial market conditions, including changes in the country's creditworthiness, when this debt has to be rolled over. Foreign currency debt also poses particular risks, and excessive reliance on foreign currency debt can lead to exchange rate and/or monetary pressures if investors become reluctant to refinance the government's foreign-currency debt. By reducing the risk that the government's own portfolio management will become a source of instability for the private sector, prudent government debt management, along with sound policies for managing contingent liabilities, can make countries less susceptible to contagion and financial risk.
4. A government's debt portfolio is usually the largest financial portfolio in the country. It often contains complex and risky financial structures, and can generate substantial risk to the government's balance sheet and to the country's financial stability. As noted by the Financial Stability Forum's Working Group on Capital Flows, "recent experience has highlighted the need for governments to limit the build-up of liquidity exposures and other risks that make their economies especially vulnerable to external shocks." 2 Therefore, sound risk management by the public sector is also essential for risk management by other sectors of the economy "because individual entities within the private sector typically are faced with enormous problems when inadequate sovereign risk management generates vulnerability to a liquidity crisis." Sound debt structures help governments reduce their exposure to interest rate, currency and other risks. Many governments seek to support these structures by establishing, where feasible, portfolio benchmarks related to the desired currency composition, duration, and maturity structure of the debt to guide the future composition of the portfolio.
5. Several debt market crises have highlighted the importance of sound debt management practices and the need for an efficient and sound capital market. Although government debt management policies may not have been the sole or even the main cause of these crises, the maturity structure, and interest rate and currency composition of the government's debt portfolio, together with substantial obligations in respect of contingent liabilities have often contributed to the severity of the crisis. Even in situations where there are sound macroeconomic policy settings, risky debt management practices increase the vulnerability of the economy to economic and financial shocks. Sometimes these risks can be readily addressed by relatively straightforward measures, such as by lengthening the maturities of borrowings and paying the associated higher debt servicing costs (assuming an upward sloping yield curve), by adjusting the amount, maturity, and composition of foreign exchange reserves, and by reviewing criteria and governance arrangements in respect of contingent liabilities.
6. Risky debt structures are often the consequence of inappropriate economic policies--fiscal, monetary and exchange rate--but the feedback effects undoubtedly go in both directions. However, there are limits to what sound debt management policies can deliver. Sound debt management policies are no panacea or substitute for sound fiscal and monetary management. If macroeconomic policy settings are poor, sound sovereign debt management may not by itself prevent any crisis. Sound debt management policies reduce susceptibility to contagion and financial risk by playing a catalytic role for broader financial market development and financial deepening. Experience supports the argument, for example, that developed domestic debt markets can substitute for bank financing (and vice versa) when this source dries up, helping economies to weather financial shocks. 3
II. Purpose of the Guidelines
7. The Guidelines are designed to assist policymakers in considering reforms to strengthen the quality of their public debt management and reduce their country's vulnerability to international financial shocks. Vulnerability is often greater for smaller and emerging market countries because their economies may be less diversified, have a smaller base of domestic financial savings and less developed financial systems, and be more susceptible to financial contagion through the relative magnitudes of capital flows. As a result, the Guidelines should be considered within a broader context of the factors and forces affecting a government's liquidity more generally, and the management of its balance sheet. Governments often manage large foreign exchange reserves portfolios, their fiscal positions are frequently subject to real and monetary shocks, and they can have large exposures to contingent liabilities and to the consequences of poor balance sheet management in the private sector. However, irrespective of whether financial shocks originate within the domestic banking sector or from global financial contagion, prudent government debt management policies, along with sound macroeconomic and regulatory policies, are essential for containing the human and output costs associated with such shocks.
8. The Guidelines cover both domestic and external public debt and encompass a broad range of financial claims on the government. They seek to identify areas in which there is broad agreement on what generally constitutes sound practices in public debt management. The Guidelines endeavor to focus on principles applicable to a broad range of countries at different stages of development and with various institutional structures of national debt management. They should not be viewed as a set of binding practices or mandatory standards or codes. Nor should they suggest that a unique set of sound practices or prescriptions exists, which would apply to all countries in all situations. Building capacity in sovereign debt management can take several years and country situations and needs vary widely. These Guidelines are mainly intended to assist policymakers by disseminating sound practices adopted by member countries in debt management strategy and operations. Their implementation will vary from country to country, depending on each country's circumstances, such as its state of financial development.
9. Each country's capacity building needs in sovereign debt management are different. Their needs are shaped by the capital market constraints they face, the exchange rate regime, the quality of their macroeconomic and regulatory policies, the institutional capacity to design and implement reforms, the country's credit standing, and its objectives for public debt management. Capacity building and technical assistance therefore must be carefully tailored to meet stated policy goals, while recognizing the policy settings, institutional framework and the technology and human and financial resources that are available. The Guidelines should assist policy advisors and decision makers involved in designing debt management reforms as they raise public policy issues that are relevant for all countries. This is the case whether the public debt comprises marketable debt or debt from bilateral or multilateral official sources, although the specific measures to be taken will differ, to take into account a country's circumstances.
10. Every government faces policy choices concerning debt management objectives, its preferred risk tolerance, which part of the government balance sheet those managing debt should be responsible for, how to manage contingent liabilities, and how to establish sound governance for public debt management. On many of these issues, there is increasing convergence on
what are considered prudent sovereign debt management practices that can also reduce vulnerability to contagion and financial shocks. These include: recognition of the benefits of clear objectives for debt management; weighing risks against cost considerations; the separation and coordination of debt and monetary management objectives and accountabilities; a limit on debt expansion; the need to carefully manage refinancing and market risks and the interest costs of debt burdens; and the necessity of developing a sound institutional structure and policies for reducing operational risk, including clear delegation of responsibilities and associated accountabilities among government agencies involved in debt management.
11. Debt management needs to be linked to a clear macroeconomic framework, under which governments seek to ensure that the level and rate of growth in public debt are sustainable. Public debt management problems often find their origins in the lack of attention paid by policymakers to the benefits of having a prudent debt management strategy and the costs of weak macroeconomic management. In the first case, authorities should pay greater attention to the benefits of having a prudent debt management strategy, framework, and policies that are coordinated with a sound macro policy framework. In the second, inappropriate fiscal, monetary, or exchange rate policies generate uncertainty in financial markets regarding the future returns available on local currency-denominated investments, thereby inducing investors to demand higher risk premiums. Particularly in developing and emerging markets, borrowers and lenders alike may refrain from entering into longer-term commitments, which can stifle the development of domestic financial markets, and severely hinder debt managers' efforts to protect the government from excessive rollover and foreign exchange risk. A good track record of implementing sound macropolicies can help to alleviate this uncertainty. This should be combined with building appropriate technical infrastructure--such as a central registry and payments and settlement system--to facilitate the development of domestic financial markets.
III. Summary of the Debt Management Guidelines
1. Debt Management Objectives and Coordination
The main objective of public debt management is to ensure that the government's financing needs and its payment obligations are met at the lowest possible cost over the medium to long run, consistent with a prudent degree of risk.
Debt management should encompass the main financial obligations over which the central government exercises control.
1.3 Coordination with monetary and fiscal policies
Debt managers, fiscal policy advisors, and central bankers should share an understanding of the objectives of debt management, fiscal, and monetary policies given the interdependencies between their different policy instruments. Debt managers should convey to fiscal authorities their views on the costs and risks associated with government financing requirements and debt levels.
Where the level of financial development allows, there should be a separation of debt management and monetary policy objectives and accountabilities.
Debt management, fiscal, and monetary authorities should share information on the government's current and future liquidity needs.
2. Transparency and Accountability
2.1 Clarity of roles, responsibilities and objectives of financial agencies responsible for debt management
The allocation of responsibilities among the ministry of finance, the central bank, or a separate debt management agency, for debt management policy advice, and for undertaking primary debt issues, secondary market arrangements, depository facilities, and clearing and settlement arrangements for trade in government securities, should be publicly disclosed.
The objectives for debt management should be clearly defined and publicly disclosed, and the measures of cost and risk that are adopted should be explained.
2.2 Open process for formulating and reporting of debt management policies
Materially important aspects of debt management operations should be publicly disclosed.
2.3 Public availability of information on debt management policies
The public should be provided with information on the past, current, and projected budgetary activity, including its financing, and the consolidated financial position of the government.
The government should regularly publish information on the stock and composition of its debt and financial assets, including their currency, maturity, and interest rate structure.
2.4 Accountability and assurances of integrity by agencies responsible for debt management
Debt management activities should be audited annually by external auditors.
3. Institutional Framework
The legal framework should clarify the authority to borrow and to issue new debt, invest, and undertake transactions on the government's behalf.
The organizational framework for debt management should be well specified, and ensure that mandates and roles are well articulated.
3.2 Management of internal operations
Risks of government losses from inadequate operational controls should be managed according to sound business practices, including well-articulated responsibilities for staff, and clear monitoring and control policies and reporting arrangements.
Debt management activities should be supported by an accurate and comprehensive management information system with proper safeguards.
Staff involved in debt management should be subject to a code-of-conduct and conflict-of-interest guidelines regarding the management of their personal financial affairs.
Sound business recovery procedures should be in place to mitigate the risk that debt management activities might be severely disrupted by natural disasters, social unrest, or acts of terrorism.
4. Debt Management Strategy
The risks inherent in the structure of the government's debt should be carefully monitored and evaluated. These risks should be mitigated to the extent feasible by modifying the debt structure, taking into account the cost of doing so.
In order to help guide borrowing decisions and reduce the government's risk, debt managers should consider the financial and other risk characteristics of the government's cash flows.
Debt managers should carefully assess and manage the risks associated with foreign-currency and short-term or floating rate debt.
There should be cost-effective cash management policies in place to enable the authorities to meet with a high degree of certainty their financial obligations as they fall due.
5. Risk Management Framework
A framework should be developed to enable debt managers to identify and manage the trade-offs between expected cost and risk in the government debt portfolio.
To assess risk, debt managers should regularly conduct stress tests of the debt portfolio on the basis of the economic and financial shocks to which the government--and the country more generally--are potentially exposed.
5.1 Scope for active management
Debt managers who seek to manage actively the debt portfolio to profit from expectations of movements in interest rates and exchange rates, which differ from those implicit in current market prices, should be aware of the risks involved and accountable for their actions.
5.2 Contingent liabilities
Debt managers should consider the impact that contingent liabilities have on the government's financial position, including its overall liquidity, when making borrowing decisions.
6. Development and Maintenance of an Efficient Market for Government Securities
In order to minimize cost and risk over the medium to long run, debt managers should ensure that their policies and operations are consistent with the development of an efficient government securities market.
6.1 Portfolio diversification and instruments
The government should strive to achieve a broad investor base for its domestic and foreign obligations, with due regard to cost and risk, and should treat investors equitably.
6.2 Primary market
Debt management operations in the primary market should be transparent and predictable.
To the extent possible, debt issuance should use market-based mechanisms, including competitive auctions and syndications.
6.3 Secondary market
Governments and central banks should promote the development of resilient secondary markets that can function effectively under a wide range of market conditions.
The systems used to settle and clear financial market transactions involving government securities should reflect sound practices.
IV. Discussion of the Guidelines
1. Debt Management Objectives and Coordination
12. The main objective of public debt management is to ensure that the government's financing needs and its payment obligations are met at the lowest possible cost over the medium to long run, consistent with a prudent degree of risk. Prudent risk management to avoid dangerous debt structures and strategies (including monetary financing of the government's debt) is crucial, given the severe macroeconomic consequences of sovereign debt default, and the magnitude of the ensuing output losses. These costs include business and banking insolvencies as well as the diminished long-term credibility and capability of the government to mobilize domestic and foreign savings. Box 1 provides a list of the main risks encountered in sovereign debt management.