Market Overview

Top 10 Serial Defaulters

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Market commentators frequently fail to mention one fact regarding the Greek elections/restructuring/potential exit/potential default: this has happened before. Greece, Spain, France, and others have all defaulted at some point and history says that they probably will again.

In their book, This Time is Different: Eight Centuries of Financial Folly, Carmen Reinhart and Ken Rogoff describe default histories of many nations either back to 1800 or to their independence. With this in mind, let us explore the top 10 serial defaulters (default defined as clear default or restructuring).

10. Germany. Germany, as much as it has been the idol of fiscal health in the recent financial crisis, qualifies as the tenth best serial defaulter. Having defaulted eight times and having spent 13% of its existence in default, Germany, historically at least, may not be as much of a safe-haven as investors have considered it to be. Germany last defaulted in 1939.

9. Peru. Serial defaulters are common in Latin America, and Peru is no exception to the pattern. Having defaulted eight times, the nation is definitely a serial defaulter. Peru has spent 40.3% of its time in default.

8. Mexico. Mexico has defaulted eight times in its history since independence, with the most recent default occurring in 1982. Most of Mexico's defaults have occurred prior to 1900, and the nation has spent about 44.6% of its life in default.

7. France. Despite being a modern European society and a financial hub, France has had its share of financial problems. France has defaulted nine times. The country is still one of the top European defaulters, even though it has only spent 4.3% of its time in default. Based on that statistic, however, observers might question whether France a serial defaulter. These skeptics would likely agree, though, that nine is a large number of defaults. France has not defaulted since 1812.

6. Brazil. Brazil is a textbook serial defaulter, having defaulted nine times. Like other Latin American nations, it seemingly went through a period of rolling defaults in the twentieth century, having defaulted seven times in that time period. Brazil has spent 25.4% of its time in default.

5. Chile. Chile has a bad default record, having defaulted nine times and doing so as recently as 1983. Interestingly, between 1961 and 1974, Chile defaulted five times. Chile has spent 27.5% of its life in default.

4. Costa Rica. The island nation has defaulted nine times, with the most recent default coming in 1984. Costa Rica defaulted six times in the twentieth century and has spent 38.2% of its life in default.

3. Ecuador. Ecuador recently defaulted in 2008, but that was only the most recent installment in what is a remarkable default record. Ecuador defaulted six times in the twentieth century and has spent 58.2% of its post-independence time in default. In all, it has defaulted nine times.

2. Venezuela. Venezuela famously defaulted in 2004 on its foreign bonds, but default is nothing new for this Latin American nation. Venezuela has defaulted ten times in its history and has spent 38.4% of its time post-independence in default.

1. Spain.The Kingdom of Spain has defaulted a whopping thirteen times in its history, having spent 23.7% of its years as an independent nation in default. The Iberian nation last defaulted in 1882, but that year followed a century in which Spain defaulted a staggering eight times.

Honorable Mention: a few nations that deserve an honorable mention and may soon move in to this collection include:

  • Uruguay: eight defaults, 12.8% of life.
  • Austria: seven times, 17.4%.
  • Hungary: seven times, 37.1%.
  • Argentina: seven times, 32.5%.
  • Colombia: seven times, 36.2%.
  • Portugal: six times, 10.6%.
  • Greece: five times, 50.6%.

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