Capital Flows to Developing Countries: Blessing or Curse? (Distinguished Lecture)

Publication Year : 1998

The surge of private capital flows to developing countries that occurred in the 1990s has been the most significant phenomenon of the decade for these countries. By the middle of the decade many developing countries in Asia and Latin America were awash with private foreign capital. In contrast to earlier periods when the scarcity of foreign capital dominated economic policy-making in these countries, the issue now for governments was how to manage the largescale capital inflows to generate higher rates ofinvestrnent and growth. While a number of developing countries were able to benefit substantially from the private foreign financing that globalisation made available to them, it also became apparent that capital inflows were not a complete blessing and could even turn out to be a curse. Indeed, in some countries capital inflows led to rapid monetary expansion, inflationary pressures, real exchange rate appreciation, fmancial sector difficulties, widening current account deficits, and a rapid build-up of foreign debt. In addition, as the experience of Mexico in 1994 and the Asian crisis of 1997-98 demonstrated, financial integration and globalisation can cut both ways. Private capital flows are volatile and eventually there can be a large reversal of capital because of changes in expected asset returns, investor herding behaviour, and contagion effects. Such reversals can lead to recessions and serious problems for financial systems. This paper examines the characteristics, causes and consequences of capital flows to developing countries in the 1990s. It also highlights the appropriate policy responses for governments facing such inflows, specifically to prevent overheating of the economy, and to limit the vulnerability to reversals of capital flows.