Une année de défauts souverains ?

MIAMI – Quand il s'agit de dette souveraine, le terme « défaut » est souvent mal compris. Cela n'implique presque jamais le rejet complet et permanent de l'encours total de la dette. En effet, même certaines obligations de l'époque tsariste, les fameux emprunts russes, ont finalement (mais parfois seulement en partie) été remboursés après la Révolution de 1917. En revanche, un non-paiement (un « défaut », selon les agences de notation, quand il implique des créanciers privés), oriente généralement la conversation vers la restructuration de la dette, ce qui peut impliquer des échéances prorogées, des réductions de coupon-paiement, des délais de grâce ou des réductions de la valeur nominale (en anglais « haircut », pour désigner une décote par rapport à la valeur marchande).

Si l'on peut se fier aux enseignements de l'histoire, des conversations de ce genre devraient être monnaie courante en 2016.

Comme tant d'autres caractéristiques de l'économie mondiale, l'accumulation de dette et de défaut a tendance à se produire par cycles. Depuis 1800, l'économie mondiale a subi plusieurs de ces cycles, la part des pays indépendants subissant une restructuration au cours d'une année donnée oscillant entre zéro et 50% (cf. schéma). Bien que des accalmies d'une à deux décennies sur les défauts soient fréquentes, néanmoins chaque temps calme est invariablement suivi d'une nouvelle vague de défauts de paiement.

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