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External Balance Sheets and the COVID-19 Crisis.


At the onset of the COVID-19 economic crisis, as in other crisis episodes, we observed a rapid appreciation of "safe haven" currencies. We quantify currency-induced balance sheet valuation effects for aggregate external positions as well as for broadly defined asset classes for the first quarter and the full year 2020. To do so, we use new data on the currency composition of cross-border assets and liabilities for 46 countries. In contrast with past financial crises, many emerging markets did not experience losses on their aggregate external balance sheets despite facing a domestic currency depreciation. This was partly due to currency-induced valuation gains on equity positions offsetting losses on debt positions, and partly due to reduced currency mismatch on their external debt positions. We conduct the stock-flow reconciliation of net international investment positions to measure overall valuation effects and compute the proportion that is due to changes in currency values. For about half of the countries in our sample, currency-induced valuation effects were substantial, representing over 50 percent of total valuation effects in 2020Q1 and the full year 2020.

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