Iraq – What does the Bond Market Say?
Via Mark Thoma, an NBER paper by Michael Greenstone from MIT. Here’s the abstract:
There is a paucity of facts about the effects of the recent military Surge on conditions in Iraq and whether it is paving the way for a stable Iraq. Selective, anecdotal and incomplete analyses abound. Policy makers and defense planners must decide which measures of success or failure are most important, but until now few, if any, systematic analyses were available on which to base those decisions. This paper applies modern statistical techniques to a new data file derived from more than a dozen of the most reliable and widely-cited sources to assess the Surge’s impact on three key dimensions: the functioning of the Iraqi state (including civilian casualties); military casualties; and financial markets’ assessment of Iraq’s future. The new and unusually rigorous findings presented here should help inform current evaluations of the Surge and provide a basis for better decision making about future strategy.
The analysis reveals mixed evidence on the Surge’s effect on key trends in Iraq. The security situation has improved insofar as civilian fatalities have declined without any concurrent increase in casualties among coalition and Iraqi troops. However, other areas, such as oil production and the number of trained Iraqi Security Forces have shown no improvement or declined. Evaluating such conflicting indicators is challenging.
There is, however, another way to assess the Surge. This paper shows how data from world financial markets can be used to shed light on the central question of whether the Surge has increased or diminished the prospect of today’s Iraq surviving into the future. In particular, I examine the price of Iraqi state bonds, which the Iraqi government is currently servicing, on world financial markets. After the Surge, there is a sharp decline in the price of those bonds, relative to alternative bonds. The decline signaled a 40% increase in the market’s expectation that Iraq will default. This finding suggests that to date the Surge is failing to pave the way toward a stable Iraq and may in fact be undermining it.
Most of the folks who talk about the wisdom of the market a lot probably aren’t going to be all that happy about what the market says in this case. My own metric that I’ve brought up a few times… the number of cheerleaders willing to vacation in Iraq with their families, has been lodged at zero since the invasion.