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Central Bank Balance Sheet Expansion in a Dollarized Economy: The Case of Ecuador

A textbook argument in favor of adopting another country’s legal tender is that it imposes strong constraints on money creation and therefore fiscal dominance. In Ecuador, an officially dollarized economy since January 2000, a series of accounting practices and subsequent changes in legislations approved over the period 2009-2014 allowed an expansion of the Central Bank of Ecuador’s (CBE) balance sheet to finance the central government. At its peak, central bank financing of the government represented 10 percent of GDP. This resulted in large liabilities to the CBE that translated into low reserve coverage, putting the public and private financial systems and ultimately the dollarization regime at risk. In this paper, we first present the legal and accounting processes behind the expansion of the CBE's balance sheet and some stylized facts. In the second section, we establish a stress test-like methodology to show how the expansion of the CBE’s balance sheet induced strong pressures on CBE’s liquidity. Ultimately, such liquidity stress at the CBE translated into high cash inflows needs, i.e. external debt, for the central government.