Case | HBS Case Collection | March 2005 (Revised July 2007)

Capital Controls in Chile in the 1990s (A)

by Laura Alfaro, Rafael M. Di Tella and Ingrid Vogel

Abstract

In 1991, Chile adopted a framework of capital controls focused on reducing the massive flows of foreign investment coming into the country as international interest rates remained low. Capital inflows threatened the Central Bank's ability to manage the exchange rate within a crawling band, which aimed eventually to lower Chile's rate of inflation to international levels. Until the Asian financial crisis of 1997 and the Russian debt crisis of August 1998, the Chilean economy performed spectacularly under, or perhaps in spite of, these controls. In the aftermath of the Asian and Russian crises, Chile's economy began to suffer through both trade and financial channels. Chile's current account deteriorated not only because Chile relied on Asia as a market for one-third of its exports, but also as the price of cooper, Chile's largest export product, plummeted in the face of dwindling Asian demand. Financial flows to Chile, like to emerging markets in general, fell dramatically as investors panicked. By the end of 1999, Chile had experienced Latin America's most severe "sudden stop" of external capital flows. In this new economic environment, Chile was forced to reevaluate its system of capital controls. Many observers in the private sector blamed the controls for unnecessarily adding to the strain and demanded the controls be dismantled completely. Meanwhile, Chile's Central Bank continued to defend the controls and argued that they had helped insulate the country for worse contagion.

Keywords: Developing Countries and Economies; Economic Growth; Financial Crisis; Capital; Governance Controls; Business and Government Relations; Chile;

Citation:

Alfaro, Laura, Rafael M. Di Tella, and Ingrid Vogel. "Capital Controls in Chile in the 1990s (A)." Harvard Business School Case 705-031, March 2005. (Revised July 2007.)