Journal of Business Ethics , 2018, pp. 1-19, 2018

Denouncing Odious Debts

Economists have suggested it was optimal to signal the odious character of bonds when they were issued. However, since the odious debt doctrine has not been recognized by any court, one could argue that denouncing odious debts is useless. Exploiting a unique historical episode, this paper quantifies the impact of protests on odious debts. In 1906, the Russian government floated a bond in Paris to cover the costs of its war against Japan but also to raise money to crush the political movements wishing to reform Russia’s political system. Issued without parliamentary consent, this loan met with fierce opposition. Press campaigns in Great Britain, France and Germany denounced its odious character. If failure or success is determined solely by the ability to prevent a loan from being issued, then the campaign failed. We argue, however, that failure or success should be determined in light of the financial costs imposed on the issuer for future loans and even the ability to force a postponement of these loans. We show that these campaigns increased the yields of all Russian bonds traded in Paris, and thus Russia’s future borrowing cost. Yields on the 1906 loan, which was specially targeted by the campaigns, rose even more. However, once the press campaigns stopped, yields experienced a declining trend, highlighting the important role the press may have on odious debts.