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Asia-Pacific Development Journal Vol. 22, No. 1, June 2015




Kristina Spantig*

The financial sector of the Lao People’s Democratic Republic has been

developing rapidly in recent years in terms of financial depth, intermediation and distribution. A developed financial sector is the basis for dynamic economic growth. Yet, unsustainable financial liberalization and growth poses risks to financial sector stability. The present report scrutinizes the role of the financial sector in enhancing economic growth in the Lao People’s Democratic Republic and aims to answer the question of adequate financial sector supervision with respect to the economy’s development. It is argued that only a prudentially supervised financial sector can enhance the economic growth performance of the country in the medium and long term.

JEL classification: G01, G32, O11, O16, O49.

Keywords: Finance-growth nexus, financial sector development, supervision.


If and how the financial sector can promote economic growth, the so-called finance-growth nexus, is widely discussed in literature. In particular, the issue of causality – whether finance drives growth or vice versa – is controversial topic of discussion.1 However, there is a broad consensus that a sustainably developed and supervised financial sector enhances economic growth.

* PhD, University of Leipzig, Institute for Economic Policy, Grimnasche Spafbe 12, 04109 Leipeig, Germany (Tel: +49 341 9733565; e-mail: k.spantig@gmail.com). Barend Frielink, Phantouleth Louangraj and Soulinthone Leuangkhamsing provided valuable recommendations throughout the study. I also thank Gunther Schnabl for valuable advice.

See Levine (2004) for an overview of the theoretical and empirical research concerning the 1 connections and relationship of finance and growth.

67 Asia-Pacific Development Journal Vol. 22, No. 1, June 2015 In the late 1980s, the Lao People’s Democratic Republic initiated a transition process to liberalize its goods and financial markets. Despite this process, the financial sector remains underdeveloped and shallow. In developed economies the financial sector comprises various sources of funding, while in the Lao People’s Democratic Republic, the sector is mainly bank-based. Currently, only three companies (Banque pour le Commerce Exterieur Laos Public (BCEL), EDL-Generation Public Company and Lao World Public Company)2 are listed on the stock market, which opened in 2011.

The financial sector is bank-centred and dominated by State-owned commercial banks. It only began to be gradually liberalized in the mid-2000s3 and following the enactment of the new Law on Commercial Banks 2007,4 a considerable number of private and foreign banks have entered the market. Since then, the development of the financial sector has made a great leap forward in terms of financial deepening, intermediation and distribution. However, from an historical perspective, financial liberalization in South-East Asia appears to be closely linked to financial turbulence.

To ensure sustainable economic development in the medium and long term, financial liberalization must be accompanied by prudential financial sector supervision.

The aim of the present report is to show the empirical and causal relationship between financial market development and economic growth. It has already been shown that sustainable long-term growth must be achieved through qualitative loan growth and investment. Previous boom and bust cycles have revealed that pure quantitative and widely unregulated growth of the financial sector is likely to harm the economy. Thus, the report focuses on the importance of a sound and efficiently supervised financial sector development in order to gain long-term growth.

The remainder of the study is organized as follows. Section II reviews the theoretical and empirical literature on the finance-growth nexus and the functions of the financial sector. Possible transmission channels from the financial sector to growth based on financial development indicators are analysed. In section III, BCEL is the largest State-owned commercial bank, EDL Generation Public Company is a public 2 electricity company and Lao World is a public company that builds and maintains convention halls, entertainment centres and shopping malls (Lao Securities eXchange, www.lsx.com.la/info/stock/ listedCompany.do? lang=en).

In 2004 the Government issued the Law on Promotion of Foreign Investment, which has facilitated 3 capital inflows. In 2007, two joint venture banks, two private banks and six foreign bank branches, in addition to the four State-owned commercial banks, operated in the country’s financial sector (BOL, 2007). Five years later, the number of private banks had risen to ten and the number of foreign bank branches to sixteen (BOL, 2013).

Decree of the President of the Lao People’s Democratic Republic, No. 02/PO, on the Promulgation 4 of the Law on Commercial Banks.

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challenges and the impact of the currently large capital inflows, as well as recent developments of the financial sector are assessed. In section IV, attention is drawn to prudential financial sector regulation and the supervision capacity of the Bank of the Lao People’s Democratic Republic (BOL). Section V summarizes and concludes.


The debate on whether the financial sector development contributes to economic growth and if so how it does is not new. Schumpeter (1912) argued that the banker was an intermediary who brings the entrepreneur with a new business idea together with the financier. This stimulates economic development. Mises (1953) comprehensively analysed the functions of the banking system, its role as credit intermediary on the one side and as credit creator on the other. He stated that by accumulating and efficiently allocating voluntary savings, the financial sector had supplied the funding for investments which, in the classical theory, was directly associated with growth.

This idea was reflected in early growth models that explain economic growth by the rate of savings and capital productivity (Harrod, 1939; Domar, 1946). Later models accounted for productivity growth by adding technological progress (Solow, 1956).5 The finance-growth nexus has been subject to various empirical investigations.

In 1969, using financial asset to gross national product (GNP) 6 ratios as proxies for financial development, Goldsmith (1969) found correlations between financial development and growth. Subsequent work in this field was strongly influenced by King and Levine (1993). Using financial market indicators (financial depth, intermediation and distribution) and economic growth indicators (level of investment, per capita gross domestic product (GDP) growth rates and the capital stock), they provided empirical evidence that financial development promoted growth. The evidence indicated that economies with a deeper financial sector and high levels of intermediation and distribution tended to grow faster than economies with less developed financial markets. King and Levine (1993) concluded that financial development had contributed considerably to economic growth as increasing capital accumulation and allocation efficiency promoted technological progress.7 Furthermore, Greenwood and Jovanovic (1990) emphasized the financial sector’s role to collect and evaluate information and allocate capital to the most For a detailed overview of the theoretical literature, see, for example, Koivu (2002); Zhuang and 5 others (2009); Stolbov (2013).

In contrast to the GDP, GNP also accounts for net income from assets/income abroad.

6 This result was approved by numerous subsequent studies (see, for example, Levine, Loayza 7 and Beck (1999); Levine (2004); Demirgüç-Kunt and Levine (2008); Čihák and others (2013)).

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profitable investment projects. Rajan and Zingales (1998) found that a developed financial sector had reduced the external costs of finance. This directly benefited existing firms but also encouraged new firms to enter the market, which spurred innovation, competition and growth.8 With a specific focus on emerging and developing economies, IMF (2012a) finds that undeveloped financial markets do not provide a sufficient shock absorption mechanism to external shocks. Deeper financial markets foster growth as they reduce volatility arising from liquidity constraints. The study pays particular attention to the surveillance of the financial sector, as unsustainable growth of the financial sector creates new sources of instability. Barajas, Chami and Yousefi (2013) confirm the positive relationship of financial development and growth in developing countries, but emphasize that the magnitude of the effect is heterogeneous across regions, national income levels and between oil exporting and non-oil exporting countries.

The authors stress that limited access to financial services, lacking competition and insufficient financial supervision in low income countries hinder growth despite financial deepening.

Korner and Schnabel (2010) show that a State-owned bank dominated financial sector in combination with a shallow financial market and poor institutional quality has negative growth effects. Law, Azman-Saini and Ibraham (2013) find that due to the lack of institutional quality, until a certain development threshold, the financegrowth nexus is non-existent.

Estrada, Park and Ramayandi (2010) focus on the finance-growth nexus in developing Asia. The main result from the empirical analysis is a positive and significant effect of financial sector development on real GDP per capita growth. The authors find that the effect for developing Asia is stronger than for the rest of the world. However, the experience of the Asian financial crisis shows that medium- and long-term growth can only be achieved with a stable and developed financial sector.

The “more finance, more growth” hypothesis must be revised to “better finance, more growth” by shifting the focus from purely quantitative credit growth to efficiently channelling funds into high-quality investments (Estrada, Park and Ramayandi, 2010;

Beck, 2013; Law, Asman-Saini and Ibraham, 2013).

Finance-growth transmission channels The task of a financial sector is to mobilize funds for investment and to support economic activity. As an intermediary, it transforms and allocates capital from market For a broad review of the empirical literature, see, for example, Moshin and Senhadiji (2000);

8 Thiel (2001); Levine (2004); Fink, Haiss and Mantler (2005); Zhuang and others (2009).

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participants to investment projects (IMF, 2004). To fulfil this purpose, DemirgüçKunt and Levine (2008) identify five core functions of the financial sector. The first is to accumulate savings from individuals and pool them for investments. Second, information about potential investments must be collected and capital must be allocated to its most productive use (selection and screening process). The third task is to monitor if the provided capital is used in the intended way. Fourth, the financial sector provides knowhow and opportunities to reduce and manage risks, such as liquidity risks, diversified portfolios and better loan management. Finally, it facilitates the exchange of goods and services by lowering transaction costs (Demirgüç-Kunt and Levine, 2008).

By developing and executing those functions, the financial sector can enhance medium- and long-term economic growth. The transmission channels from finance to growth can be derived from a simple growth model, where output is dependent on capital productivity and the capital stock.

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(Yt – output; Kt – capital; A – capital productivity) (Pagano, 1993). The capital stock is assumed to depreciate at a constant rate (d). Investment (It) in period t is determined by the difference of the capital stock in two subsequent periods.

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But due to inefficiency reasons, Pagano (1993) assumes that a certain fraction (0 ≤ ð ≤ 1) of savings (S) is lost during the process of financial intermediation.

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Given the growth rate from (1) gt+1 = Yt+1/Yt -1 and assuming that in the steady state output and the capital stock grow at the same rate Yt+1/Yt -1 = Kt+1/Kt -1. Inserting transposed equation (1) (1/Kt = A/Yt ) and equation (2) (Kt+1 = It + (1 - d)Kt) in g = (Kt+1/

Kt -1) yields the steady state growth rate (g):

–  –  –

Based on equation (5), three possible transmission channels from finance to growth can be derived. The term ð, which determines the loss of resources while savings are transformed into investment, the capital productivity A and the savings rate s. The first transmission channel (ð) concerns the financial sector’s ability to efficiently channel savings into investments. Competition and advanced technologies

–  –  –

reduce banking service fees, overhead costs and thereby the interest rate spread.

As during the transformation process costs are reduced and, more savings can be transformed into investments (Pagano, 1993).

The capital productivity A stresses that a developed financial sector is able to collect sufficient information to evaluate investment projects and allocate capital to the projects with the highest marginal productivity. A larger number of financial intermediaries allow for better risk sharing by depositors (Pagano, 1993). In contrast to the first two channels, the effect of financial development on the savings rates is ambiguous. Due to risk reduction and reduced liquidity constraints, the savings rate might decline. In contrast, McKinnon (1973) and Shaw (1973) argue that a liberalized financial sector increases the savings rate by the removal of repressive interest rate ceilings on deposits. Liberalized interest rates are likely to generate higher deposit revenues and thus stimulate savings.

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