IMF Economists Bas B. Bakker and Leslie Lipschitz propose a taxonomy of balance-sheet crises in a new IMF working paper (.pdf). The basic distinction is between ‘Conventional’ and ‘Insidious’ balance sheet crises.
A conventional balance sheet crisis happens because of external imbalances, typically large gross flows into or out of the country, causing balance sheet vulnerabilities, typically in non financial corporate sectors, which then blow up the economy. The insidious balance sheet crises have the conventional crisis features plus way off-balance expectations and really off portfolio effects.
The authors find Ireland and Japan insidious. Fair play to them.
From the paper:
Conventional and Insidious Macroeconomic Balance-Sheet Crises; by Bas B. Bakker and Leslie Lipschitz; IMF Working Paper No. 14/160; August 1, 2014
This sort of crisis would usually be preceded by a long period of excellent economic results—rapid growth led by exports, sound policies, and strong external accounts—that gives rise to an enduring positive perception of the economic prospects. The difficulties arise when a normal, equilibrating shift in relative prices—an increase in the prices of nontraded goods and assets relative to those of traded goods—gets built into investor expectations and elicits a rapid, and eventually excessive, reallocation of credit and domestic real resources.
The paper is excellent and worth reading as a narrative of a series of crises, but it’s not clear what Bertie et al would have done in 2004 in Ireland, had we had this paper to guide them, because the conventional vs. insidious distinction isn’t clean-cut. The discussion on pages 29-31 of the paper on China are fascinating. A deeper dig into financial history might help get more salient case studies to iron out the distinctions.