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Finance and Economics Discussion Series

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Abstract: This paper presents the first comprehensive test of whether well-known conflicts of interest at bond rating agencies importantly influence their actions. This hypothesis is tested against the alternative that rating agency actions are primarily influenced by a countervailing incentive to protect their reputations as delegated monitors. These two hypotheses generate a number of testable predictions regarding the anticipation of credit-rating downgrades by the bond market, which we investigate using a new data set of about 2,000 credit rating migrations from Moody's and Standard & Poor's, and matching issuer-level bond prices. The findings strongly indicate that rating changes do not appear to be importantly influenced by rating agency conflicts of interest but, rather, suggest that rating agencies are motivated primarily by reputation-related incentives.

Keywords: Rating agencies, bond market, conflicts of interest, reputation

feds 2003-67
December 2003

Optimal Monetary Policy in a Micro-founded Model with Parameter Uncertainty (PDF)

Takeshi Kimura and Takushi Kurozumi

Abstract: In this paper, we structurally model uncertainty with a micro-founded model, and investigate its implications for optimal monetary policy. Uncertainty about deep parameters of the model implies that the central bank simultaneously faces both uncertainty about the structural dynamic equations and about the social loss function. Considering both uncertainties with cross-parameter restrictions based on the micro-foundations of the model, we use Bayesian methods to determine the optimal monetary policy that minimizes the expected loss. Our analysis shows how uncertainty can lead the central bank to pursue a more aggressive monetary policy, overturning Brainard's common wisdom. As the degree of uncertainty about inflation dynamics increases, the central bank should place much more weight on price stability, and should respond to shocks more aggressively. In addition, when the central bank is uncertain about output dynamics, an aggressive policy response can be justified by the positive correlation between policy multiplier and transmission of natural rate of interest shock as well as the effect of loss-function uncertainty. We also show that combining a more aggressive policy response with a highly inertial interest rate policy reduces Bayesian risk.

Keywords: Optimal monetary policy, parameter uncertainty, loss-function uncertainty, inertial interest rate policy

Abstract: This paper extends the utility-based welfare criterion developed by Rotemberg and Woodford (1997) and Woodford (2003) to a model with endogenous capital accumulation. The welfare criterion obtained for this model shares several features with the corresponding expressions that have been derived in simpler models without capital accumulation. In particular, a criterion can be specified such that welfare losses depend solely on quadratic functions of the model's variables, thus confirming that policy should be oriented toward stabilization of macroeconomic aggregates, rather than toward attaining particular levels of those aggregates. That said, an important difference that obtains in this case is that the composition of output directly affects welfare in the endogenous-capital model--a result that is not present in standard treatments.

Keywords: Utility-based welfare criterion, capital accumulation

Abstract: This paper reexamines wage and price dynamics in response to permanent shocks to productivity. We estimate a micro-founded dynamic general equilibrium (DGE) model of the U.S. economy with sticky wages and sticky prices using impulse responses to technology and monetary policy shocks. We utilize a flexible specification for wage- and price-setting that allows for the sluggish adjustment of both the levels of these variables-as in standard contracting models-as well as intrinsic inertia in wage and price inflation. On the price front, we find that in our VAR inflation jumps in response to an identified permanent technology shock, implying that, on average, prices adjust quickly and that there is little evidence for any intrinsic inflation inertia like that commonly found in models used for monetary policy evaluation. On the wage front, we find evidence for significant inertia in wages and some intrinsic inertia in nominal wage inflation. Our results provide support for the standard sticky-price specification of the New Keynesian model; however, the evidence on the high degree of wage inertia presents a challenge for standard models of wage setting.

Keywords: Inflation interia, estimated DGE models

Abstract: The housing-related government-sponsored enterprises Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac (the "GSEs") have an ambiguous relationship with the federal government. Most purchasers of the GSEs' debt securities believe that this debt is implicitly backed by the U.S. government despite the lack of a legal basis for such a belief. In this paper, I estimate how much GSE shareholders gain from this ambiguous government relationship. I find that (1) the federal government's implicit subsidy of Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac has resulted in a funding advantage for the GSEs over private sector institutions, (2) the actions of GSEs result in slightly lower mortgage rates for some homeowners, (3) the government's ambiguous relationship with Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac imparts a substantial implicit subsidy to GSE shareholders, (4) the implicit government subsidy accounts for much of the GSEs' market value, (5) the GSEs would hold far fewer of their mortgage-backed securities in portfolio and their capital-to-asset ratios would be higher if they were purely private, and (6) the GSEs' implicit subsidy does not appear to have substantially increased homeownership or homebuilding.

Keywords: Government-sponsored enterprises, GSEs, Fannie Mae, Freddie Mac, mortgages, implicit subsidy

feds 2003-63
December 2003

Cash Balance Pension Plan Conversions and the New Economy (PDF)

Julia Lynn Coronado and Phillip C. Copeland

Abstract: Many firms that sponsor traditional defined benefit pensions have converted their plans to cash balance plans in the last ten years. Cash balance plans combine features of defined benefit (DB) and defined contribution (DC) plans, and yet their introduction has proven considerably more controversial than has the increasing popularity of DC plans. The goal of this study is to estimate a hierarchy of the influences on the decision of a firm to convert its traditional defined benefit pension plan to a cash balance plan. Our results indicate that cash balance conversions have been undertaken in competitive industries with tight labor markets and can be viewed largely as a response to better compensate a more mobile labor force. Indeed, many firms appear to increase their pension liabilities through such conversions. The results also shed light on the possible determinants of the broader shift from DB to DC pension coverage.

Keywords: Pensions, labor markets, cash balance pensions

Abstract: Focusing on observable default risk's role in loan terms and the subsequent consequences for household behavior, this paper shows that lenders increasingly used risk-based pricing of interest rates in consumer loan markets during the mid-1990s. It tests three resulting predictions. First, the premium paid per unit of risk should have increased over this period. Second, debt levels should react accordingly. Third, fewer high-risk households should be denied credit, further contributing to the interest rate spread between the highest- and lowest-risk borrowers. For those obtaining loans, the premium paid per unit of risk did indeed become significantly larger over this time period. For example, given a 0.01 increase in the probability of bankruptcy, the corresponding interest rate increase tripled for first mortgages, doubled for automobile loans and rose nearly six times for second mortgages. Additionally, changes in borrowing levels and debt access reflected these new pricing practices, particularly for secured debt. Borrowing increased most for the low-risk households who saw their relative borrowing costs fall. Furthermore, while credit access increased for very high-risk households, the increases in their risk premiums implied that their borrowing as a whole either rose less or, sometimes, fell.

Keywords: Household finances, risk-based pricing, consumer debt

feds 2003-61
December 2003

Calculating and Using Second Order Accurate Solutions of Discrete Time Dynamic Equilibrium Models (PDF)

Jinill Kim, Sunghyun Kim, Ernst Schaumburg, and Christopher A. Sims

Abstract: We describe an algorithm for calculating second order approximations to the solutions to nonlinear stochastic rational expectation models. The paper also explains methods for using such an approximate solution to generate forecasts, simulated time paths for the model, and evaluations of expected welfare differences across different versions of a model. The paper gives conditions for local validity of the approximation that allow for disturbance distributions with unbounded support and allow for non-stationarity of the solution process.

Keywords: Solving dynamic equilibrium models, second order accurate solution

feds 2003-60
December 2003

Asset Prices and Rents in a GE model with Imperfect Competition (PDF)

Pierre Lafourcade

Abstract: This paper analyses the general equilibrium effects on asset valuation and capital accumulation of an exogenous drop in the rate of return required by investors in a model of production with imperfectly competitive product markets. The model improves substantially on the standard perfectly competitive neo-classical framework, by dissociating the behavior of marginal and average q. It tracks more closely current observed data on the ratio of stock-market value to the economy's capital base, while uncoupling this valuation ratio from investment behavior. The model does so by assuming that asset holders price not only the future marginal productivity of capital, but also the value of monopoly franchises, which arise from the interplay of market power and returns to scale.

Keywords: Asset pricing, investment, monopolistic competition, markup, scale

Abstract: This paper provides an introduction to the practice of forecasting "exogenous" components of federal government taxes and spending-policy actions, for short--in the United States. First, we estimate simple models of defense expenditures that are useful for constructing current-quarter forecasts based on incoming daily and monthly spending data. Also, we discuss forecasting policy changes in the context of extending recent empirical work of Alan Auerbach (2002, 2003) on fiscal reaction functions. Forecasts of exogenous fiscal actions are an important input into forecasts of the budget deficit, and we compare the forecasts of the budget deficit prepared by the Congressional Budget Office (CBO), the President's Office of Management and Budget (OMB), and the staff o the Federal Reserve Board (FRB). To our knowledge, analysis of the FRB forecasts has not been done before.

Keywords: Fiscal policy, forecasting, fiscal reaction functions

Abstract: In this paper, we examine the stock price benefit of meeting or beating earnings expectations. Using a general methodology, we find no evidence that the timing of earnings news has any benefit for firms' stock returns. In fact, in many cases we find firms attempting to engineer positive earnings surprises by beating down expectations only to discover that their efforts are counterproductive. Our results appear to overturn the findings of previous authors who, using less general methodologies, have suggested that firms can boost their stock returns by getting bad news out early. Our results are robust across time periods, for different scaling factors on earnings revisions and surprises, when controlling for firm size and growth prospects, and when conditioned on past earnings news.

Keywords: Analyst forecasts, earnings management, expectations management

Abstract: The Personal Responsibility and Work Opportunity Reconciliation Act of 1996 required states to increase welfare recipient employment and participation in welfare-to-work programs. These work requirements are sometimes credited for bringing about large employment increases among single mothers. However, this paper finds that employment among single mothers who were exempted from work requirements because they had young children rose as much as that of other single mothers. The results imply that the employment gains among single mothers in the late 1990s were due to economic growth and other policy changes rather than to the work requirements.

Keywords: Work requirements, TANF, welfare

Abstract: This paper finds that the permanent job losses associated with industrial restructuring have significantly boosted the variance of unemployment, causing it to rise much higher in recessions than it would have without cyclically correlated restructuring. Moreover, the influence of restructuring has increased noticeably in the 1980s and 1990s, acting to increase economic instability at a time when other factors were operating to reduce it.

Keywords: Restructuring, unemployment, job flows

feds 2003-55
November 2003

Central Bank Talk: Does It Matter and Why? (PDF)

Donald L. Kohn and Brian P. Sack

Abstract: Statements released by the Federal Open Market Committee (FOMC) and congressional testimony by Chairman Greenspan are found to significantly affect market interest rates, indicating that central bank "talk" conveys important information to market participants. These effects arise not only because the statements provide information about the near-term policy inclinations of the FOMC but also because the statements convey information about the outlook for the economy. By contrast, statements raising questions about asset valuations typically have not generated a significant response of those asset prices.

Keywords: Monetary policy, statements, speeches, transparency

Abstract: The standard life-cycle model of consumption behavior predicts that a household's age will influence its saving behavior. Moreover, simple national accounting identities reveal that a country's current account balance reflects its savings-investment imbalance. Thus, differences in national age-profiles should affect the current account. To test this theory's plausibility and significance, I simulate a multi-region overlapping generations model that is calibrated to match the demographic differences among the major industrialized countries over the past 50 years. In the model, it is found that these differences can explain some of the observed long-term capital movements in the G-7. In particular, the model does a good job of predicting the size and timing of American current account deficits as well as Japanese current account surpluses.

Keywords: Capital flows, demographic transitions, current account dynamics

Abstract: In this paper, we review the prevalence of the use of risk ratings by commercial banks that participated in the Federal Reserve's Survey of Terms of Bank Lending to Farmers between 1997 and 2002. We find that adoption of risk rating procedures held about steady over the period, with a little less than half the banks on the panel either not using a risk rating system, or reporting the same rating for all their loans in the survey. However, most of these banks were small, and roughly four-fifths of all sample loans carried an informative risk rating. We found that after controlling for the size and performance of the bank and as many nonprice terms of the loan as possible, banks consistently charged higher rates of interest for the farm loans that they characterized as riskier, with an average difference in rates between the most risky and least risky loans of about 1-1/2 percentage points.

Keywords: Agricultural finance, agricultural loans, risk ratings

Abstract: The incidence of currency counterfeiting and the possible total stock of counterfeits in circulation are popular topics of speculation and discussion in the press and are of substantial practical interest to the U.S. Treasury and the U.S. Secret Service. This paper assembles data from Federal Reserve and U.S. Secret Service sources and presents a range of estimates for the number of counterfeits in circulation. In addition, the paper presents figures on counterfeit passing activity by denomination, location, and method of production. The paper has two main conclusions: first, the stock of counterfeits in the world as a whole is likely on the order of 1 or fewer per 10,000 in both piece and value terms; second, losses to the U.S. public from the most commonly used note, the $20, are relatively small, and are miniscule when only counterfeit notes of reasonable quality are considered.

Keywords: Counterfeit, currency

feds 2003-51
November 2003

Welfare Effects of Tax Policy in Open Economies: Stabilization and Cooperation (PDF)

Jinill Kim and Sunghyun Henry Kim

Abstract: This paper studies an international tax policy design problem by employing a two-country dynamic general equilibrium model with incomplete asset markets. We investigate the possibility of welfareimproving active tax policies, in particular capital and labor income tax, under the non-cooperative Nash equilibrium and the cooperative equilibrium. Unlike the conventional wisdom regarding stabilization policies, optimal tax policies in our economy are procyclical. Relative to the non-cooperative setting, international tax policy cooperation requires more active tax policies (about two times) and generates large extra welfare gains (by about a third).

Keywords: Income tax, welfare, stabilization, cooperation

Abstract: This paper demonstrates that long-term forward interest rates in the U.S. often react considerably to surprises in macroeconomic data releases and monetary policy announcements. This behavior is inconsistent with the assumption of many macroeconomic models that the long-run properties of the economy are time-invariant and perfectly known by all economic agents. Under those conditions, the shocks we consider would have only transitory effects on short-term interest rates, and hence would not generate large responses in forward rates. Our empirical findings suggest that private agents adjust their expectations of the long-run inflation rate in response to macroeconomic and monetary policy surprises. Consistent with our hypothesis, forward rates derived from inflation-indexed Treasury debt show little sensitivity to these shocks, indicating that the response of nominal forward rates is mostly driven by inflation compensation. In addition, we find that in the U.K., where the long-run inflation target is known by the private sector, long-term forward rates have not demonstrated excess sensitivity since the Bank of England achieved independence in mid-1997. We present an alternative model in which agents' perceptions of long-run inflation are not completely anchored, which fits all of our empirical results.

Keywords: Long-term interest rates, excess volatility, inflation expectations

feds 2003-49
September 2003

Does Mortgage Hedging Amplify Movements in Long-term Interest Rates? (PDF)

Roberto Perli and Brian Sack

Abstract: The growth of the mortgage market in recent years has raised the question of what effects, if any, the hedging of mortgage portfolios has on the behavior of long-term interest rates. This paper finds that the volatility of the ten-year swap rate implied by swaptions increases when the prepayment risk of outstanding mortgages increases--most likely because investors expect the hedging of prepayment risk to amplify future interest rate movements. These amplification effects can be considerable in magnitude, but they are generally expected to persist only for several months.

Keywords: Mortgage hedging, MBS, prepayment risk

Abstract: This paper applies some lessons from recent estimation of investment models with firm-level data to the aggregate data with an eye to rehabilitating convex costs of adjusting the capital stock. In recent firm-level work, the response of investment to output and other "fundamental" variables is interpreted in terms of the traditional convex-adjustment-cost model, implying annual capital-stock adjustment speeds on the order of 15 to 35 percent. In aggregate data, I find that this "fundamentalist" model can account for the reduced-form effect of output on investment and the estimated capital-stock adjustment speed is similar to those from firm-level studies B--around 25 percent per year. To account for the slower adjustment to changes in the cost of capital, I consider a model in which the capital-intensity of production is also costly to adjust. I find that this model can account for the reduced-form effects of both output and the cost of capital on investment.

Keywords: Investment, adjustment costs, putty-clay

Abstract: We try to contribute to both the finance-growth literature and the community banking literature by testing the effects of the relative health of community banks on economic growth, and investigating potential transmission mechanisms for these effects using data from 1993-2000 on 49 nations. Data from both developed and developing nations suggest that greater market shares and efficiency ranks of small, private, domestically-owned banks are associated with better economic performance, and that the marginal benefits of higher shares are greater when the banks are more efficient. Only mixed support is found for hypothesized transmission mechanisms through improved financing for SMEs or greater overall bank credit flows. Data from developing nations are also consistent with favorable economic effects of foreign-owned banks, but unfavorable effects from state-owned banks.

Keywords: Banks, community banking, SMEs, financial development, economic growth, international

Abstract: The canonical inflation specification in sticky-price rational expectations models (the new-Keynesian Phillips curve) is often criticized on the grounds that it fails to account for the dependence of inflation on its own lags. In response, many recent studies have employed a "hybrid" sticky-price specification in which inflation depends on a weighted average of lagged and expected future values of itself, in addition to a driving variable such as the output gap. In this paper, we consider some simple tests of the hybrid model that are derived from the model's closed-form solution. Our results suggest that the hybrid model provides a poor description of empirical inflation dynamics, and that there is little evidence of the type of rational forward-looking behavior implied by the model.

Keywords: Inflation, Phillips curve

Abstract: Nominal short term interest rates have been low in the United States, so low that some have wondered whether the federal funds rate is likely to hit its lower bound at 0 percent. Such a scenario, which some economists have called the liquidity trap, would imply that the Federal Reserve could no longer lower short-term interest rates to counter any deflationary tendencies in the economy. In this paper, I use an affine term structure model to infer what interest rates tell us about the probability, as assessed by financial market participants, of such an event taking place. I also examine whether U.S. short-term rates have been low enough to distort the shape of the yield curve.

Keywords: Zero bound, term structure of interest rates, monetary policy, deflation

feds 2003-44
September 2003

The Replacement Demand for Motor Vehicles: Evidence from the Survey of Consumer Finances (PDF)

Ana Aizcorbe, Martha Starr, and James T. Hickman

Abstract: The motor vehicle industry has undergone important changes in recent years, including a shift in production from autos to light trucks and growth of vehicle leasing. This paper uses household-level data from the Federal Reserve's Survey of Consumer Finances to document changes in households' acquisitions and financing of motor vehicles from 1989 to 2001. We examine what types of vehicles households had, what financing arrangements were used to acquire them, and how vehicle holdings vary with such household characteristics as income, age, wealth, and creditworthiness. The data provide useful insights into the determinants of replacement demand and the use of alternative financing arrangements like leasing.

Keywords: Vehicles, consumer, replacement demand

Abstract: This paper presents a re-formulated version of a canonical sticky-price model that has been extended to account for variations over time in the central bank's inflation target. We derive a closed-form solution for the model, and analyze its properties under various parameter values. The model is used to explore topics relating to the effects of disinflationary monetary policies and inflation persistence. In particular, we employ the model to illustrate and assess the critique that standard sticky-price models generate counterfactual predictions for the effects of monetary policy.

Keywords: Inflation targets, credibility, inflation persistence

feds 2003-42
August 2003

An Empirical Test of a Two-Factor Mortgage Valuation Model: How Much Do House Prices Matter? (PDF)

Chris Downing, Richard Stanton, and Nancy Wallace

Abstract: Mortgage-backed securities, with their relative structural simplicity and their lack of recovery rate uncertainty if default occurs, are particularly suitable for developing and testing risky debt valuation models. In this paper, we develop a two-factor structural mortgage pricing model in which rational mortgage-holders endogenously choose when to prepay and default subject to i. explicit frictions (transaction costs) payable when terminating their mortgages, ii. exogenous background terminations, and iii. a credit-related impact of the loan-to-value ratio (LTV) on prepayment. We estimate the model using pool-level mortgage termination data for Freddie Mac Participation Certificates, and find that the effect of the house price factor on the results is both statistically and economically significant. Out-of-sample estimates of MBS prices produce option adjusted spreads of between 5 and 25 basis points, well within quoted values for these securities.

Keywords: Prepayment, default, mortgage, valuation, house price, transaction cost, heterogeneity

feds 2003-41
August 2003

Inflation Scares and Forecast-Based Monetary Policy (PDF)

Athanasios Orphanides and John C. Williams

Abstract: Central banks pay close attention to inflation expectations. In standard models, however, inflation expectations are tied down by the assumption of rational expectations and should be of little independent interest to policy makers. In this paper, we relax the assumption of rational expectations with perfect knowledge and reexamine the role of inflation expectations in the economy and in the conduct of monetary policy. Agents are assumed to have imperfect knowledge of the precise structure of the economy and the policymakers' preferences. Expectations are governed by a perpetual learning technology. With learning, disturbances can give rise to endogenous inflation scares, that is, significant and persistent deviations of inflation expectations from those implied by rational expectations. The presence of learning increases the sensitivity of inflation expectations and the term structure of interest rates to economic shocks, in line with the empirical evidence. We also explore the role of private inflation expectations for the conduct of efficient monetary policy. Under rational expectations, inflation expectations equal a linear combination of macroeconomic variables and as such provide no additional information to the policy maker. In contrast, under learning, private inflation expectations follow a time-varying process and provide useful information for the conduct of monetary policy.

Keywords: Inflation forecasts, policy rules, rational expectations, learning

Abstract: This paper provides a simple unified framework for assessing the empirical linkages between returns and realized and implied volatilities. First, we show that whereas the volatility feedback effect as measured by the sign of the correlation between contemporaneous return and realized volatility depends importantly on the underlying structural model parameters, the correlation between return and implied volatility is unambiguously positive for all reasonable parameter configurations. Second, the lagged return-volatility asymmetry, or the leverage effect, is always stronger for implied than realized volatility. Third, implied volatilities generally provide downward biased forecasts of subsequent realized volatilities. Our results help explain previous findings reported in the extant empirical literature, and is further corroborated by new estimation results for a sample of monthly returns and implied and realized volatilities for the aggregate S&P market index.

Keywords: Leverage asymmetry, volatility feedback, implied volatility forecast, realized volatility, stochastic volatility model, model misspecification, estimation bias

feds 2003-39
August 2003

Economic and Regulatory Capital Allocation for Revolving Retail Exposures (PDF)

Roberto Perli and William I. Nayda

Abstract: The latest revision of the Internal Ratings Based approach of the Basel Committee on Banking Supervision's New Capital Accord Proposal for retail portfolios contains a significant innovation relative to previous versions: the recognition that, for revolving credits, future margin income will be available to cover losses before a bank's capital is threatened. We assemble a mini-portfolio of revolving exposures and we compare the capital charges generated by the latest Basel's formula with the capital charges generated by two possible earnings-at-risk internal capital allocation models. We find that in general, Basel's capital ratios are closer to those generated by our models for the groups with lower credit risk. We attribute the discrepancies to the different ways Basel and our models account for future margin income, to Basel assumptions about asset correlations, and to one our models taking macroeconomic conditions explicitly into account.

Keywords: Basel, capital allocation, credit risk, revolving retail exposure, one-factor risk rodels, multi-factor risk models

Abstract: During the 1990s, the asset portfolios of defined-benefit (DB) pension plans ballooned with the booming stock market. Due to current accounting guidelines, the robust growth in pension assets resulted in a stealthy but substantial boost to the profits of sponsoring corporations. This study assesses the extent to which equity investors were fooled by pension accounting. First, we test whether stock prices reflected the fair market value of sponsoring firms' net pension assets reported in footnotes to the 10-K or, instead, some capitalization rate on the pension cost accruals embedded in the income statement. The results strongly favor the latter view. Additional tests indicate that the market does not value a firm's "pension earnings" differently from its "core earnings", suggesting that pension earnings are often overvalued. Simulations show that a failure to differentiate between core and pension earnings induces large valuation errors for many firms, although this pension effect did not materially contribute to aggregate in overvaluation 2000. However, overvaluation from pension earnings reached 5 percent in the aggregate in 2001, when the steep stock price decline and the drop in interest rates had slashed pension net asset values but not pension earnings.

Keywords: Pension, accounting, firm valuation, bubble, stock market

Abstract: This paper tests a new hypothesis that bank managers issue bonds, at least in part, to convey positive, private information and refrain from issuance to hide negative, private information. We find evidence for this hypothesis, using rating migrations, equity returns, bond issuance, and balance sheet data for US bank holding companies. The results add to our understanding of the role of "market discipline" in monitoring bank holding companies and also inform upon how proposed regulatory requirements that banking organizations frequently issue public bonds might augment "market discipline."

Keywords: Bond issuance, disclosure, due diligence, financial institutions

feds 2003-36
August 2003

Historical Monetary Policy Analysis and the Taylor Rule (PDF)

Athanasios Orphanides

Abstract: This study examines the usefulness of the Taylor-rule framework as an organizing device for describing the policy debate and evolution of monetary policy in the United States. Monetary policy during the 1920s and since the 1951 Treasury-Federal Reserve Accord can be broadly interpreted in terms of this framework with rather surprising consistency. In broad terms, during these periods policy has been generally formulated in a forward-looking manner with price stability and economic stability serving as implicit or explicit guides. As early as the 1920s, measures of real economic activity relative to "normal" or "potential" supply appear to have influenced policy analysis and deliberations. Confidence in such measures as guides for activist monetary policy proved counterproductive at times, resulting in excessive activism, such as during the Great Inflation and at the brink of the Great Depression. Policy during the past two decades is broadly consistent with natural-growth targeting variants of the Taylor rule that exhibit less activism.

Keywords: Federal Reserve, policy rule, real-time data

Abstract: Based on a sample for 1993-1999, this paper examines the effects of nationwide branching, following the Riegle-Neal Act, on various aspects of banking markets and bank service and perfomance. While concentration at the regional level has increased dramatically, deregulation has left almost intact the market structure of urban markets, which have between two to three dominant firms--controlling over half of a market's deposits--in 1999 just as they did in 1993. A significant portion of the observed increase in bank quality can be traced to the implementation of nationwide branching. By allowing banks to open branches in any state, the new regime has permitted consumers to enjoy greater networks, free of fees, throughout large geographic regions. Consistent with an increase in service quality, costs and service fees increase. Credit risk increases as greater geographic diversification might provide a hedge against greater risk-return choices. Coherent with these findings and an increase in lending competition and profit efficiency, spreads fall and profits are unaffected.

Keywords: Market structure, firm strategy, banking, regulation

Abstract: Most wage-contracting models with rational expectations fail to replicate the persistence in inflation observed in the data. We argue that coordination problems and multiple equilibria are the keys to explaining inflation persistence. We develop a wage-contracting model in which workers are concerned about being treated fairly. This model generates a continuum of equilibria (consistent with a range for the rate of unemployment), where workers want to match the wage set by other workers. If workers' expectations are based on the past behavior of wage growth, these beliefs will be self-fulfilling and thus rational. Based on quarterly U.S. data over the period 1955-2000, we find evidence that inflation is more persistent between unemployment rates of 4.7 and 6.5 percent, than outside these bounds, as predicted by our model.

Keywords: Inflation persistence, coordination problems, adaptive expectations

Abstract: We use a unique data set on employee turnover by industry in Arizona to test competing theories of turnover. We find that industries with lower establishment survival rates have more employee turnover, even after controlling for differences in the distribution of employee tenure. This result is consistent with a model of turnover where employees choose how much firm specific human capital to accumulate, but it is inconsistent with job matching models.

Keywords: Firm survival, employee turnover, firm specific human capital

Abstract: This paper exploits the Itô's formula to derive the conditional moments vector for the class of interest rate models that allow for nonlinear volatility and flexible jump specifications. Such a characterization of continuous-time processes by the Ito Conditional Moment Generator noticeably enlarges the admissible set beyond the affine jump-diffusion class. A simple GMM estimator can be constructed based on the analytical solution to the lower order moments, with natural diagnostics of the conditional mean, variance, skewness, and kurtosis. Monte Carlo evidence suggests that the proposed estimator has desirable finite sample properties, relative to the asymptotically efficient MLE. The empirical application singles out the nonlinear quadratic variance as the key feature of the U.S. short rate dynamics.

Keywords: Itô conditional moment menerator, short-term interest rate, jump-diffusion process, quadratic variance, generalized method of moments, Monte Carlo study.

Abstract: This paper uses a panel of state-level data to test whether changes in bank loan supply affect output. Since the U.S. states are small open economies with fixed exchange rates, state-specific shocks to money demand are automatically accommodated, leading to changes in lending if banks rely on deposits as a source of funding. Using these shocks as an instrumental variable, I find that shocks to money demand have large and statistically significant effects on the supply of bank loans, but loans have small, often negative, and statistically insignificant effects on output.

Keywords: Bank lending, U.S. states, money demand, credit

Abstract: Price-setting models with monopolistic competition and costs of changing prices exhibit coordination failure: In response to a monetary policy shock, individual agents lack incentives to change prices even when it would be Pareto-improving if all agents did so. The potential welfare gains are in part evaluated relative to a benchmark equilibrium of perfect, costless coordination; in practice, since agents will still have incentives to deviate from the benchmark equilibrium, coordination is likely to require enforcement. We consider an alternative benchmark equilibrium in which coordination is enforced by punishing deviators. This is formally equivalent to modeling agents as a cartel playing a punishment game. We show that this new benchmark implies that the welfare losses from coordination failure are smaller. Moreover, at the new benchmark equilibrium, prices are upwards-flexible but downwards-sticky. These last results suggest that the dynamic behavior of sticky-price models may more generally depend on the kind of imperfect competition assumed.

Keywords: Coordination failure, menu costs, monopolistic competition, cartel

feds 2003-29
August 2003

Inflation Persistence and Relative Contracting (PDF)

John C. Driscoll and Steinar Holden

Abstract: Macroeconomists have for some time been aware that the New Keynesian Phillips curve, though highly popular in the literature, cannot explain the persistence observed in actual inflation. We argue that one of the more prominent alternative formulations, the Fuhrer and Moore (1995) relative contracting model, is highly problematic. Fuhrer and Moore's 1995 formulation generates inflation persistence, but this is a consequence of their assuming that workers care about the past real wages of other workers. Making the more reasonable assumption that workers care about the current real wages of other workers, one obtains the standard formulation with no inflation persistence.

Keywords: Inflation persistence

feds 2003-28
October 2003

Tunnels and Reserves in Monetary Policy Implementation (PDF)

William Whitesell

Abstract: In recent years, some central banks have implemented monetary policy without reserve requirements by using a ceiling and floor for overnight interest rates established by central bank lending and deposit facilities. This paper analyzes a theoretical model of such a "tunnel" system and the benefits of adding reserve requirements to it. However, reserve requirements may involve social costs owing to the reserve avoidance activities of banks. The paper also presents a modified model with no reserve avoidance, where banks optimally choose to hold voluntary reserve requirements. The paper highlights the importance for central banks to consider such models in light of idiosyncratic features of their own institutional environment, which may importantly condition the advisability of any particular approach.

Keywords: Monetary policy implementation, reserve requirements, overnight interest rates

feds 2003-27
July 2003

Declining Required Reserves, Funds Rate Volatility, and Open Market Operations (PDF)

Selva Demiralp and Dennis Farley

Abstract: The standard view of the monetary transmission mechanism rests on the central bank's ability to manipulate the overnight interest rate by controlling the reserve supply. In the 1990s, there was a significant decline in the level of reserve balances in the U.S. accompanied at first by an increase in the funds rate volatility. However, following this initial rise, volatility declined. In this paper, we find evidence of a structural break in volatility. We then estimate a tobit model of the major types of temporary open market operations and conclude that there have been changes in the Desk's reaction function that played a major role in controlling volatility.

Keywords: Required reserves, open market operations, trading desk

Abstract: Despite the recent patch of sluggish growth, the U.S. economy has experienced a period of remarkable stability since the mid-1980s. One popular explanation attributes the diminished variability of economic activity to information-technology-led improvements in inventory management. Our results, however, indicate that the changes in inventory dynamics since the mid-1980s played a reinforcing--rather than a leading--role in the volatility reduction. Movements in the volatility of manufacturing output over the past three decades almost entirely reflect changes in the variability of the growth contribution of sales. Although the volatility of total inventory investment has fallen, the decline occurred well before the mid-1980s and was driven by the reduced variability of materials and supplies. Our analysis does show that since the mid-1980s, inventory dynamics have played a role in stabilizing manufacturing production: Inventory "imbalances" tend to correct more rapidly, and the quicker response of inventories to monetary policy and commodity price shocks buffers production from fluctuations in sales to a greater extent. But more extensive production smoothing and faster dissolution of inventory imbalances appear to be a consequence of changes in the way industry-level sales and aggregate economic activity respond to shocks, rather than a cause of changes in macroeconomic behavior.

Keywords: Inventories, inventory management, business cycles, GDP volatility

Abstract: This article explores the expectations of the credit market by developing a parsimonious default swap model, which is versatile enough to disentangle default probability from the expected recovery rate, accommodate counterparty default risk, and allow flexible correlation between state variables. We implements the model to a unique sample of default swaps on Argentine sovereign debt, and found that the risk-neutral default probability was always higher than its physical counterpart, and the wedge between the two was affected by changes in the business cycle, the U.S. and Argentine credit conditions, and the overall strength of the Argentine economy. We also found that major rating agencies had assigned over-generous ratings to the Argentine debt, and they lagged the market in downgrading the debt.

Keywords: Credit, default, swap, sovereign, debt

Abstract: Over the period from 1989 to 2001, wealth in real terms grew broadly across U.S. families. Characterizing distributional changes is much more complex, and much more dependent on the specific questions asked. For example, there is evidence both from Forbes data on the 400 wealthiest Americans and from the SCF, which explicitly excludes families in the Forbes list, that wealth grew relatively strongly at the very top of the distribution. At the same time, the share of total household wealth held by the Forbes group rose. However, while the point estimate of the share of total wealth held by the wealthiest one percent of families as measured by the SCF also rose, the change is not statistically significant. In 2001, the division of wealth observed in the SCF attributed about a third each to the wealthiest 1 percent, the next wealthiest 9 percent, and the remaining 90 percent of the population. The paper decomposes wealth holdings and distributional shifts in a variety of other ways. Particular attention is given to families with negative net worth, families of older "baby boomer," and African American families.

Keywords: Wealth distribution, SCF

Abstract: We estimate the employment effects of changes in national minimum wages using a pooled cross-section time-series data set comprising 17 OECD countries for the period 1975-2000, focusing on the impact of cross-country differences in minimum wage systems and in other labor market institutions and policies that may either offset or amplify the effects of minimum wages. The average minimum wage effects we estimate using this sample are consistent with the view that minimum wages cause employment losses among youths. However, the evidence also suggests that the employment effects of minimum wages vary considerably across countries. In particular, disemployment effects of minimum wages appear to be smaller in countries that have subminimum wage provisions for youths. Regarding other labor market policies and institutions, we find that more restrictive labor standards and higher union coverage strengthen the disemployment effects of minimum wages, while employment protection laws and active labor market policies designed to bring unemployed individuals into the work force help to offset these effects. Overall, the disemployment effects of minimum wages are strongest in the countries with the least regulated labor markets.

Keywords: Minimum wages, youth employment, labor market institutions

Abstract: Workers who lose their jobs can become re-employed either by being recalled to their previous employers or by finding new jobs. Workers' chances for recall should influence their job search strategies, so the rates of exit from unemployment by these two routes should be directly related. We solve a job search model to establish, in theory, a negative relationship between the recall and new job hazard rates. We look for evidence in the PSID by estimating a semi-parametric competing risks model with explicitly related hazards. We find only a small negative behavioral relationship between recall and new job hazard rates.

Keywords: Lay-off, recall, job search, hazard rate, proportional hazard model, unobserved heterogeneity, duration dependence

feds 2003-21
June 2003

Regime-Shifts, Risk Premiums in the Term Structure, and the Business Cycle (PDF)

Ravi Bansal, George Tauchen, and Hao Zhou

Abstract: We examine various dynamic term structure models for monthly US Treasury yields from 1964 to 2001. Of particular interest is the predictability of bond excess returns. Recent evidence indicates that using multiple forward rates can sharply predict future excess returns on bonds; the R2 of this predictability regression can be as high as 30%. In addition, the projection coefficients in these predictability regressions exhibit a tent shaped pattern that relates to the maturity of the forward rate. This dimension of the data in conjunction with the transition dynamics of bond yields (i.e., conditional volatility and cross-correlation of bond yields) poses an serious challenge to term structure models. In this paper we present and estimate a regime-shifts term structure model, and our findings show that this model can account for all aspects of the predictability regression and the transition dynamics of yields. Alternative models, such as affine factor models, cannot account for these features of the data. We find that the regimes in the model are related to the NBER business-cycle indicator.

Keywords: Regime switching, term structure of interest rate, expectation hypothesis, business cycle, efficient method of moments

Abstract: It is well accepted that households increase consumption of goods and services in response to an unexpected increase in wealth. Consensus estimates of this wealth effect are in the range of 3 to 5 cents of additional consumption spending in the long run for each additional dollar of wealth. Economic theory also suggests that consumption of leisure, like consumption of goods and services, should increase with positive shocks to wealth. In this paper, we ask whether the run-up in equity prices during the 1990s led older workers to retire earlier than they had previously planned. We identify the effect by exploiting unique data on retirement expectations from the Health and Retirement Survey. Our econometric results suggest that respondents who held corporate equity immediately prior to the bull market of the 1990s retired, on average, 7 months earlier than other respondents.

Keywords: Wealth effect, retirement

Abstract: This paper examines estimates of the term premium on federal funds futures rates, with a focus on near-dated contracts and therefore the more immediate policy horizon. The first set of methods assumes that the term premium is constant over time. Under this framework, calculations that use survey data to proxy for forecast errors produce more intuitive results than estimates based on the restrictive assumption that forecast errors average to zero over the sample. The second set of methods allows the term premium to vary over time, but the results based on the term structure of near-dated federal funds futures contracts are highly volatile, which perhaps reflects numerous technical factors in the underlying federal funds market. Finally, under an asset-pricing approach, the CAPM suggests that the risk premium on federal funds futures is either less than or equal to zero, while APT indicates that it can be positive.

Keywords: Federal funds futures, term premium, expectations hypothesis

feds 2003-18
May 2003

The Effects of War Risk on U.S. Financial Markets (PDF)

Roberto Rigobon and Brian Sack

Abstract: This paper measures the effects of the risks associated with the war in Iraq on various U.S. financial variables using a heteroskedasticity-based estimation technique. The results indicate that increases in what we call the "war risk" factor caused declines in Treasury yields and equity prices, a widening of lower-grade corporate spreads, a fall in the dollar, and a rise in oil prices. This factor accounted for a considerable portion of the variances of these financial variables over the three months leading up to the arrival of coalition forces in central Baghdad.

Keywords: War, flight to quality, heteroskedasticity, identification

Abstract: The proposition that "housing prices can't continue to outpace growth in household income" (Wall Street Journal; July 25, 2002) is the received wisdom among many housing-market observers. More formally, many in the housing literature argue that house prices and income are cointegrated. In this paper, I show that the data do not support this view. Standard tests using 27 years of national-level data do not find evidence of cointegration. However, it is known that tests for cointegration have low power, especially in small samples. I use panel-data tests for cointegration that have been shown to be more powerful than their standard time-series counterparts to test for cointegration in a panel of 95 metro areas over 23 years. Using a bootstrap approach to allow for cross-correlations in city-level house-price shocks, I show that even these more powerful tests do not reject the hypothesis of no cointegration. Thus the error-correction specification for house prices and income commonly found in the literature may be inappropriate.

Keywords: House Prices, cointegration, panel data

Abstract: Foreclosure laws govern the rights of borrowers and lenders when borrowers default on mortgages. Many states protect borrowers by imposing restrictions on the foreclosure process; these restrictions, in turn, impose large costs on lenders. Lenders may respond to these higher costs by reducing loan supply; borrowers may respond to the protections imbedded in these laws by demanding larger mortgages. I examine empirically the effect of the laws on equilibrium loan size. I exploit the rich geographic information available in the 1994 and 1995 Home Mortgage Disclosure Act data to compare mortgage applications for properties located in census tracts that border each other, yet are located in different states. Using semiparametric estimation methods, I find that defaulter-friendly foreclosure laws are correlated with a four percent to six percent decrease in loan size. This result suggests that defaulter-friendly foreclosure laws impose costs on borrowers at the time of loan origination.

Keywords: Foreclosure, mortgages

feds 2003-15
May 2003

Monetary Policy and the Yield Curve (PDF)

Antulio N. Bomfim

Abstract: This paper examines the empirical properties of a two-factor affine model of the term structure of interest rates, estimated with LIBOR and interest rate swap data from 1989 through 2001. Despite its relative simplicity, the model fits the interest rate data remarkably well, both across time and maturity, and identifies changes in the current and expected stance of monetary policy as primary movers of the yield curve.

Keywords: Affine models, expectations hypothesis, latent factors

Abstract: This paper presents empirical evidence consistent with the predictions of the endogenous sunk cost model of Sutton (1991), with an application to banks. In particular, banking markets remain concentrated regardless of market size. Given an asymmetric oligopoly where dominant and fringe firms coexist, the number of dominant banks remains unchanged with market size, with only the number of fringe banks varying across markets. Such structure is sustained by competitive investments in quality, with the level of quality increasing with market size and dominant banks providing higher quality than fringe banks. The analysis has implications for antitrust policy.

Keywords: Market structure, firm strategy, banking

feds 2003-13
April 2003

Spillovers Across U.S. Financial Markets (PDF)

Roberto Rigobon and Brian Sack

Abstract: Movements in the prices of different assets are likely to directly influence one another. This paper identifies the contemporaneous interactions between asset prices in U.S. financial markets by relying on the heteroskedasticity in their movements. In particular, we estimate a "structural-form GARCH" model that includes the short-term interest rate, the long-term interest rate, and the stock market. The results indicate that there are strong contemporaneous interactions between these variables. Accounting for this behavior is critical for interpreting daily changes in asset prices and for predicting the future paths of their variances and correlations. We demonstrate the importance of this consideration in a risk-management application.

Keywords: Identification, heteroskedasticity, GARCH, stock market, yield curve

Abstract: Estimating the effects of government debt and deficits on Treasury yields is complicated by the need to isolate the effects of fiscal policy from other influences. To abstract from the effects of the business cycle, and associated monetary policy actions, on debt, deficits, and interest rates, this paper studies the relationship between long-horizon expected government debt and deficits, measured by CBO and OMB projections, and expected future long-term interest rates. The estimated effects of government debt and deficits on interest rates are statistically and economically significant: a one percentage point increase in the projected deficit-to-GDP ratio is estimated to raise long-term interest rates by roughly 25 basis points. Under plausible assumptions these estimates are shown to be consistent with predictions of the neoclassical growth model.

Keywords: Government debt, government deficits, interest rate regressions, CBO projections, OMB projections

feds 2003-11
March 2003

Robust Monetary Policy Rules with Unknown Natural Rates (PDF)

Athanasios Orphanides and John C. Williams

Abstract: We examine the performance and robustness properties of alternative monetary policy rules in the presence of structural change that renders the natural rates of interest and unemployment uncertain. Using a forward-looking quarterly model of the U.S. economy, estimated over the 1969-2002 period, we show that the cost of underestimating the extent of misperceptions regarding the natural rates significantly exceeds the costs of overestimating such errors. Naive adoption of policy rules optimized under the false presumption that misperceptions regarding the natural rates are likely to be small proves particularly costly. Our results suggest that a simple and effective approach for dealing with ignorance about the degree of uncertainty in estimates of the natural rates is to adopt difference rules for monetary policy, in which the short-term nominal interest rate is raised or lowered from its existing level in response to inflation and changes in economic activity. These rules do not require knowledge of the natural rates of interest or unemployment for setting policy and are consequently immune to the likely misperceptions in these concepts. To illustrate the differences in outcomes that could be attributed to the alternative policies we also examine the role of misperceptions for the stagflationary experience of the 1970s and the disinflationary boom of the 1990s.

Keywords: Inflation targeting, policy rules, natural rate of unemployment, natural rate of interest, misperceptions

Abstract: This study pursues two addenda to the practitioner and academic on the effect of monetary policy on asset prices. First, this paper applies cointegration theory, and, second, relaxes the stringent assumption in the literature that changes in 10-year Treasury yields, stock returns, and changes in the stance of monetary policy are exogenous. Given quarterly data from 1978:Q4 to 2002:Q3, two-stage least squares (2SLS) regressions suggest that changes in the exogenous component of the federal funds rate affect changes in Treasury yields but not stock returns, ceteris paribus. However, this result is sensitive to alternative proxies for the stance of monetary policy. Also, little evidence suggests that monetary policy responds to the exogenous components of changes in financial asset prices.

Keywords: Monetary policy, asset pricing, stock returns, bond yields

Abstract: This paper examines whether empirical and theoretical results suggesting a relatively small role for counterparty credit risk in the determination of interest rate swap rates hold during periods of stress in the financial markets, such as the chain of events that followed the Russian default crisis of 1998. The analysis sheds light on the robustness of netting and credit enhancement mechanisms, which are common in interest rate swaps, to widespread turmoil in the financial markets.

Keywords: Convexity adjustment, futures and forward rates, affine models, calibration

feds 2003-08
February 2003

The Welfare Effects of Incentive Schemes (PDF)

Adam Copeland and Cyril Monnet

Abstract: This paper computes the change in welfare associated with the introduction of incentives. Specifically, we calculate by how much the welfare gains of increased output due to incentives outweigh workers' disutility from increased effort. We accomplish this by studying the use of incentives by a firm in the check-clearing industry. Using this firm's production records, we model and estimate the worker's dynamic effort decision problem. We find that the firm's incentive scheme has a large effect on productivity, raising it by 14% over the sample period. Using our parameter estimates, we show that the cost of increased effort due to incentives is equal to the dollar value of a 9% rise in productivity. Welfare is measured as the output produced minus the cost of effort, hence the net increase in welfare due to the introduction of the firm's bonus plan is 5%. Under a first-best scheme, we find that the net increase in welfare is 6%.

Keywords: Principal-agent theory, personnel economics

Abstract: The yields on nominal and inflation-indexed Treasury debt securities can be used to derive a proxy for the inflation expectations of financial market participants. This paper finds that one such measure has been an effective predictor of monetary policy decisions by the Federal Reserve since 1999. This finding suggests that the inflation compensation measure serves as a summary statistic for the factors that drive monetary policy decisions.

Keywords: Monetary policy rule, inflation-indexed debt

Abstract: Because of the increasing significance of credit unions as potential competitors for consumer deposits, this paper examines the impact of the market presence of credit unions, variously measured, on the rates for three different types of consumer deposits offered by banks and thrift institutions. In contrast to previous studies, the sample employed covers the nation as a whole, incorporates all large urban areas, and employs survey data on deposit rates for a substantially larger number of institutions than previously employed. Despite circumstance that are argued to militate against the finding of a relationship, regression analyses yield positive coefficients of the measures of credit union presence, with statistical significance in a number of cases.

Keywords: Competition, banks, credit unions

Abstract: Although the stability of coefficients from hedonic regressions has received much attention recently, that of dummy variable (DV) price indexes obtained from these regressions has not. In principle, one problem translates into the other only when some prices are not observed in the data. Numerically, however, DV measures obtained from a "typical" specification can be quite unstable even when the number of missing prices is small. To the extent that collinearity is an important source of the problem, functional forms that use (orthogonal) fixed effects to control for quality differences across goods should yield more stable estimates. Data for Intel's microprocessors are used to illustrate these points.

Keywords: Hedonic, price index

feds 2003-04
February 2003

Initial Public Offerings in Hot and Cold Markets (PDF)

Jean Helwege and Nellie Liang

Abstract: The literature on IPOs offers a wide variety of explanations to justify the dramatic swings in the volume of IPOs observed in the market. Many theories predict that hot IPO markets are characterized by clusters of firms in particular industries for which a technological innovation has occurred, suggesting that hot and cold market IPO firms will differ in quality, prospects, or types of business. Others suggest hot market IPOs are firms that take advantage of irrational investors. We compare firms that go public in a number of hot and cold markets during 1975- 2000, examining them at the time of the IPO and during the following five years. We find that both hot and cold market IPOs are largely concentrated in the same narrow set of industries and hot markets for many industries occur at the same time. We also find few distinctions in quality and scant evidence that hot market IPOs have better growth prospects. Our results suggest that technological innovations are not the primary determinant of hot markets because IPO markets cycle with greater frequency than the underlying innovations, and are more in line with the view that hot markets reflect greater investor optimism, though not necessarily active manipulation by managers.

Keywords: IPO, hot markets, firm performance, investor sentiment

feds 2003-03
February 2003

Money Demand and Equity Markets (PDF)

Seth Carpenter and Joe Lange

Abstract: Money demand in part reflects a portfolio decision. As equities have become a significant store of household wealth, it seems plausible that variations in equity markets could affect money demand. We re-specify a standard money demand equation to include stock market volatility and revisions to analyst earnings projections. We find that these equity market variables are statistically significant and reduce the errors from money demand models.

Keywords: Money demand, equity markets

feds 2003-02
February 2003

The Institutional Memory Hypothesis and the Procyclicality of Bank Lending Behavior (PDF)

Allen N. Berger and Gregory F. Udell

Abstract: Stylized facts suggest that bank lending behavior is highly procyclical. We offer a new hypothesis that may help explain why this occurs. The institutional memory hypothesis is driven by deterioration in the ability of loan officers over the bank's lending cycle that results in an easing of credit standards. This easing of standards may be compounded by simultaneous deterioration in the capacity of bank management to discipline its loan officers and reduction in the capacities of external stakeholders to discipline bank management. We test the empirical implications of this hypothesis using data from individual U.S. banks over the period 1980-2000. We employ over 200,000 observations on commercial loan growth measured at the bank level, over 2,000,000 observations on interest rate premiums on individual loans, and over 2,000 observations on credit standards and bank-level loan spreads from bank management survey responses. The empirical analysis provides support for the hypothesis.

Keywords: Banks, lending, business cycles

Abstract: Unemployment insurance programs balance the benefits of consumption smoothing for unemployed workers against the disincentive effects of unemployment benefits. Such a balancing of benefits and costs is likely sensitive to the cyclical state of the economy, and hence the generosity of benefits should also respond to the cyclical state of the economy. The nature of such responses in an optimal unemployment insurance (UI) program is analyzed in a simple model. The results suggest that an optimal UI program would increase the initial level of benefits and probably extend higher benefits over time in response to a recessionary shock. A simple extension of benefits, such as exists automatically in the system in the United States, provides both poorer insurance and poorer incentives than the optimal program, and does so at a higher cost. Moreover, the current UI system in the U.S. provides a substantially higher level of welfare to workers who lose jobs during tight labor markets.

Keywords: Unemployment insurance, time-varying benefits


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