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Finance and Economics Discussion Series

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Abstract: We examine the role of monetary policy in the housing bubble. Our review examines the setting of monetary policy in the middle of this decade, the impetus from monetary policy to the housing market, and other factors that may have contributed to the run-up, and subsequent collapse, in house prices.

Keywords: Bubbles, monetary policy, house prices

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Abstract: This paper estimates a dynamic oligopoly model in order to separately identify the demand-side and cost-side advantages of consolidation in the broadcast television industry. I exploit an exogenous change in regulation that led to significant industry consolidation. Using revenue and ownership data for broadcast stations over the past ten years, I estimate the effect of ownership changes on revenue. I recover costs by examining patterns in ownership changes that are left unexplained by revenue estimation. I model firms' purchasing decisions as a dynamic game, and estimate the game using a two-step estimation method recently developed by Bajari, Benkard & Levin (2007). This is the first paper to estimate a model of merger activity in a dynamic, strategic setting. I find that there are both revenue and cost advantages to consolidation, but they operate through different mechanisms. Access to a wider audience enables firms to increase per-station advertising revenue, while simply owning more stations enables firms to reduce per-station operating costs. A firm's ability to realize these benefits is affected by its stations' network affiliations, locations and viewers.

Keywords: Dynamic oligopoly, structural estimation, market structure

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Abstract: Using the Panel Study of Income Dynamics, we document that, controlling for observable characteristics, household investors' likelihood of entering the stock market within the next five years is about 30 percent higher if their parents or children had entered the stock market during the previous five years. Because even family members who live far away from each other tend to communicate frequently, despite the fact that interactions among people living close geographically have declined with the rise of alternative social channels, we argue that these findings highlight the significance of information sharing regarding household financial decisions. In addition, focusing on the sequential patterns of stock market entry, we explicitly take into account the time needed for information to be shared and disseminated among family members. Our finding that one member's entry positively influences future entries of other family members at distinct stages of the life cycle allows us to largely rule out the hypothesis that the observed correlations in stock market entries are primarily caused by common preferences shared by family members. Furthermore, because we do not find similar sequential patterns in stock market exits, our results do not support the hypothesis of herding behavior.

Keywords: Information sharing, stock market participation, extended families

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Abstract: This paper exploits the staggered timing of state-level banking deregulation in the United States during the 1980s to study the causal effect of banking integration on the volatility of non-financial corporations. We find that firm-level employment, production, sales, and cash flows are less volatile after interstate banking deregulation, particularly for firms that have limited access to external finance. This finding suggests that bank-dependent firms exploit wider access to finance after deregulation to smooth out idiosyncratic shocks. In fact, short-term credit becomes less pro-cyclical after out-of-state bank entry is permitted. Finally, lower volatility in real-side variables after deregulation translates into lower idiosyncratic risk in stock returns.

Keywords: Bank deregulation, firm volatility, external finance, idiosyncratic volatility

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Abstract: Only about one-fifth of respondents in the Reuters/University of Michigan survey report that the 2008 tax rebates led them to mostly increase spending, while over half said it would lead them to mostly pay off debt. Of those in the mostly-spend category, the response was swift, with over 80 percent reporting increasing their spending within three months of receiving their rebate. Older households, households with higher wealth and higher income, and those expecting future income growth were generally more likely to spend the rebates. A review of other surveys confirms the general pattern of results and suggests that small changes in survey design do not have a major effect on the distribution of responses.

The distribution of survey answers corresponds to an aggregate MPC after one year of about one-third. The paper combines this survey-based estimate of the MPC and the survey-based estimate of the timing of spending to show that the rebates help explain the aggregate movements in saving, spending, and debt in 2008. Because the rebate was large and distributed over a short period, we estimate that it had a non-trivial effect on total spending in the second and third quarters of 2008. Nonetheless, the results imply that the rebates provided only a modest stimulus to spending per dollar of rebate.

Keywords: Tax rebates, marginal propensity to consume, survey responses

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Abstract: This paper extends the approach of measuring and stress-testing the systemic risk of a banking sector in Huang, Zhou, and Zhu (2009) to identifying various sources of financial instability and to allocating systemic risk to individual financial institutions. The systemic risk measure, defined as the insurance cost to protect against distressed losses in a banking system, is a risk-neutral concept of capital based on publicly available information that can be appropriately aggregated across different subsets. An application of our methodology to a portfolio of twenty-two major banks in Asia and the Pacific illustrates the dynamics of the spillover effects of the global financial crisis to the region. The increase in the perceived systemic risk, particularly after the failure of Lehman Brothers, was mainly driven by the heightened risk aversion and the squeezed liquidity. The analysis on the marginal contribution of individual banks to the systemic risk suggests that "too-big-to-fail" is a valid concern from a macroprudential perspective of bank regulation.

Keywords: Systemic risk, macroprudential regulation, portfolio distress loss, credit default swap, dynamic conditional correlation

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Abstract: Delinquencies on residential mortgages and home foreclosures have risen dramatically in the past couple of years. The mortgage losses triggered a broad-based financial crisis and severe recession, which, in turn, exacerbated the initial financial distress faced by homeowners. Although servicers increased their loss mitigation efforts as defaults began to mount, foreclosures continued to occur in cases where both the borrower and investor would be better off if such an outcome were avoided. The U.S. government has engaged in a number of initiatives to reduce such foreclosures. This paper examines the economic underpinnings of the Administration's loan modification program, the Home Affordable Modification Program (HAMP). We argue that HAMP should help many borrowers avoid foreclosure, as its key features—a standardized protocol, incentive fees for servicers, and a requirement that the first lien mortgage payment be reduced to 31 percent of gross income—alleviate some of the previous obstacles to successful modifications. That said, HAMP is not well-suited to address payment problems associated with job loss because the required modification in such cases would often be too costly to qualify for the program. In addition, the focus of the program on reducing the payments associated with the mortgage rather than the principal of the mortgage may limit its effectiveness when the homeowner's equity is sufficiently negative. In this case, recent government efforts to establish a protocol for short sales should be a useful tool in avoiding costly foreclosure.

Keywords: Mortgage, mortgage-servicers, mortgage-modification, foreclosures, HAMP, GSEs

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Abstract: Reverse mortgages allow elderly homeowners to tap into their housing wealth without having to sell or move out of their homes. However, very few eligible homeowners have used reverse mortgages to achieve consumption smoothing until recently when the reverse mortgage market in the United States witnessed substantial growth. This paper examines 1989-2007 loan-level reverse mortgage data and presents a number of findings. First, I show that recent reverse mortgage borrowers are significantly different from earlier borrowers in many respects. Second, I find that borrowers who take the line-of-credit payment plan, single male borrowers, and borrowers with higher house values exit their homes sooner than other reverse mortgage borrowers. Third, I combine the reverse mortgage data with county-level house price data to show that elderly homeowners are more likely to purchase reverse mortgages when the local housing market is at its peak. This finding suggests that the 2000-05 housing market boom may be partially responsible for the rapid growth of reverse mortgage markets. Lastly, I show that the Federal Housing Administration (FHA) mortgage limits, which cap the amount of housing wealth that an eligible homeowner can borrow against, have no effect on the demand for reverse mortgages. The findings have important implications to both policy-making and the economics of housing and aging.

Keywords: Reverse mortgages, housing, aging

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feds 2009-41
October 2009

Education's Role in China's Structural Transformation (PDF)

Soohyung Lee and Benjamin A. Malin

Abstract: We explore education's role in improving the allocation of labor between China's agricultural and nonagricultural sectors and measure the portion of China's recent growth attributable to this channel. Building from micro-level estimates, we find that education's impact on labor reallocation between sectors accounts for about 9 percent of Chinese growth, whereas its impact on within-sector human capital growth explains only 2 percent. Our findings suggest that, when frictions cause large productivity gaps across sectors and returns to education are greater in higher-productivity sectors, education policy may be a useful tool for increasing efficiency.

Keywords: Returns to education, structural transformation, China, labor reallocation, economic growth

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Abstract: In this paper I analyze a broad class of continuous-time jump diffusion models of asset returns. In the models, stochastic volatility can arise either from a diffusion part, or a jump part, or both. The jump component includes either compound Poisson or Lévy alpha-stable jumps. To be able to estimate the models with latent Lévy alpha-stable jumps, I construct a new Markov chain Monte Carlo algorithm. I estimate all model specifications with S&P500 daily returns. I find that models with Levy alpha-stable jumps perform well in capturing return characteristics if diffusion is a source of stochastic volatility. Models with stochastic volatility from jumps and models with Poisson jumps cannot represent excess kurtosis and tails of return distribution. In density forecast and VaR analysis, the model with Levy alpha-stable jumps and joint stochastic volatility performs the best among all other specifications, since both diffusion and infinite activity jump part provide information about latent volatility.

Keywords: Bayesian estimation, stochastic volatility, Lévy jumps, density forecast

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feds 2009-39
October 2009

Credit Card Redlining Revisited (2 MB PDF)

Kenneth P. Brevoort

Abstract: Using a proprietary dataset of credit bureau records, Cohen-Cole (2008) finds that banks set credit limits on revolving accounts based in part on the racial composition of the neighborhood in which each borrower resides. This paper evaluates the evidence presented in that working paper using the same proprietary database of credit bureau records. The replication effort presented in this paper suggests that decisions about how to calculate the variables used in that study may have resulted in the unnecessary exclusion of one-fifth of available observations from the estimation samples and may have increased the size of the reported effect by over 25 percent. Furthermore, this analysis suggests that when a control for neighborhood income is added to the estimations, the results presented as evidence of redlining activities disappear.

Keywords: Credit cards, redlining, racial disparities, discrimination

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feds 2009-38
October 2009

Intergenerational Aspects of Health Care (PDF)

Louise Sheiner

Abstract: The physical process of aging means that the use of health services varies significantly by age. This association between age and health care consumption raises a number of issues related to intergenerational and intragenerational equity, including the allocation of societal resources across age groups and the effects of population aging and health cost growth on public sector health care burdens and, hence, on intergenerational redistribution. This working paper (forthcoming as a chapter in the Oxford Handbook of Health Economics) provides a detailed look at the theoretical and empirical relationships between health spending and age, both in the US and internationally, and reviews the evidence on the intergenerational redistribution associated with public health spending over time.

Keywords: Health, demographics

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Abstract: In this paper we propose a framework for measuring and stress testing the systemic risk of a group of major financial institutions. The systemic risk is measured by the price of insurance against financial distress, which is based on ex ante measures of default probabilities of individual banks and forecasted asset return correlations. Importantly, using realized correlations estimated from high-frequency equity return data can significantly improve the accuracy of forecasted correlations. Our stress testing methodology, using an integrated micro-macro model, takes into account dynamic linkages between the health of major U.S. banks and macrofinancial conditions. Our results suggest that the theoretical insurance premium that would be charged to protect against losses that equal or exceed 15 percent of total liabilities of 12 major U.S. financial firms stood at $110 billion in March 2008 and had a projected upper bound of $250 billion in July 2008.

Keywords: Systemic risk, stress testing, portfolio credit risk, credit default swap, high-frequency data

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Abstract: The $350 billion contraction in the asset-backed commercial paper (ABCP) market in the last five months of 2007 played a central role in transforming concerns about the credit quality of mortgage-related assets into a global financial crisis. This paper attempts to better understand why the substantial contraction in ABCP occurred by measuring and analyzing runs on ABCP programs over the period from August 2007 through December 2007. While it has been suggested that commercial paper programs, like commercial banks, may be prone to runs, we are the first to conduct a comprehensive empirical analysis of runs in the ABCP market using a rich and novel issue-level data set for all ABCP programs in the U.S. market. A program is defined as being run when it does not issue new paper during a week despite having a substantial share of its outstandings scheduled to mature, and then continuing in a run until it issues. We find evidence of extensive runs: more than 100 programs (one-third of all ABCP programs) were in a run within weeks of the onset of the turmoil and the odds of subsequently leaving the run state were very low. We interpret this finding as an indication that the ABCP market was subject to a bank-like "panic." We also find that while runs were linked to credit and liquidity exposures of individual programs, runs were also related importantly to non-program specific variables in the first several weeks of the turmoil, indicating that runs were relatively indiscriminate during the early part of the panic. Thus the ABCP market may be inherently unstable and a source of systemic risk.

Keywords: Commercial paper, asset-backed commercial paper, bank runs, financial crisis, panics

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Abstract: This paper studies the relative importance of the two main determinants of cyclical unemployment fluctuations: vacancy posting and job separation. Using a matching function to model the flow of new jobs, I draw on Shimer's (2007) unemployment flow rates decomposition and find that job separation and vacancy posting respectively account for about 40 and 60 percent of unemployment's variance. When considering higher-order moments, I find that job separation contributes to about 60 percent of unemployment steepness asymmetry, a stylized fact of the jobless rate. Finally, while vacancy posting is, on average, the most important contributor of unemployment fluctuations, the opposite is true around business cycle turning points, when job separation is responsible for most of unemployment movements.

Keywords: Gross worker flows, job finding rate, employment exit rate, matching function

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feds 2009-34
August 2009

And Banking for All? (PDF)

Michael S. Barr, Jane K. Dokko, and Benjamin J. Keys

Abstract: This paper presents data from a new survey of low- and moderate-income households in Detroit to examine bank account usage and alternative financial service (AFS) products. We find that for the vast majority of households, annual outlays on financial services for transactional and credit products are relatively small, around 1 percent of annual income. This estimate is lower than those extrapolated by previous work using the posted fees of financial services alone, suggesting that LMI households do not always choose the most expensive financial services option. This evidence is also consistent with LMI households substituting among an array of financial services from the mainstream and alternative financial services sector. Households with bank accounts are more economically active and have access to more forms of credit than unbanked households, resulting in greater use of financial services and higher total outlays. Results from the DAHFS study show permeability in the financial services decisions of LMI households. Namely, having a bank account does not preclude the use of AFS, being unbanked does not exclude households from using mainstream financial services, and contrary to popular belief, being unbanked is not a permanent financial outcome. Generally, results from the DAHFS study suggest that policies designed to expand bank account access alone are unlikely to improve financial outcomes among LMI households unless accompanied by changes in the functionality of mainstream banking products.

Keywords: Financial services, low- and moderate-income households

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Abstract: A large and growing number of low-to-moderate income U.S. households rely upon alternative financial service providers (AFSPs) for a variety of credit products and transaction services, including payday loans, pawn loans, automobile title loans, tax refund anticipation loans and check-cashing services. The rapid growth of this segment of the financial services industry over the past decade has been quite controversial. One aspect of the controversy involves the location decisions of AFSPs. This study examines the determinants of the locations of three types of AFSPs--payday lenders, pawnshops, and check-cashing outlets. Using county-level data for the entire country, I find that the number of AFSP outlets per capita is significantly related to demographic characteristics of the county population (e.g., racial/ethnic composition, age, and education level), measures of the population's credit worthiness, and the stringency of state laws and regulations governing AFSPs.

Keywords: Alternative financial services, payday loans, pawnshops, check cashing, location

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feds 2009-32
July 2009

Improving Real-Time Estimates of the Output Gap (PDF)

Thomas M. Trimbur

Abstract: This paper investigates strategies for real-time estimation of the output gap. First, I examine estimates from univariate models with stochastic cycles. This corresponds to the use of model-based band-pass filters in real-time, and I find that the turning points in real-time and final output gap series match more closely for higher order models and that the revisions properties and real-time accuracy are more favorable. Second, I investigate the use of capacity utilization as an auxiliary indicator to improve on output gap estimates in real-time. I find that this bivariate approach leads to significant gains in the accuracy of real-time estimates and in the quality of revisions.

Keywords: Business cycles, Kalman filter, potential output, state space, stochastic cycles, unobserved components

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feds 2009-31
July 2009

Do Self-Insurance and Disability Insurance Prevent Consumption Loss on Disability? (PDF)

Steffan G. Ball and Hamish W. Low

Abstract: In this paper we show the extent to which public insurance and self-insurance mitigate the cost of health shocks that limit the ability to work. We use consumption data from the UK to estimate the insurance provided by the government disability programme and account for the effectiveness of alternative self-insurance mechanisms. Individuals with a work-limiting health condition, but in receipt of disability insurance, have 7 percent lower consumption than those without such a condition. Self-insurance through savings and a working partner each provide some insurance benefit, improving outcomes from 2 percent to 4 percent. Reductions in the generosity of incapacity benefit after 1995 are associated with increases in the consumption loss associated with disability.

Keywords: Disability insurance, living standards, consumption, liquidity constraints

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Abstract: Evidence since the 1980s suggests that the level and structure of executive compensation in U.S. public corporations are largely unresponsive to tax incentives. However, the relative tax advantage of different forms of pay has been relatively small during this period. Using a sample of top executives in large firms from 1946 to 2005, we find little response of salaries, qualified stock options, long-term incentive pay, or bonuses paid after retirement to changes in tax rates on labor income--even though tax rates were significantly higher and more heterogeneous across individuals in the first several decades following WWII. To explain this lack of response, we find suggestive evidence that concerns about within-firm equality may have limited firms' ability to differentiate top executives' compensation packages based on their marginal income tax rates.

Keywords: Executive compensation, tax policy

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Abstract: This paper finds no evidence that speculative activity in futures markets for industrial metals caused higher spot prices in recent years. The empirical analysis focuses on industrial metals with and without futures contracts and is organized around two key themes. First, I show that the comovement between metals with and without futures contracts has not weakened in recent years as speculative activity has risen. Specifically, the annual and quarterly price growth rates of the two metal categories have been positively correlated with their growth rates experiencing a structural shift by the end of 2002. This comovement is driven by economic fundamentals because world GDP growth is strongly correlated with metal price growth, especially after 2002. The structural change in 2002 is also consistent with supply and demand information found in industry newsletters. In the second set of results, I focus more directly on financial speculation and spot price inflation. I use the S&P Goldman-Sachs Commodity Index returns to proxy for the volume of speculative activity and I show that these returns are unrelated to metal prices. The final test follows storage models, which suggest that speculation can affect spot markets only if it leads to physical hoarding. Focusing on metals with established futures markets, I find no evidence of physical hoarding because inventory growth is found to be negatively correlated with price growth rates.

Keywords: Commodity trading, spot price comovement

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Abstract: We analyze the structure and attributes of subprime mortgage-backed securitization deals originated between 1997 and 2007. Our data set allows us to link loan-level data for over 6.7 million subprime loans to the securitization deals into which the loans were sold. We show that the securitization process, including the assignment of credit ratings, provided incentives for securitizing banks to purchase loans of poor credit quality in areas with high rates of house price appreciation. Increased demand from the secondary mortgage market for these types of loans appears to have facilitated easier credit in the primary mortgage market. To test this hypothesis, we identify an event which represents an external shock to the relative demand for subprime mortgages in the secondary market. We show that following the SEC's adoption of rules reducing capital requirements on certain broker dealers in 2004, five large deal underwriters disproportionately increased their purchasing activity relative to competing underwriters in ZIP codes with the highest realized rates of house price appreciation but lower average credit quality. We show that these loans subsequently defaulted at marginally higher rates. Finally, using the event as an instrument, we demonstrate a causal link between the demand for mortgages in the secondary mortgage market and the supply of subprime credit in the primary mortgage market.

Keywords: Securitization, subprime mortgages, financial intermediation

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Abstract: Long-horizon predictive regressions in finance pose formidable econometric problems when estimated using the sample sizes that are typically available. A remedy that has been proposed by Hodrick (1992) is to run a reverse regression in which short-horizon returns are projected onto a long-run mean of some predictor. By covariance stationarity, the slope coefficient is zero in the reverse regression if and only if it is zero in the original regression, but testing the hypothesis in the reverse regression avoids small sample problems. Unfortunately this only allows us to test the null of no predictability. In this paper we show how to use the reverse regression to test other hypotheses about the slope coefficient in a long-horizon predictive regression, and to form confidence intervals for this coefficient. We show that this approach to inference works well in small samples.

Keywords: Predictive regressions, long horizons, confidence intervals, small sample problems, persistence

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Abstract: We examine the evidence on excess stock return predictability in a Bayesian setting in which the investor faces uncertainty about both the existence and strength of predictability. Departing from previous studies, we allow the regressor to be stochastic. When we apply our methods to the dividend-price ratio and payout yield, we find that even investors who are quite skeptical about the existence of predictability sharply modify their views in favor of predictability when confronted by the historical time series of returns and predictor variables. We find that taking into account the stochastic properties of the regressor has a substantial impact on the investor's inference about returns.

Keywords: Equity premium, return predictability, Bayesian methods

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Abstract: Previous research indicated that the daily liquidity effect, or the change in the federal funds rate associated with an exogenous change in Fed balances, varies with several factors including the day of the maintenance period. In this paper, we examine the data over the recent period of increased Federal Reserve transparency and find that the liquidity effect stabilized across days of the maintenance period. Rather, the liquidity effect may be a function of the uncertainty about banks' end-of-day balances. Moreover, we find that increased transparency led to a larger liquidity effect on the days prior to an FOMC meeting.

Keywords: Liquidity effect, open market operations, monetary policy implementation

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Abstract: This paper presents a search model of unemployment with a new mechanism of job separation based on firms' demand constraints. The model is consistent with the cyclical behavior of labor market variables and can account for three stylized facts about unemployment that the Mortensen-Pissarides (1994) model has difficulties explaining jointly: (i) the unemployment-vacancy correlation is negative, (ii) the contribution of the job separation rate to unemployment fluctuations is small but non-trivial, (iii) movements in the job separation rate are sharp and short-lived while movements in the job finding rate are persistent. In addition, the model can rationalize two hitherto unexplained findings: why unemployment inflows were less important in the last two decades, and why the asymmetric behavior of unemployment weakened after 1985.

Keywords: Search and matching model, gross worker flows, job finding rate, employment exit rate

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Abstract: In many countries around the world, electronic card-based payments have been replacing older types of payments at a rapid rate. In the United States, use of both debit cards and credit cards has been rising rapidly, while check volumes have been declining. The increased use of electronic payment methods has generated a number of public policy debates. One prominent debate concerns interchange fees. This paper is intended to provide background for understanding the interchange fee debate. The paper describes the operation of a typical payment card system, presents a summary of the economic theory underlying interchange fees, and discusses various developments in the U.S. payment cards industry, as well as legal and regulatory developments abroad. The paper concludes with a discussion and critical evaluation of a number of potential policy interventions.

Keywords: Credit cards, debit cards, payment networks, interchange fees, two-sided markets

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Abstract: This paper provides new estimates of banks' demand for excess reserve balances on a period average basis. Consistent with theoretical work, we find that the demand for excess depends critically on uncertainty of flows in and out of reserve accounts. We also document the variability of demand for excess reserve balances by institution size, evaluate different models for forecasting demand for excess on a period average basis, and report the forecasting performance of each of these models. Finally, we present analysis of the period of financial turmoil seen over the year since August, 2007.

Keywords: Monetary policy implementation, reserve demand

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Abstract: We study variations in housework time and leisure consumption when workers are subject to labor market work hours constraints that prevent them from working the optimal number of hours. Using data from two large nationwide longitudinal surveys, we first document that such constraints are widespread--about 50 percent of all households in our sample had been bound by such constraints in at least one year, highlighting the significance of studying household behaviors in labor markets under binding constraints. Our analysis reveals strong heterogeneity and asymmetry in workers' reactions to this type of market constraint that are difficult to reconcile with standard preferences and home production technology. In particular, we find that the ceilings on market work hours induce workers to increase time spent on housework, including cooking, and to reduce vacation time. In contrast, floors on market work hours do not significantly affect time spent on housework, but may boost vacation time. On net, workers constrained by hours ceilings (floors) appear to have more (less) leisure time. Meanwhile, the response to hours ceilings are more pronounced among unmarried households. We also find some evidence that the magnitude of the effects of market hours constraints increases with the persistence of these constraints. Our results are robust to a number of variations in measurement metrics, econometric specifications, sample selection criteria, and data sources. We argue that the empirical results documented in this paper can be taken as additional moments conditions against which equilibrium models with home production are calibrated.

Keywords: Market hours constraints, home production, leisure time

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Abstract: We develop a simple model of pension financing to study the effects of pension risk on shareholder value. In the model, firms minimize costs, total compensation must clear the labor market, and a government pension insurer guarantees a portion of promised benefits. We find that in the absence of mispriced pension insurance, the optimal pension strategy under most specifications is to immunize all sources of market risk. Mispriced pension insurance, however, gives firms the incentive to introduce risk into their pension promises, offering an explanation for some of the observed prevalence of risky pensions in the real world.

Keywords: Pensions, bankruptcy, risk, portfolio choice

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Abstract: Despite news reports suggesting a rise in 401(k) borrowing in recent years, we find that the share of eligible households with 401(k) loans in the 2007 Survey of Consumer Finances was about 15 percent, roughly what it has been since 1995. We find that the best predictors of 401(k) borrowing appear to be the presence of liquidity or borrowing constraints and the size of 401(k) balances relative to income. Since the ongoing financial crisis has likely caused these factors to move in opposite directions, the predicted effect of the crisis on 401(k) borrowing is ambiguous. More fundamentally, we find that many loan-eligible households carry relatively expensive consumer debt that could be more economically financed via 401(k) borrowing. In the aggregate, we estimate that such households could have saved as much as $5 billion in 2007 by shifting expensive consumer debt to 401(k) loans. This would translate into annual savings of about $275 per household—roughly 20 percent of their overall interest costs--with larger reductions for households that carry consumer debt at high interest rates or who hold larger 401(k) balances. We posit that households might utilize 401(k) loans less than expected due to risk-aversion, self-control problems, and confusion about the potential gains, and suggest better financial education that clarifies the conditions under which 401(k) borrowing is advantageous. Finally, we note that allowing households to repay 401(k) loans gradually even after separation from their employers could improve household welfare by reducing the risks of 401(k) borrowing.

Keywords: 401(k) loans, household debt, optimal borrowing, double taxation

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Abstract: This study asks if local governments which provide a high level of public services per tax dollar attract housing capital. The first portion of the paper examines large shifts in property tax burdens induced by an unusual school finance reform in the state of New Hampshire. The estimates suggest that, in most of the state, communities with a reduced tax burden experience a large increase in residential construction. In the area of the state near the region's primary urban center (Boston), however, the shock clears through a price adjustment--i.e. by capitalizing into property values. The differing responses are attributed to differing housing supply elasticities. Furthermore, the shock induced communities with a lowered tax burden to enact more stringent land use regulations. The second portion of the paper uses a national sample and exploits variation in education spending levels arising from 1980s era school finance reforms. The results confirm the findings from New Hampshire--fiscal amenities have a significant impact on the location of residential capital and the impact is largest outside of dense, urban areas. These results, which are interpreted through the lens of a simple theoretical model, have important implications for a host of issues, including the equity and efficiency of local public goods provision, assessing who bears the burden of local taxation, and land use issues such as the location and pace of residential development and the causes of land use regulation.

Keywords: Property tax, Tiebout, school finance reform, housing supply elasticity, land use regulation

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Abstract: A large literature has examined factors leading to filing for personal bankruptcy, but little is known about household borrowing after bankruptcy. Using data from the Survey of Consumer Finances, we find that relative to comparable nonfilers, bankruptcy filers generally have more limited access to unsecured credit but borrow more secured debt post bankruptcy, and they pay higher interest rates on all types of debt. We also find that credit access and borrowing costs improve as more time passed since filing. However, filers experience renewed debt payment difficulties and accumulate less wealth, even many years after filing, suggesting that for many bankrupt households, debt discharges fail to generate an effective fresh start as intended by the law. Our estimate also provides empirical guidance for calibrating the equilibrium models of household credit.

Keywords: Personal bankruptcy, credit constraints, household finance

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feds 2009-16
May 2009

Reset Price Inflation and the Impact of Monetary Policy Shocks (PDF)

Mark Bils, Peter J. Klenow, and Benjamin A. Malin

Abstract: A standard state-dependent pricing model implies very limited scope for using active monetary policy to stabilize real activity. Two modeling strategies which expand the role of monetary policy are time-dependent pricing and strategic complementarities between price-setting firms. These mechanisms have telltale implications for the persistence and volatility of "reset price inflation." Reset price inflation is the rate of change of all desired prices (including for goods that have not changed price in the current period). Using the micro data underpinning the CPI, we construct an empirical measure of reset price inflation and use this measure to assess the validity of the modeling approaches. We find that time-dependent models imply unrealistically high persistence and stability of reset price inflation. This discrepancy is exacerbated by adding strategic complementarities, even under state-dependent pricing. A state-dependent model with no strategic complementarities aligns most closely with the CPI data.

Keywords: Reset price inflation, strategic complementarities, contract multiplier, time-dependent pricing, state-dependent pricing

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Abstract: Inflation expectations play a central role in models of the Phillips curve. At long time horizons inflation expectations may reflect the credibility of a monetary authority's commitment to price stability. These observations highlight the importance of inflation expectations for monetary policy. These comments touch on three issues regarding inflation expectations: The evolving treatment of inflation expectations in empirical Phillips curve models; three recent models of information imperfections and inflation expectations; and potential policy implications of different models.

Keywords: Inflation expectations, monetary policy

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Abstract: This paper assesses the quantitative importance of a number of sources of income risk for household welfare and precautionary saving. To that end I construct a lifecycle consumption model in which household income is subject to shocks associated with disability, health, unemployment, job changes, wages, work hours, and a residual component of household income. I use PSID data to estimate the key processes that drive and affect household income, and then use the consumption model to: (i) quantify the welfare value to consumers of providing full, actuarially fair insurance against each source of risk and (ii) measure the contribution of each type of shock to the accumulation of precautionary savings. I find that the value of fully insuring disability, health, and unemployment shocks is extremely small (well below 1/10 of 1 percent of lifetime consumption in the baseline model). The gains from insuring shocks to the wage and to the residual component of household income are significantly larger (above 1% and 2% of lifetime consumption, respectively). These two shocks account for more than 60% of precautionary wealth.

Keywords: Income risk, consumption, lifecycle models, precautionary savings, social insurance

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Abstract: Much discussion treats the working definitions of wealth and income as if they were self-evident, but definitional choices can make substantial differences in the overall picture. To provide a clear basis on which to examine family wealth and income their interrelationship, this paper begins with a basic discussion of a range of possible measures of those concepts. Using the measures developed, the paper examines the distributions of wealth and income and their joint properties using data from the 1989–2007 waves of the Survey of Consumer Finances (SCF). Among other things, the data show a complicated pattern of shifts in the wealth distribution, with clear gains across the broad middle and at the top. For income, there is a more straightforward picture of rising inequality. Over this period, wealth as a fraction of income moved up across both the distributions of wealth and income. Nonetheless, their joint copula distributions (a type of distribution with uniform margins) do not show noticeable changes over this time. The consistent pattern is that very high wealth and income and very low wealth and income go together, but in between these poles, the relationship is fairly diffuse. The paper also presents information on the composition of wealth and income over the 18-year period; the general patterns of holdings across the distributions did not change markedly, but there were some important shifts. For wealth, debt increased as a share of assets across the wealth distribution, the share of principal residences rose mainly below the median of net worth, the share of tax-deferred retirement accounts rose and the share of other financial assets declined. For income, the clearest change was a general decline in the relative importance of capital income other than that from businesses.

Keywords: Income distribution, wealth distribution, portfolio shares

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feds 2009-12
March 2009

Heterogeneous Car Buyers: A Stylized Fact (PDF)

Ana Aizcorbe, Benjamin Bridgman, and Jeremy Nalewaik

Abstract: Using a new dataset, we document a systematic pattern in the demographic characteristics of car buyers over the model year: as vehicle prices fall over the model year, so do buyer incomes. This pattern is consistent with price-insensitive buyers purchasing early in the year, while others wait until prices decline, and suggests price skimming (i.e. intertemporal price discrimination). Such consumer heterogeneity over the model year raises questions for measuring quality improvements in new goods.

Keywords: Price indexes, quality change

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feds 2009-11
February 2009

Salience and Taxation: Theory and Evidence (PDF)

Raj Chetty, Adam Looney, and Kory Kroft

Abstract: This paper presents evidence that consumers underreact to taxes that are not salient and characterizes the welfare consequences of tax policies when agents make such optimization errors. The empirical evidence is based on two complementary strategies. First, we conducted an experiment at a grocery store posting tax inclusive prices for 750 products subject to sales tax for a three week period. Scanner data show that this intervention reduced demand for the treated products by 8 percent. Second, we find that state-level increases in excise taxes (which are included in posted prices) reduce alcohol consumption significantly more than increases in sales taxes (which are added at the register and are hence less salient). We develop simple, empirically implementable formulas for the incidence and efficiency costs of taxation that account for salience effects as well as other optimization errors. Contrary to conventional wisdom, the formulas imply that the economic incidence of a tax depends on its statutory incidence and that a tax can create deadweight loss even if it induces no change in demand. Our method of welfare analysis yields robust results because it does not require specification of a positive theory for why agents fail to optimize with respect to tax policies.

Keywords: Tax, behavioral economics

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Abstract: This paper considers the "real-time" forecast performance of the Federal Reserve staff, time-series models, and an estimated dynamic stochastic general equilibrium (DSGE) model--the Federal Reserve Board's new Estimated, Dynamic, Optimization-based (Edo) model. We evaluate forecast performance using out-of-sample predictions from 1996 through 2005, thereby examining over 70 forecasts presented to the Federal Open Market Committee (FOMC). Our analysis builds on previous real-time forecasting exercises along two dimensions. First, we consider time-series models, a structural DSGE model that has been employed to answer policy questions quite different from forecasting, and the forecasts produced by the staff at the Federal Reserve Board. In addition, we examine forecasting performance of our DSGE model at a relatively detailed level by separately considering the forecasts for various components of consumer expenditures and private investment. The results provide significant support to the notion that richly specified DSGE models belong in the forecasting toolbox of a central bank.

Keywords: Real-time data, macroeconomic forecasting, Bayesian estimation, large-scale DSGE models

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Abstract: This paper studies variation in individual labor income over time using a panel vector autoregression (PVAR) in income, the wage rate, hours of work, and hours of unemployment. The framework is used to investigate how much of the residual variation in labor income is due to residual variation in the wage rate, work hours, and unemployment hours. I also explore the dynamic effects of unanticipated changes in each of the variables in the system, investigate their interactions, and assess their contribution to short-run and long-run income movements. The model is estimated on a sample of male household heads from the Panel Study of Income Dynamics (PSID). I find that innovations in the wage rate and work hours (conditional on unemployment) are about equally important in the short run. Wage innovations are very persistent, while the effect of changes in hours is mostly transitory. As a result, the wage rate is much more important in the determination of income movements in the long run. Innovations in unemployment have a relatively small, but very persistent effect on income which operates through the wage rate.

Keywords: Earnings dynamics, income determination, wage shocks, unemployment

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feds 2009-08
February 2009

Modeling Earnings Dynamics (PDF)

Joseph Altonji, Anthony Smith, and Ivan Vidangos

Abstract: In this paper we use indirect inference to estimate a joint model of earnings, employment, job changes, wage rates, and work hours over a career. Our model incorporates duration dependence in several variables, multiple sources of unobserved heterogeneity, job-specific error components in both wages and hours, and measurement error. We use the model to address a number of important questions in labor economics, including the source of the experience profile of wages, the response of job changes to outside wage offers, and the effects of seniority on job changes. We provide estimates of the dynamic response of wage rates, hours, and earnings to various shocks and measure the relative contributions of the shocks to the variance of earnings in a given year and over a lifetime. We find that human capital accounts for most of the growth of earnings over a career although job seniority and job mobility also play significant roles. Unemployment shocks have a large impact on earnings in the short run as well a substantial long long-term effect that operates through the wage rate. Shocks associated with job changes and unemployment make a large contribution to the variance of career earnings and operate mostly through the job-specific error components in wages and hours.

Keywords: Earnings dynamics, income shocks, wage growth, job mobility, indirect inference

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Abstract: This paper establishes a new empirical finding: the degree of labor intensity and the degree of price flexibility are negatively correlated across industrial sectors. I model this in an economy with staggered nominal wage contracts and production sectors that differ in labor and capital intensities. Nominal disturbances affect capital-intensive and labor-intensive sectors asymmetrically: prices of labor-intensive goods change less than do prices of capital-intensive goods. In addition, when prices are costly to adjust, more firms in the capital-intensive sectors optimally choose to update their prices than firms in the labor-intensive sectors. Thus, varying factor intensity generates different degrees of price stickiness across sectors that face the same degree of wage rigidity.

Keywords: Price rigidity, wage rigidity, factor intensity

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Abstract: I examine the economic incentives behind the mutual fund trading scandal, which made headlines in late 2003 with news that several asset management companies had arranged to allow abusive--and, in some cases, illegal--trades in their mutual funds. Most of the gains from these trades went to the traders who pursued market-timing and late-trading strategies. The costs were largely borne by buy-and-hold investors, and, eventually, by the management companies themselves.

A puzzle emerges when one examines the scandal from the perspective of those management companies. In the short run, they collected additional fee revenue from arrangements allowing abusive trades. When those deals were revealed, investors redeemed shares en masse and revenues plummeted; management companies clearly made poor decisions, ex post. However, my analysis indicates that those arrangements were also uneconomic, ex ante, because--even if the management companies had expected never to be caught--estimated revenue from the deals fell well short of the present value of expected lost revenues due to poor performance in abused funds.

Why some of the mutual fund industry's largest firms chose to collude with abusive traders remains something of a mystery. I explore several possible explanations, including owner-manager conflicts of interest within management companies (between their shareholders and the executives who benefitted from short-term asset growth), but none fully resolves the puzzle. Management companies' decisions to allow abuses that harmed themselves as well as mutual fund shareholders convey a broader lesson, that shareholders, customers, and fiduciary clients be cautious about relying too heavily on firms' own self-interest to govern their behavior.

Keywords: Mutual fund, scandal, market timing, late trading, asset management, dilution, alpha

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Abstract: We examine the interplay of the economy and state and local budgets by developing and examining two measures of fiscal policy: the high-employment budget and fiscal impetus. We find that a 1 percentage point increase in cyclical GDP results in a 0.1 percentage point increase in NIPA-based net saving through the automatic response of taxes and expenditures. State and local budget policies are found to be modestly pro-cyclical. Stimulus to aggregate demand is about 0.2 percentage point less following a business cycle peak than it is during the period before the business cycle peak.

Keywords: High-employment budget, fiscal impetus, net saving, fiscal policy, state and local government, budget policy

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Abstract: Shimer (2005) argues that the Mortensen-Pissarides (MP) model of unemployment lacks an amplification mechanism because it generates less than 10 percent of the observed business cycle fluctuations in unemployment given labor productivity shocks of plausible magnitude. This paper argues that part of the problem lies with the identification of productivity shocks. Because of the endogeneity of measured labor productivity, filtering out the trend component as in Shimer (2005) may not correctly identify the shocks driving unemployment. Using a New-Keynesian framework to control for the endogeneity of productivity, this paper estimates that the MP model can account for a third, and possibly as much as 60 percent, of fluctuations in labor market variables.

Keywords: Unemployment fluctuations, labor productivity, search and matching model, New-Keynesian model

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Abstract: I estimate the credit supply effect of the Underserved Areas Goal(UAG), which establishes GSE purchase goals for mortgages to lower-income and minority neighborhoods. Taking advantage of discontinuous census tract eligibility rules and abrupt changes in tract eligibility in 2005, I find evidence of a small UAG effect on GSE activity, and this increase does not appear to crowd-out FHA and subprime lending. The results also indicate that the GSEs exploit the law's lack of precision targeting, yielding effects that might diverge from the law's intent.

Keywords: GSE, regression discontinuity, FHA, affordable housing goals, homeownership, subprime mortgage, underserved areas

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Abstract: We propose a measure for the importance of aggregate shocks for fluctuations in job flows at the firm level. Using data for the Portuguese economy, we find that large and old firms exhibit higher relative sensitivity to aggregate shocks and have a disproportional influence over the dynamics of aggregate job reallocation. In the overall economy, since large and old firms reallocate jobs less procyclically than small and young firms, job reallocation is less procyclical than if firm size and age classes were equally sensitive to aggregate shocks. A similar result applies in the manufacturing and the transportation and public utilities sectors. However, in the services and retail trade sectors the reallocation patterns are more similar across firm size and age, likely reflecting the expansion of existing and the creation of new industries. We conclude that large and old firms seem relatively more important to assess the state of the business cycle.

Keywords: Aggregate shocks, gross job flows, firm heterogeneity

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feds 2009-01
January 2009

Revisiting the Supply-Side Effects of Government Spending (PDF)

Vasia Panousi and George-Marios Angeletos

Abstract: We revisit the macroeconomic effects of government consumption in the neoclassical growth model when agents face uninsured idiosyncratic investment risk. Under complete markets, a permanent increase in government consumption has no long-run effect on the interest rate and the capital-labor ratio, while it increases hours due to the negative wealth effect. These results are upset once we allow for incomplete markets. The same negative wealth effect now causes a reduction in risk taking and the demand for investment. This leads to a lower risk-free rate and, under certain conditions, also to a lower capital-labor ratio, and lower productivity.

Keywords: Fiscal policy, government spending, incomplete risk sharing, entrepreneurial risk

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