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Finance and Economics Discussion Series

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Abstract: The U.S. labor market witnessed two apparently unrelated secular movements in the last 30 years: a decline in unemployment between the early 1980s and the early 2000s, and a decline in participation since the early 2000s. Using CPS micro data and a stock-flow accounting framework, we show that a substantial, and hitherto unnoticed, factor behind both trends is a decline in the share of nonparticipants who are at the margin of participation. A lower share of marginal nonparticipants implies a lower unemployment rate, because marginal nonparticipants enter the labor force mostly through unemployment, while other nonparticipants enter the labor force mostly through employment.

Keywords: Unemployment rate, labor force participation rate, individuals marginally attached to the labor force

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Abstract: This paper examines the incentives of national regulators to coordinate regulatory policies in the presence of systemic risk in global financial markets. In a two-country and three-period model, correlated asset fire sales by banks generate systemic risk across national financial markets. Relaxing regulatory standards in one country increases both the cost and the severity of crises for both countries in this framework. In the absence of coordination, independent regulators choose inefficiently low levels of macro-prudential regulation. A central regulator internalizes the systemic risk and thereby can improve the welfare of coordinating countries. Symmetric countries always benefit from coordination. Asymmetric countries choose different levels of macro-prudential regulation when they act independently. Common central regulation will voluntarily emerge only between sufficiently similar countries.

Keywords: Systemic risk, macroprudential regulation, international policy coordination

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Abstract: Unemployment insurance experience rating imposes higher payroll tax rates on firms that have laid off more workers in the past. To analyze the effects of UI tax policy on labor market dynamics, this paper develops a search model of unemployment with heterogeneous firms and realistic UI financing. The model predicts that higher experience rating reduces both job creation and job destruction. Using firm-level data from the Quarterly Census of Employment and Wages, the model is tested by comparing job creation and job destruction across states and industries with different UI tax schedules. The empirical analysis shows a strong negative relationship between job flows and experience rating.

Consistent with the empirical results, comparative steady state tax experiments show that a 5% increase in experience rating reduces job flows by an average of 1.4%. While the unemployment rate falls on average by .21 percentage points, the effect on tax revenues is ambiguous. The model has implications for UI financing reform currently being considered at the state and national level. Two alternative reforms that close half of the UI financing gap are considered: the reform that increases experience rating is shown to improve labor market outcomes. In a version of the model with aggregate shocks, higher experience rating dampens the response of layoffs and unemployment over the business cycle. Experience rating also induces nonlinear responses of unemployment to proportionally larger shocks as well as asymmetry in response to booms and busts.

Keywords: Unemployment insurance, experience rating

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feds 2013-85
November 2013

Learning, Rare Disasters, and Asset Prices (PDF)

Yang K. Lu and Michael Siemer

Abstract: In this paper, we examine how learning about disaster risk affects asset pricing in an endowment economy. We extend the literature on rare disasters by allowing for two sources of uncertainty: (1) the lack of historical data results in unknown parameters for the disaster process, and (2) the disaster takes time to unfold and is not directly observable. The model generates time variation in the risk premium through Bayesian updating of agents' beliefs regarding the likelihood and severity of disaster realization. The model accounts for the level and volatility of U.S. equity returns and generates predictability in returns.

Keywords: Rare disasters, Bayesian learning, equity premium puzzle, time-varying risk premia, return predictability

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Abstract: This paper examines consistency in the estimates of probability of default (PD) and loss given default (LGD) that nine large U.S. banks assign to syndicated loans for regulatory capital purposes. Using internal bank data on loans that had PDs and LGDs assigned by more than one bank, we find substantial dispersion in these parameters. Banks differ substantially in PDs, but only a few set PDs systematically higher or lower than the median bank. However, many banks differ from the median bank systematically in LGDs, and these differences affect their Basel II minimum regulatory capital significantly. The differences in LGDs imply that, for an identical loan portfolio, the bank that sets the highest LGDs would have Basel II minimum regulatory capital twice as large as the bank that sets the lowest LGDs. We argue that these differences in risk parameters across banks can be at least partially explained by bank behavior that complies with the Basel rules. We also find a negative relation between banks' LGDs and their shares in loan syndicates, suggesting that differences in risk parameters have implications beyond bank capital.

Keywords: Probability of default, loss given default, bank capital

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Abstract: What are the consequences of a potential fire sale stemming from the exemption of repurchase agreements (repos) from automatic stay? This paper shows that repo's exemption from stay alters firms' financing and investment decisions ex ante. Specifically, a stay exemption changes firms' investment opportunity set, enabling them to purchase assets of defaulted firms at fire sale prices. Fire sales arise endogenously because of limited capital available to purchase collateral posted by insolvent firms, i.e., cash-in-the-market pricing. A fire sale effectively creates a premium for holding on to dry powder and concentrates asset ownership with firms that have preferences to hold highly leveraged positions and risk default. The premium reduces the initial asset price, potentially inducing more firms to take on risky positions, increasing the fraction of defaulting firms in the economy. In contrast, when repo is subject to automatic stay secured lenders do not receive their collateral immediately, reducing the severity of a fire sale and ex ante price distortions.

Keywords: Repo, fire sales, automatic stay, bankruptcy, regulation

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feds 2013-82
August 2013

Payday Loans and Consumer Financial Health (PDF)

Joshua Rauh, Irina Stefanescu, and Stephen Zeldes

Abstract: Many U.S. corporations have frozen defined benefit (DB) pension plans, replacing new DB promises with contributions to defined contribution (DC) plans. We estimate expected DB accruals from the age-service and salary distributions of a large sample of U.S. corporate pension plans with more than 1,000 employees. Comparing the counterfactual DB accruals to the actual increase in 401(k) and other DC contributions for firms that freeze, we find only partial compensation to employees for the lost DB accruals. Net of the increase in total DC contributions, firms save 2.7-3.6% of payroll per year, and over a 10-year horizon they save 3.1% of total firm assets. Workers would have to value the structure, choice, flexibility, or portability of DC plans by at least this much more to experience welfare gains from freezes. The forgone accruals and net cost effects are initially largest for older employees but over time become largest for middle-aged employees who plan to stay with the firms until retirement. Furthermore, the probability that a firm freezes a pension plan is positively related to the value of new accruals as a share of firm assets. While there are differences in the age-service distributions of firms that freeze versus those that do not, we find that the differential accrual effect is largely driven by differences in benefit factors and the relative importance of labor in the freeze firm's production function. The results overall support the hypothesis that pension freezes affect overall compensation and therefore that they change compensation costs relative to a worker's marginal product.

Keywords: Defined benefit plans, pension freezes, pension cost, labor cost, firm value, benefit accruals

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Abstract: The annualized interest rate for a payday loan often exceeds 10 times that of a typical credit card, yet this market grew immensely in the 1990s and 2000s, elevating concerns about the risk payday loans pose to consumers and whether payday lenders target minority neighborhoods. This paper employs individual credit record data, and Census data on payday lender store locations, to assess these concerns. Taking advantage of several state law changes since 2006 and, following previous work, within-state-year differences in access arising from proximity to states that allow payday loans, I find little to no effect of payday loans on credit scores, new delinquencies, or the likelihood of overdrawing credit lines. The analysis also indicates that neighborhood racial composition has little influence on payday lender store locations conditional on income, wealth and demographic characteristics.

Keywords: Payday lending, credit scores, consumer financial protection

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Abstract: We examine the dynamics of eleven different deposit rates for a panel of over 2,500 branches of about 900 depository institutions observed weekly over ten years. We replicate previous work showing that rates are downwards-flexible and upwards-sticky, and show that a simple menu cost model can generate this behavior. The degree of asymmetric rigidity varies substantially by deposit type, bank size, and across branches of the same bank. In the absence of such stickiness, depositors would have received as much as $100 billion more in interest per year during periods when market rates were rising. These results also suggest that deposit rates are likely to lag increases in policy and market rates in future tightening cycles.

Keywords: Asymmetric price adjustment, banks, interest rates

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Abstract: The boom and bust of the housing market has been a prominent feature of the household financial landscape in recent years. The exact magnitude of the house price swings depends on whether you ask homeowners how much their houses are worth at two points in time or use the change in a transaction-based house price index (HPI). During the boom, owner-reported values rose much more rapidly than the HPI, and after the bust, owner-reported values fell slightly less than the HPI. Individual homeowner ~errors" are estimated to explain about one-third of the different in aggregate changes in the housing stock as measured by the Survey of Consumer Finances and CoreLogic national HPI. In a panel of homeowners surveyed during the housing downturn, owner-reported changes in value do not systematically diverge from local house price index changes.

Keywords: Homeowner valuation, housing bust

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Abstract: We quantify how much nonfundamental movements in stock prices affect firm decisions. We estimate a dynamic investment model in which firms can finance with equity or cash (net of debt). Misvaluation affects equity values, and firms optimally issue and repurchase overvalued and undervalued shares. The funds owing to and from these activities come from either investment, dividends, or net cash. The model fits a broad set of data moments in large heterogeneous samples and across industries. Firms respond to misvaluation by adjusting financing more than by adjusting investment. Managers' rational responses to misvaluation increase shareholder value by up to 8%.

Keywords: Market-timing, investment, saving

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Abstract: The recent financial crisis and ensuing recession appear to have put the productive capacity of the economy on a lower and shallower trajectory than the one that seemed to be in place prior to 2007. Using a version of an unobserved components model introduced by Fleischman and Roberts (2011), we estimate that potential GDP is currently about 7 percent below the trajectory it appeared to be on prior to 2007. We also examine the recent performance of the labor market. While the available indicators are still inconclusive, some indicators suggest that hysteresis should be a more present concern now than it has been during previous periods of economic recovery in the United States. We go on to argue that a significant portion of the recent damage to the supply side of the economy plausibly was endogenous to the weakness in aggregate demand--contrary to the conventional view that policymakers must simply accommodate themselves to aggregate supply conditions. Endogeneity of supply with respect to demand provides a strong motivation for a vigorous policy response to a weakening in aggregate demand, and we present optimal-control simulations showing how monetary policy might respond to such endogeneity in the absence of other considerations. We then discuss how other considerations--such as increased risks of financial instability or inflation instability--could cause policymakers to exercise restraint in their response to cyclical weakness.

Keywords: Aggregate supply, structural unemployment, trend productivity, hysteresis in labor markets, aggregate demand, monetary policy, financial crisis

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Abstract: In recent years, the Federal Reserve has made substantial changes to its framework for monetary policymaking by providing greater clarity regarding its objectives, its intentions regarding the use of monetary policy--including nontraditional policy tools such as forward guidance and asset purchases--in the pursuit of those objectives, and its broader policy strategy. These changes reflected both a response to changes in economists' understanding of the most effective way to implement monetary policy and a response to specific challenges posed by the financial crisis and its aftermath, particularly the effective lower bound on nominal interest rates. We trace the recent evolution of the Federal Reserve's framework, and use a small-scale macro model and a simple static model to help illuminate the approaches taken with nontraditional monetary policy tools. A number of foreign central banks have made similar innovations in response to similar developments. On balance, the Federal Reserve has moved closer to "flexible inflation targeting," but the Federal Reserve's approach includes a balanced focus on two objectives and the use of a flexible horizon over which policy aims to foster those objectives. Going forward, further changes in central banks' frameworks may be needed to address issues raised by the financial crisis. For example, some have suggested that the sustained period at the effective lower bound points to the need for central banks to establish a different policy objective, such as a higher inflation target or a nominal income target. We use our small-scale model of the U.S. economy to examine the potential benefits and costs of such changes. We also discuss the broad issue of how central banks should integrate financial stability policy and monetary policy.

Keywords: Monetary policy framework, monetary policy communications, optimal monetary policy, monetary policy rules, forward guidance

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Abstract: Young firms disproportionately employ young workers, controlling for firm size, industry, geography and time. The same positive correlation between young firms and young employees holds when we look just at new hires. On average, young employees in young firms earn higher wages than young employees in older firms. Further, young employees disproportionately join young firms with greater innovation potential and that exhibit higher growth, conditional on survival. These facts are consistent with the argument that the skills, risk tolerance, and career dynamics of young workers are contributing factors to their disproportionate share of employment in young firms. Finally, we show that an increase in the regional supply of young workers is positively related to the rate of new firm creation, especially in high tech industries, suggesting a causal link between the supply of young workers and new firm creation.

Keywords: Entrepreneurship, human capital, career choice, venture capital

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feds 2013-74
September 2013

Trend Inflation in Advanced Economies (PDF)

Christine Garnier, Elmar Mertens, and Edward Nelson

Abstract: We derive estimates of trend inflation for fourteen advanced economies from a framework in which trend shocks exhibit stochastic volatility. The estimated specification allows for time-variation in the degree to which longer-term inflation expectations are well anchored in each economy. Our results bring out the effect of changes in monetary regime (such as the adoption of inflation targeting in several countries) on the behavior of trend inflation. Our estimates expand on the previous literature in several dimensions: For each country, we employ a multivariate approach that pools different inflation series in order to identify their common trend. In addition, our estimates of the inflation gap--defined as the difference between trend and observed inflation--are allowed to exhibit considerable persistence. Consequently, the fluctuations in estimates of trend inflation are much lower than those reported in studies that use stochastic volatility models in which inflation gaps are serially uncorrelated. This specification also makes our estimates less sensitive than trend estimates in the literature to the effect of distortions to inflation arising from non-market influences on prices, such as tax changes. A forecast evaluation based on pseudo-real-time estimates documents improvements in inflation forecasts, even though it remains hard to outperform simple random walk forecasts to a statistically significant degree.

Keywords: Trend inflation, stochastic volatility, unobserved component models, forecasting

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Abstract: This paper argues that the decline in U.S. real GDP growth volatility after the mid 1980s was an outcome of more risk efficient and more diversified sectoral allocations. Using a portfolio approach, I distinguish between the two determinants of GDP growth volatility: sectoral covariances and sectoral allocations. I use the sectoral growth and covariances to compute the growth-volatility frontier of the economy. I define the efficiency of the actual sectoral allocation as the distance of the economy from the frontier, measured in the (volatility, growth) space. There are three main findings. 1) The frontier has shifted due to a lower sectoral growth rate and a higher sectoral variance. 2) The distance of the economy from the frontier has decreased. The efficiency over the period increased by 1.4 percentage points. This increase occurred along the volatility dimension and it is interpreted as the decline in the growth volatility in the economy, if there were no changes in the sectoral covariances. This efficiency improvement is comparable to the 1.5 percentage points decline in GDP growth volatility in the data after the mid 1980s. 3) The U.S. economy became more diversified across sectors after the early 1980s, shifting away from manufacturing and agriculture towards services. The increase in the share of Finance and Insurance coupled with the doubling of the growth volatility in this sector, might have contributed to the recent increase in GDP growth volatility.

Keywords: Great Moderation, sectoral allocation, risk efficiency

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Abstract: In 2011 and 2012, the Federal Reserve sold Treasury securities from the short end of the yield curve at the same time it was providing market participants with date-specific assurances that overnight interest rates would not rise. We investigate how these two policies, which had conflicting pricing pressures, were absorbed by the market. We analyze the impacts of sales on the volume and composition of inventories of the Federal Reserve's counterparties, and examine how announcements of accommodative monetary policy affected spreads and prices across maturities. Our results suggest that these two reserve-neutral policies affected interest rates both within and beyond the stated policy periods. The finding that Federal Reserve's sales, conducted during periods of date-based forward guidance, were associated with higher interest rates suggests that the policy effects were not limited to the anticipated path of federal funds rates. We also find that the accumulation of Treasury securities by Federal Reserve counterparties was consistent with the idea that those dealers responded opportunistically to the forward guidance on rates.

Keywords: Maturity extension program, date-based guidance, treasury sales, treasury yield curve, FOMC accommodation

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Abstract: This paper shows that a firm's reliance on skilled labor is an underlying determinant of its exposure to aggregate volatility risk. I present a model in which firms make hiring and firing decisions in an environment of time-varying aggregate volatility, and face linear adjustment costs that increase with the skill of a worker. In the model, an increase in aggregate volatility slows a firm's labor demand reaction to changes in economic conditions, reducing its ability to smooth cash flows. The rise in aggregate volatility has a more pronounced impact on firms with a high share of skilled labor because their labor is more costly to adjust. Therefore, the compensation for volatility risk and its contribution to risk compensation increases with a firm's reliance on skilled labor. I empirically test the implications of the model using occupational estimates to construct a measure of a firm's reliance on skilled labor, and find a positive and statistically significant cross-sectional relation between the reliance on skilled labor and expected returns. In times of high aggregate volatility, firms with a high share of skilled workers earn an annual return of 2.7% above those with a high share of unskilled workers. This spread reduces by one third in times when volatility is back to normal.

Keywords: Macroeconomic volatility, volatility risk premium, recursive utility, non-convex adjustment costs

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Abstract: Recent empirical research by Olivei and Tenreyro (2007) demonstrates that the effect of monetary policy shocks on output and prices depends on the shock's timing: In the United States, a monetary policy shock that takes place in the first half of the year has a larger effect on output than on prices, while the opposite is true in the second half of the year. Olivei and Tenreyro argue that this finding reflects the fact that a greater fraction of wage rates are re-contracted in the second half of the year, implying that wages (and prices) are less flexible in the first half. In this paper, I assess this explanation in light of several additional empirical results. Most importantly, I demonstrate that within-year differences in the responses of output and prices following a monetary policy shock are not more pronounced in the service-producing sector, where labor costs represent a larger fraction of total production costs. I also find that movements in prices following a monetary shock tend to lead wage changes. These and other empirical results suggest that something other than uneven wage adjustment might be responsible for the differential within-year effect of monetary policy shocks that Olivei and Tenreyro document.

Keywords: Monetary policy shocks, uneven wage staggering, factor intensity, sectoral responses

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Abstract: In the last decade, five U.S. states adopted mandates requiring high school juniors to take a college entrance exam. In the two earliest-adopting states, nearly half of all students were induced into testing, and 40-45% of them earned scores high enough to qualify for selective schools. Selective college enrollment rose by 20% following implementation of the mandates, with no effect on overall attendance. I conclude that a large number of high-ability students appear to dramatically underestimate their candidacy for selective colleges. Policies aimed at reducing this information shortage are likely to increase human capital investment for a substantial number of students.

Keywords: Economics of education, college access

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feds 2013-68
October 2013

Going Public Abroad (PDF)

Cecilia Caglio, Kathleen Weiss Hanley, and Jennifer Marietta-Westberg

Abstract: This paper examines the decision to go public abroad using a sample of 17,808 IPOs. Although only 6% of initial public offerings are offered abroad, these represent approximately 25% of total IPO proceeds. We find that alleviating informational frictions in order to obtain greater offering proceeds is an important determinant of the decision to go public abroad. Foreign and global IPOs originate from countries with significantly fewer recent IPOs in the same industry, less developed capital markets, and lower disclosure standards. Contrary to assumptions in prior research, we also show that the determinants of whether to go public abroad or to go public at home and cross-list later are not similar. In addition, we find that the preferences for going public in certain foreign markets have changed over time and the factors that impact the choice of listing market are not consistent across all countries.

Keywords: IPO, cross listing

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Abstract: This paper explores the hypothesis that the rise in intangible capital is a fundamental driver of the secular trend in US corporate cash holdings over the last decades. Using a new measure,we show that intangible capital is the most important firm-level determinant of corporate cash holdings. Our measure accounts for almost as much of the secular increase in cash since the 1980s as all other determinants together. We then develop a new dynamic dynamic model of corporate cash holdings with two types of productive assets, tangible and intangible capital. Since only tangible capital can be pledged as collateral, a shift toward greater reliance on intangible capital shrinks the debt capacity of firms and leads them to optimally hold more cash in order to preserve financial flexibility. In the model, firms with growth options tend to hold more cash in anticipation of (S,s)-type adjustments in physical capital because they want to avoid raising costly external finance. We show that this mechanism is quantitatively important, as our model generates cash holdings that are up to an order of magnitude higher than the standard benchmark and in line with their empirical averages for the last two decades. Overall, our results suggest that technological change has contributed significantly to recent changes in corporate liquidity management.

Keywords: Asset intangibility, debt capacity, risk management, corporate cash hoarding, (S,s) adjustment

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Abstract: We develop a model of how taxpayers update beliefs over their tax rates when they encounter a non-salient tax liability change. We test the model's hypotheses using the loss of the Child Tax Credit when a child turns 17. Because this tax liability change is lump-sum and predictable, there should be no reaction in labor income if taxpayers are fully informed. Using this age discontinuity, we find, however, that losing the credit reduces household labor income. This finding suggests that taxpayers misperceive the source of tax liability changes, leading to under- or over-reactions to changes in marginal tax rates.

Keywords: Tax salience, tax complexity

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Abstract: This paper investigates how high-speed home Internet has impacted labor supply. Using an instrumental variables strategy that exploits cross-state variation in supplyside constraints to residential broadband Internet access, I find that exogenously determined high-speed Internet usage leads to a 4.1 percentage point increase in labor force participation for married women. There is no corresponding effect on single women or men. Among married women, the largest increases in participation are found among college-educated women with children. Supplemental analyses suggest that Internet use for telework and time saving in home production explain the increase in participation. The results suggest home Internet facilitates work-family balance.

Keywords: female labor force participation, high-speed Internet, opting out, work and family

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Abstract: We examine the effects of government policy uncertainty on cross-border capital flows. FDI flows from US companies to foreign affiliates drop significantly during the period just before an election. The election effect for FDI is larger than election cycles in domestic investment. The electoral patterns in FDI flows are more pronounced in countries with higher propensities for policy reversals and when election outcomes are more uncertain. Our identification strategy compares variation in different types of capital flows into the same country around the timing of national elections. The electoral cycles are present in relatively irreversible FDI flows but not in foreign portfolio investment flows, suggesting a likely causal link from political uncertainty to and capital flows.

Keywords: Foreign direct investment, political uncertainty

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Abstract: This paper develops a method to approximate arbitrage-free bond yields within a term structure model in which the short rate follows a Gaussian process censored at zero (a "shadow-rate model" as proposed by Black, 1995). The censoring ensures that model-implied yields are constrained to be positive, but it also introduces non-linearity that renders standard bond pricing formulas inapplicable. In particular, yields are not linear functions of the underlying state vector as they are in affine term structure models (see Piazzesi, 2010). Existing approaches towards computing yields in shadow-rate models suffer from high computational burden or low accuracy. In contrast, I show that the technique proposed in this paper is sufficiently fast for single-step estimation of a three-factor shadow-rate term structure model, and sufficiently accurate to evaluate yields to within approximately half a basis point.

Keywords: Shadow-rate model, zero lower bound, dynamic term structure model

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feds 2013-62
August 2013

Payday Lending Regulation (PDF)

Alex Kaufman

Abstract: To date the debate over payday lending has focused on whether access to such lending is on net beneficial or harmful to consumer welfare. However, payday loans are not one product but many, and different forms of lending may have different welfare implications. The current diversity in payday lending stems from the diverse ways in which states have regulated the industry. This paper attempts to quantify the effects that various regulatory approaches have had on lending terms and usage. Using a novel institutional dataset of over 56 million payday loans, covering 26 states for nearly 6 years, I find that price caps tend to be strictly binding, size caps tend to be less binding, and prohibitions on simultaneous borrowing appear to have little effect on the total amount borrowed. Minimum loan terms affect loan length while maximum loan terms do not. Repeat borrowing appears to be negatively related to rollover prohibitions and cooling-off periods, as well as to higher price caps. Several states have used law changes to sharply cut their rate of repeat borrowing. However, this process has been disruptive, leading to lower lending volumes and, in at least one case, higher delinquency.

Keywords: Alternative financial services, financial regulation, payday lending

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Abstract: This paper provides an extensive analysis of the predictive ability of financial volatility measures for economic activity. We construct monthly measures of stock and bond market volatility from daily returns and model volatility as composed of a long-run component that is common across all series, and a set of idiosyncratic short-run components. Based on powerful in-sample predictive ability tests, we find that the stock volatility measures and the common factor significantly improve short-term forecasts of conventional financial indicators. A real-time out of sample assessment yields a similar conclusion under the assumption of noisy revisions in macroeconomic data. In a non-linear extension of the dynamic factor model for volatility series, we identify three regimes that describe the joint volatility dynamics: low, intermediate and high-volatility. We also find that the non-linear model performs remarkably well in tracking the Great Recession of 2007-2009 in real-time.

Keywords: Financial volatility, real-time data, predictive ability tests, dynamic factor model, Markov switching

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Abstract: This paper presents new empirical evidence that internal movement--selling one home and buying another--by existing homeowners within a metropolitan housing market is especially volatile and the main driver of fluctuations in transaction volume over the housing market cycle. We develop a dynamic search equilibrium model that shows that the strong pro-cyclicality of internal movement is driven by the cost of simultaneously holding two homes, which varies endogenously over the cycle. We estimate the model using data on prices, volume, time-on-market, and internal moves drawn from Los Angeles from 1988-2008 and use the fitted model to show that frictions related to the joint buyer-seller problem: (i) substantially amplify booms and busts in the housing market, (ii) create counter-cyclical build-ups of mismatch of existing owners with their homes, and (iii) generate externalities that induce significant welfare loss and excess price volatility.

Keywords: Housing cycles, housing search

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feds 2013-59
July 2013

Cost of Borrowing Shocks and Fiscal Adjustment (PDF)

Oliver de Groot, Federic Holm-Hadulla, and Nadine Leiner-Killinger

Abstract: Do capital markets impose fiscal discipline on governments? We investigate the responses of fiscal variables to a change in the interest rate paid by governments on their debt in a panel of 14 European countries over four decades. To this end, we estimate a panel vector autoregressive (PVAR) model, using sign restrictions via the penalty function method of Mountford and Uhlig (2009) to identify structural cost of borrowing shocks. Our baseline estimation shows that a 1 percentage point rise in the cost of borrowing leads to a cumulative improvement of the primary balance-to-GDP ratio of approximately 2 percentage points over 10 years, with the fiscal response becoming significantly evident only two years after the shock. We also find that the bulk of fiscal adjustment takes place via a rise in government revenue rather than a cut in primary expenditure. The size of the total fiscal adjustment, however, is insufficient to avoid the gross government debt-to-GDP ratio from rising as a consequence of the shock. Sub-dividing our sample, we also find that for countries participating in Economic and Monetary Union (EMU) the primary balance response to a cost of borrowing shock was stronger in the period after 1992 (the year in which the Maastricht Treaty was signed) than prior to 1992.

Keywords: Fiscal policy, long-term interest rates, VARs, sign restrictions

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Abstract: In this paper, we formulate and solve a New Keynesian model with monetary and fiscal policy rules whose coefficients are time-varying and interdependent. We implement time variation in the policy rules by specifying coefficients that are logistic functions of correlated latent factors and propose a solution method that allows for these characteristics. The paper uses Bayesian methods to estimate the policy rules with time-varying coefficients, endogeneity, and stochastic volatility in a limited-information framework. Results show that monetary policy switches regime more frequently than fiscal policy, and that there is a non-negligible degree of interdependence between policies. Policy experiments reveal that contractionary monetary policy lowers inflation in the short run and increases it in the long run. Also, lump-sum taxes affect output and inflation, as the literature on the fiscal theory of the price level suggests, but the effects are attenuated with respect to a pure fiscal regime.

Keywords: Time-varying policy rule coefficients, monetary and fiscal policy interactions, nonlinear state-space models

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Abstract: It has been well documented that the share of the working-age population employed in "middle-skill" occupations has been falling for some time, while the share in lower- and higher-skill jobs has been rising--i.e. "polarization" of the labor market (e.g. Autor 2010). However, the dynamics and related mechanism behind these employment trends are not fully understood; nor is it well understood what happens to workers who are displaced from middle-skill jobs. In this paper, I use data from the matched monthly CPS, the March CPS supplement, and the Displaced Worker Survey to answer two primary questions. First, into what employment states or occupations do unemployed persons who were formerly employed in low-, middle-, or high-skill occupations transition? Second, how have transitions between job types and employment states changed over time, and how have these changes contributed to trends in employment shares by job-type? I find that the decline in the share of workers in middle-skill jobs is due both to a decline in inflows into these jobs (particularly from non-employment and for younger workers) and because of a rise in outflows from these jobs (to non-employment and to other jobs); the increase in the share of workers in lower-skill jobs appears due to an increase in worker transitions from other job types (evident within all demographic groups); and the increase in the share of workers in higher-skill jobs appears due to an increase in worker transitions from other job types and is also somewhat compositional in nature (because there are more college-educated workers).

Keywords: Labor demand, labor market polarization, polarization, job transitions, occupational change

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Abstract: Estimating the effect of Federal Reserve's announcements of Large-Scale Asset Purchase (LSAP) programs on corporate credit risk is complicated by the simultaneity of policy decisions and movements in prices of risky financial assets, as well as by the fact that both interest rates of assets targeted by the programs and indicators of credit risk reacted to other common shocks during the recent financial crisis. This paper employs a heteroskedasticity-based approach to estimate the structural coefficient measuring the sensitivity of market-based indicators of corporate credit risk to declines in the benchmark market interest rates prompted by the LSAP announcements. The results indicate that the LSAP announcements led to a significant reduction in the cost of insuring against default risk--as measured by the CDX indexes--for both investment- and speculative-grade corporate credits. While the unconventional policy measures employed by the Federal Reserve to stimulate the economy have substantially lowered the overall level of credit risk in the economy, the LSAP announcements appear to have had no measurable effect on credit risk in the financial intermediary sector.

Keywords: Credit default swap (CDS), default risk channel, LSAPs, quantitative easing, identification through heteroskedasticity

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Abstract: We propose an econometric framework for estimating capital shortfalls of bank holding companies (BHCs) under pre-specified macroeconomic scenarios. To capture the nonlinear dynamics of bank losses and revenues during periods of financial stress, we use a fixed effects quantile autoregressive (FE-QAR) model with exogenous macroeconomic covariates, an approach that delivers a superior out-of-sample forecasting performance compared with the standard linear framework. According to the out-of-sample forecasts, the realized net charge-offs during the 2007-09 crisis are within the multi-step-ahead density forecasts implied by the FE-QAR model, but they are frequently outside the density forecasts generated using the corresponding linear model. This difference reflects the fact that the linear specification substantially underestimates loan losses, especially for real estate loan portfolios. Employing the macroeconomic stress scenario used in CCAR 2012, we use the density forecasts generated by the FE-QAR model to simulate capital shortfalls for a panel of large BHCs. For almost all institutions in the sample, the FE-QAR model generates capital shortfalls that are considerably higher than those implied by its linear counterpart, which suggests that our approach has the potential for detecting emerging vulnerabilities in the financial system.

Keywords: Macroprudential regulation, stress tests, capital shortfalls, density forecasting, quantile autoregression, panel data

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Abstract: This paper reports on tail risk premiums in two tail risk hedging strategies: the S&P 500 puts and the VIX calls. As a new measure of tail risk, we suggest using a model-free, risk-neutral measure of the volatility of volatility implied by a cross section of the VIX options, which we call the VVIX index. The tail risk measured by the VVIX index has forecasting power for future tail risk hedge returns. Specifically, consistent with the literature on rare disasters, an increase in the VVIX index raises the current prices of tail risk hedges and thus lowers their subsequent returns over the next three to four weeks. Furthermore, we find that volatility of volatility risk and its associated risk premium both significantly contribute to the forecasting power of the VVIX index, and that the predictability largely results from the integrated volatility of volatility rather than volatility jumps.

Keywords: Volatility of volatility, tail risk, rare disaster, option returns, risk premiums, VIX options

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Abstract: This paper uses data from the 2007-09 Survey of Consumer Finances panel to examine U.S. households' decisions to move and the role of negative home equity and economic shocks, such as job loss, in these decisions. Even over this period of steep house price declines and sharp recession, we find that most moves were prompted by standard reasons. The recession's effects are nonetheless apparent in the notable fraction of homeowners who moved involuntarily due to, for example, foreclosure. Many involuntary moves appear to stem a combination of negative home equity and adverse economic shocks rather than negative equity alone. Homeowners with both negative equity and economic shocks were substantially more likely to have moved between 2007 and 2009 and to have moved involuntarily. The findings suggest that, analogous to the double-trigger theory of default, the relationship between negative equity and household mobility varies with households' exposure to adverse shocks.

Keywords: Mobility, negative equity

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feds 2013-52
April 2013

The Cross-Market Spillover of Economic Shocks through Multi-Market Banks (PDF)

Jose M. Berrospide, Lamont K. Black, and William R. Keeton

Abstract: This paper investigates the mortgage lending of banks operating in multiple U.S. metropolitan areas during the housing market collapse of 2007-2009. Some metro areas in the U.S. suffered much greater mortgage defaults than others. We use this regional variation to identify whether high mortgage delinquencies in some markets affected multi-market banks' mortgage lending in other markets. Our results show that multi-market banks reduced local mortgage lending in response to delinquencies in other markets, consistent with the view that local economic shocks can be transmitted to other regions through banks' internal capital markets. This spillover effect was greatest in peripheral markets where multi-market banks do a small share of their lending. We find that securitized lending may have mitigated the decline in portfolio lending, but the effect on total lending is economically significant. The mechanism of the transmission appears to be through changes in bank capital and new information about the mortgage market.

Keywords: Contagion, multi-market banks, mortgage lending, securitization

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Abstract: This paper explores trends in inequality and poverty using both market and after-tax and transfer income in the period during and after the Great Recession (through 2011). Using market income (or wages), inequality and poverty rose sharply between 2008 and 2010. The primary exception is measures for the top of the distribution; annual wage and income shares of the top one percent dipped in 2008 and 2009. Including taxes and transfers, broad-based inequality measures also fell, and the poverty increase was muted. Tax and transfer policies lowered inequality and poverty, but those policies were not equal across the population. Poverty declined among the elderly, changed little among children, and rose sharply among the working-age. Inequality fell across the total population, but was unchanged among working-age households. Since 2009, as the economy has grown slowly, inequality has risen for all groups, and poverty remains high for the working-age.

Keywords: Inequality, poverty, income distribution, social welfare policy

Abstract: I show how to use data from the Flow of Funds Accounts of the United States to estimate how much funding of nonfinancial businesses, households, and governments is provided by the domestic shadow banking system. I define the shadow banking system as the set of entities and activities that provide short-term funding outside of the traditional commercial banking system, but I do not equate all nonbank funding with shadow banking. My results suggest that at the end of 2008, domestic shadow-bank funding of the nonfinancial sector was an important, but fairly modest source of funding relative to that provided by more traditional funding sources such as commercial banks, insurance companies, and pension funds. However,my results suggest that domestic shadow banking played a large role in the increase of nonfinancial-sector debt in the two years before 2008:Q4 and was, at least in an arithmetic sense,the entire reason for the slowdown in nonfinancial-sector debt growth after 2008. Domestic shadow-bank funding of the nonfinancial sector has increased since 2010, but remains well below the level seen right in late 2008.

Keywords: Shadow banking, short-term funding, maturity transformation

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Abstract: This paper estimates the effect of sales taxes on employment at state borders using county-level quarterly data and a newly developed data set of local tax rates. Sales tax increases, relative to cross-border neighbors, lead to losses of employment, as well as payroll and hiring, but these effects are only found in counties with large shares of residents working in another state. The effects also represent an upper-bound, largely driven by employment shifting across the state border. We also find that employment in food and beverage stores is negatively affected when cross-border neighbors adopt low sales tax rates on food.

Keywords: Sales tax, local taxes, border models, cross-border shopping

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Abstract: This paper studies Leveraged and Inverse Exchange Traded Funds (LETFs) from a financial stability perspective. Mechanical positive-feedback rebalancing of LETFs resembles the portfolio insurance strategies, which contributed to the stock market crash of October 19, 1987 (Brady Report, 1988). I show that a 1% increase in broad stock-market indexes induces LETFs to originate rebalancing flows equivalent to $1.04 billion worth of stock. Price-insensitive and concentrated trading of LETFs results in price reaction and extra volatility in underlying stocks. Implied price impact calculations and empirical results suggest that they contributed to the stock market volatility in the 2008-2009 financial crisis and in the second half of 2011 when the European sovereign debt crisis came to the forefront. Although LETFs are not as large as portfolio insurers of the 1980s and have not been proven to disrupt stock market activity, their large and concentrated trading could be destabilizing during periods of high volatility.

Keywords: ETFs, price impact, financial stability, stock market crashes

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Abstract: I study the effects of credit tightening in an economy with uninsured idiosyncratic investment risk. In the model, entrepreneurs require an equity premium because collateral constraints limit insurance. After collateral constraints tighten, the equity premium and the riskiness of consumption rise and the risk-free interest rate falls. I show that, both immediately after the shock and in the long run, the equity premium and the riskiness of consumption increase more than they would if the risk-free rate were constant. Indeed, the long-run increase in the riskiness of consumption growth is purely a general-equilibrium effect: if the risk-free rate were constant (as in a small open economy), an endogenous decrease in risk-taking by entrepreneurs would, in the long run, completely offset the decrease in their ability to diversify. I also show that the credit shock leads to a decrease in aggregate capital if the elasticity of intertemporal substitution is sufficiently high. Finally, I show that, due to a general-equilibrium effect, there is no "overshooting" in the equity premium: in response to a permanent decrease in firms' ability to pledge their future income, the equity premium immediately jumps to its new steady-state level and remains constant thereafter, even as aggregate capital adjusts over time. However, if idiosyncratic uncertainty is sufficiently low, credit tightening has no short- or long-run effects on aggregate capital, the equity premium, or the riskiness of consumption. Thus my paper highlights how investment risk affects the economy's response to a credit crunch.

Keywords: Incomplete markets, idiosyncratic risk, business cycles, risk-free rates

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Abstract: Researchers use different types of household balance sheet data to study different aspects of lifecycle saving and wealth accumulation behavior. Macro data from the Flow of Funds Accounts (FFA) are produced at a quarterly frequency and are available in a timely manner, but they can only be used to study the behavior of the household sector as a whole. Micro data from the Survey of Consumer Finances (SCF) are available every three years and only with a lag, but they can be used to address questions that involve differences in behavior over time and across various types of households. Despite the very different approaches to estimating household net worth, the two data sets show the same general patterns wealth changes over the past twenty-five years. Areas where the FFA and SCF diverge in aggregate levels--in categories such as owner-occupied housing, noncorporate equity, and credit cards--may be explained by methodological decisions applied in the production of the data. Those differences do not fundamentally alter one's perception of household wealth dynamics in the period leading up to and following the Great Recession.

Keywords: Wealth distribution, Flow of Funds Accounts, Survey of Consumer Finances

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Abstract: The knowledge and reasoning ability needed to manage one's finances is a form of human capital. Alzheimer's disease and other dementias cause progressive declines in cognition that lead to a complete loss of functional capacities. In this paper we analyze the impact of information about cognitive decline on the choice of household financial decision-maker. Using longitudinal data on older married couples in a novel application of survival analysis, we find that as the financial decision maker's cognition declines, the management of finances is eventually turned over to his cognitively intact spouse, often well after difficulties handling money have already emerged. However, a memory disease diagnosis increases the hazard of switching the financial respondent by over 200 percent for couples who control their retirement accounts, like 401(k) accounts, relative to those who passively receive retirement income. This finding is consistent with a model of the value of information: households with the most to gain financially from preparation are most responsive to information about cognitive decline.

Keywords: Household finance, cognition, aging

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Abstract: In this paper, we use detailed trade and transactions data for the U.S. manufacturing sector to empirically analyze the direction and magnitude of the association between firm-level exposure to trade and the volatility of employment growth. We find that, relative to purely domestic firms, firms that only export and firms that both export and import are less volatile, whereas firms that only import are more volatile. The positive relationship between importing and volatility is driven mainly by firms that switch in and out of importing. We also document a significant degree of heterogeneity across trading firms in terms of the duration of time and intensity with which firms trade, the number and type of products they trade and the number and characteristics of their trading partners. We find these factors to play an important role in explaining the differential impact of trading on employment volatility experienced by these firms.

Keywords: Trade, firm heterogeneity, employment volatility

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feds 2013-43
June 2013

Sequential Monte Carlo Sampling for DSGE Models (PDF)

Edward P. Herbst and Frank Schorfheide

Abstract: We develop a sequential Monte Carlo (SMC) algorithm for estimating Bayesian dynamic stochastic general equilibrium (DSGE) models, wherein a particle approximation to the posterior is built iteratively through tempering the likelihood. Using three examples--an artificial state-space model, the Smets and Wouters (2007) model, and Schmitt-Grohe and Uribe's (2012) news shock model--we show that the SMC algorithm is better suited for multimodal and irregular posterior distributions than the widely-used random-walk Metropolis-Hastings algorithm. We find that a more diffuse prior for the Smets and Wouters (2007) model improves its marginal data density and that a slight modification of the prior for the news shock model leads to important changes in the posterior inference about the importance of news shocks for fluctuations in hours worked. Unlike standard Markov chain Monte Carlo (MCMC) techniques, the SMC algorithm is well suited for parallel computing.

Keywords: Bayesian analysis, DSGE models, monte carlo methods, parallel computing

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Abstract: The volatility of aggregate economic activity in the United States decreased markedly in the mid eighties. The decrease involved several components of GDP and has been linked to a more stable economic environment, identified by smaller shocks and more effective policy, and a diverse set of innovations related to inventory management as well as financial markets. We document a negative relation between the volatility of GDP and some of its components and one such financial development: the emergence of mortgage-backed securities. We also document that this relationship changed sign, from negative to positive, in the early 2000's.

Keywords: Mortgage backed securities, volatility, great moderation

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Abstract: The financial crisis and its aftermath have raised numerous questions about the appropriate role of financial stability considerations in the conduct of monetary policy. This paper develops a simple example of the possible connections between financial stability and monetary policy. We find that even without an explicit financial stability goal for monetary policy, financial stability considerations arise naturally in the context of standard models of optimal monetary policy if the potential magnitude of financial stability shocks is affected by the stance of policy. In this case, similar to the classic analysis of Brainard (1967), policymakers may seek to reduce the variance of output by scaling back the level of policy accommodation provided today in response to an aggregate demand shock relative to the level that would otherwise be provided. However, the policy implications of this possible connection between monetary policy and financial stability are complex even in the simple example considered here. In particular, financial stability considerations may also increase the relative benefits of following a commitment policy relative to a discretionary strategy.

Keywords: Monetary policy, financial stability

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Abstract: This paper studies optimal government spending and monetary policy when the nominal interest rate is subject to the zero lower bound constraint in a stochastic New Keynesian economy. I find that the government chooses to increase its spending when at the zero lower bound by a substantially larger amount in the stochastic environment than it would in the deterministic environment. The presence of uncertainty creates a unique time-consistency problem if the steady-state is inefficient. Although access to government spending policy increases welfare in the face of a large deflationary shock, it decreases welfare during normal times as the government reduces the nominal interest rate less aggressively before reaching the zero lower bound.

Keywords: Fiscal policy, government spending, occasionally binding constraints, liquidity trap, zero lower bound, Markov-perfect equilibria, commitment

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Abstract: We evaluate the short horizon predictive ability of financial conditions indexes for stock returns and macroeconomic variables. We find reliable predictability only when the sample includes the 2008 financial crisis, and we argue that this result is driven by tailoring the indexes to the crisis and by non-synchronous trading. Financial conditions indexes are based on a variety of constituent variables and aggregation methods, and we discuss a simple procedure for consolidating the growing number of different indexes into a single proxy for financial conditions.

Keywords: Financial conditions indexes, stock returns predictability, forecasting

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Abstract: This paper examines the effect of antidumping duties on the restructuring activities of protected plants. Using a dataset that contains the full population of U.S. manufacturers, I find that protected plants increase their capital intensities modestly relative to unprotected plants, but only when antidumping duties have been in place for a sufficient duration. I find little effect of antidumping duties on a proxy for the skilled labor intensity of protected plants.

Keywords: Antidumping, temporary protection, restructuring

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Abstract: Between August 2011 and December 2012 the Federal Open Market Committee (FOMC) used date-based forward guidance to help stimulate the U.S. economy and promote its objectives of maximum employment and price stability. Some have argued that the formulation of the guidance that the FOMC used may have reduced interest rates primarily by signaling a weak economic outlook rather than by signaling a more accommodative stance of monetary policy. I examine the impact of the date-based guidance, with the principal goal of discerning the extent to which it altered investors' views of the FOMC's policy reaction function. I show that one seemingly straightforward way to address this question--using estimates of the sensitivity of money market futures rates to macroeconomic data surprises--is confounded by the zero lower bound on nominal interest rates, a point that has more general implications for the analysis of the effects of monetary policy at the zero bound. I demonstrate that the problem can be overcome using distributions of investors' short-term interest rate expectations derived from interest rate options. Using PDFs constructed from these options, along with survey measures of macroeconomic surprises, I find the date-based guidance led to a statistically significant and economically meaningful change in investors' perceptions of the FOMC's reaction function. This finding is robust to various regression specifications and the use of alternative options contracts and PDF fitting methodologies.

Keywords: Monetary policy, zero lower bound, forward guidance, economic surprises

feds 2013-36
March 2013

Is the Information Technology Revolution Over? (PDF)

David M. Byrne, Stephen D. Oliner, and Daniel E. Sichel

Abstract: Given the slowdown in labor productivity growth in the mid-2000s, some have argued that the boost to labor productivity from IT may have run its course. This paper contributes three types of evidence to this debate. First, we show that since 2004, IT has continued to make a significant contribution to labor productivity growth in the United States, though it is no longer providing the boost it did during the productivity resurgence from 1995 to 2004. Second, we present evidence that semiconductor technology, a key ingredient of the IT revolution, has continued to advance at a rapid pace and that the BLS price index for microprocesssors may have substantially understated the rate of decline in prices in recent years. Finally, we develop projections of growth in trend labor productivity in the nonfarm business sector. The baseline projection of about 1-3/4 percent a year is better than recent history but is still below the long-run average of 2-1/4 percent. However, we see a reasonable prospect--particularly given the ongoing advance in semiconductors--that the pace of labor productivity growth could rise back up to or exceed the long-run average. While the evidence is far from conclusive, we judge that "No, the IT revolution is not over."

Keywords: Labor productivity, innovation, information technology

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Abstract: The FOMC's announcements of Treasury purchase programs and the subsequent or contemporaneous statements by the New York Fed about the programs' operational details provide a sequence of natural experiments with the potential to shed light on the relative importance of the duration risk channel versus the local supply channel for the transmission of supply effects to the term structure of interest rates. Using intraday security-level data on Treasury securities, we conduct five event studies to document the presence of local supply effects and duration risk effects. Further, using our new measures of local supply surprise and duration risk surprise we quantify the average impact of these two supply channels on nominal Treasury yields for each of the five events. Finally, we also try to determine how the importance of these factors has changed over time and relative to the first Large Scale Asset Purchase program in 2008-09. We find that: first, once the pre-announcement market expectations are carefully controlled for, the duration risk and local supply channels together are responsible for a decline in yields averaging about 9 basis points per $100 billion over the course of these announcements; second, these two channels are almost equally important for the transmission mechanism of purchases, as on average each of these channels accounts for about half of the yields decline; third, the efficacy of these two channels does not seem to have declined over time; and fourth, the purchase and sale price reactions to the announcements are quite similar, a result potentially relevant for the unwinding of these programs.

Keywords: Yield curve, quantitative easing, LSAP, preferred habitat, limits of arbitrage

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Abstract: A growing number of studies have sought to measure the effects of non-standard policy on bank funding markets. The purpose of this paper is to carry those estimates a step further by looking at the effects of bank funding market stress on the volume of bank lending, using a simultaneous equation approach. By separately modeling loan supply and demand, we determine how non-standard central bank measures affected bank lending by reducing stress in bank funding markets. We focus on the Federal Reserve and the European Central Bank. Our results suggest that non-standard policy measures lowered bank funding volatility. Lower bank funding volatility in turn increased loan supply in both regions, contributing to sustain lending activity. We consider this as strong evidence for a "bank liquidity risk channel", operative in crisis environments, which complements the usual channels of transmission of monetary policy.

Keywords: Bank lending, non-standard policy, bank funding volatility

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Abstract: This paper describes New Deal farm mortgage debt relief programs, implemented through the Federal Land Banks and the Land Bank Commissioner. Along with the Home Owners' Loan Corporation, the analogous program for nonfarm residential mortgage borrowers, these were the first large-scale mortgage debt relief programs in US history.

Keywords: Loan modification, farm mortgages, New Deal, Great Depression

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feds 2013-32
April 2013

Analyzing Federal Reserve Asset Purchases: From whom does the Fed buy? (PDF)

Seth Carpenter, Selva Demiralp, Jane Ihrig, and Elizabeth Klee

Abstract: Asset purchases have become an important monetary policy tool of the Federal Reserve in recent years. To date, most studies of the Federal Reserve's asset purchases have tried to measure the interest rate effects of the policies. Several papers provide evidence that these programs do have important effects on longer-term market interest rates. The theory of how asset purchases work, however, is less well developed. Some of the empirical studies point to "preferred habitat" models in which investors do not have the same objectives, and therefore prefer to hold different types and maturities of securities. We exploit Flow of Funds data to assess the types of investors that are selling to the Federal Reserve and their portfolio adjustment after these sales, which could provide a view to the plausibility of preferred habitat models and the transmission of unconventional monetary policy across asset markets. We find that the Federal Reserve is ultimately buying from only a handful of investor types, primarily households, with a different reaction to changes in Federal Reserve holdings of longer-term versus shorter-term assets. Although not evident for all investors, the key participants are shown to rebalance their portfolios toward more risky assets during this period. These results can be interpreted as supporting, at least in part, the preferred habit theory and the view that the monetary policy transmission is working across asset markets.

Keywords: Quantitative easing, portfolio balancing, Federal Reserve, unconventional monetary policy, interest rates

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Abstract: Using a property-level data set of houses in Los Angeles County, I estimate that 30% of the recent surge in mortgage defaults is attributable to early home-buyers who would not have defaulted had they not borrowed against the rising value of their homes during the boom. I develop and estimate a structural model capable of explaining the patterns of both equity extraction and default observed among this group of homeowners. In the model, most of these defaults are attributable to the high loan-to-value ratios generated by this additional borrowing combined with the expectation that house prices would continue to decline. Only 30% are the result of income shocks and liquidity constraints. I use this model to analyze a policy that limits the maximum size of cash-out refinances to 80% of the current house value. I find that this restriction would reduce house prices by 14% and defaults by 28%. Despite the reduced borrowing opportunities, the welfare gain from this policy for new homeowners is equivalent to 3.2% of consumption because of their ability to purchase houses at lower prices.

Keywords: Household finance, mortgages, equity extraction, default

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feds 2013-29
May 2013

The History of Cyclical Macroprudential Policy in the United States (PDF)

Douglas J. Elliott, Greg Feldberg, and Andreas Lehnert

Abstract: Since the financial crisis of 2007-2009, policymakers have debated the need for a new toolkit of cyclical "macroprudential" policies to constrain the build-up of risks in financial markets, for example, by dampening credit-fueled asset bubbles. These discussions tend to ignore America's long and varied history with many of the instruments under consideration to smooth the credit cycle, presumably because of their sparse usage in the last three decades. We provide the first comprehensive survey and historic narrative of these efforts. The tools whose background and use we describe include underwriting standards, reserve requirements, deposit rate ceilings, credit growth limits, supervisory pressure, and other financial regulatory policy actions. The contemporary debates over these tools highlighted a variety of concerns, including "speculation," undesirable rates of inflation, and high levels of consumer spending, among others. Ongoing statistical work suggests that macroprudential tightening lowers consumer debt but macroprudential easing does not increase it.

Keywords: Macroprudential policy, financial stability, credit cycles, regulation, Federal Reserve history, credit controls

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Abstract: Debate over the U.S. federal estate tax has intensified recently as a result of the sunset provisions in the Economic Growth and Tax Relief Reconciliation Act (EGTRRA) of 2001 and changes in law passed in conjunction with the "fiscal cliff" at the end of 2012. Despite recent changes in the law, there remains an open debate regarding the extent to which prospective estates comprise assets that have been taxed previously. Using wealth data on U.S. households, we forecast changes in household wealth in the coming decade and calculate the importance of untaxed wealth in bequeathed estates. Connecting further to the debate, we investigate the impact of various policies on U.S. households. In particular, we compare policies in which the entire estate is taxed at death (estate tax) to those in which only the unrealized capital gains portion is subject to tax (capital gains tax). We estimate that the average unrealized capital gains in estates monotonically increases with the size of the estate, ranging from 13% for estates under $2 million to 55% for estates over $100 million. We also find that policies aimed at taxing the entire estate raise more revenue than those aimed at taxing unrealized gains. However, policies that tax only gains concentrate a larger portion of the tax burden on high wealth households.

Keywords: Estate tax, capital gains, tax policy, household wealth

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Abstract: We examine explanations for the secular decline in interstate migration since the 1980s. After showing that demographic and socioeconomic factors can account for little of this decrease, we present evidence suggesting that it is related to a downward trend in labor market transitions--i.e. a decline in the fraction of workers moving from job to job, changing industry, and changing occupation--that occurred over the same period. We explore a number of reasons why these flows have diminished over time, including changes in the distribution of job opportunities across space, polarization in the labor market, concerns of dual-career households, and a strengthening of internal labor markets. We find little empirical support for all but the last of these hypotheses. Specifically, using data from three cohorts of the National Longitudinal Surveys spanning the 1970s to the 2000s, we find that wage gains associated with employer transitions have fallen, possibly signaling a growing role for internal labor markets in determining wages.

Keywords: U.S. migration, trends in migration, internal labor markets, job mobility

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Abstract: One of the drivers of housing demand is the rate of new household formation, which has been well below trend in recent years, leading to persistent weakness in the housing market. This paper studies the determinants of household formation in the United States, including demographic and behavioral changes, and how they evolve over the long and short runs. There are three main findings: First, because older adults tend to live in smaller households, the aging of the U.S. population over the past 30 years has reduced the average household size, or equivalently, pushed up the headship rate and household formation. Second, after stripping out the effects of the aging population, the residual behavioral component of the headship rate has declined over time, thanks largely to rising housing costs. This shift has reduced household formation, all else equal. Finally, the short-run dynamics of headship and household formation reflect the effects of the business cycle. In particular, I find that poor labor market outcomes have played an important role in depressing the headship rate in recent years. Consequently, household formation could increase substantially as the labor market recovers and the headship rate returns to trend.

Keywords: Household formation, headship rate, housing demand

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feds 2013-25
April 2013

The Nature of Countercyclical Income Risk (PDF)

Fatih Guvenen, Serdar Ozkan, and Jae Song

Abstract: This paper studies the nature of business cycle variation in individual earnings risk using a dataset from the U.S. Social Security Administration, which contains (uncapped) earnings histories for millions of anonymous individuals. The base sample is a nationally representative panel containing 10 percent of all U.S. males from 1978 to 2010. We use these data to decompose individual earnings growth during recessions into "between-group" and "within-group" components. We begin with the behavior of within-group shocks. Contrary to past research, we do not find the variance of idiosyncratic earnings shocks to be countercyclical. Instead, it is the left-skewness of shocks that is strongly countercyclical. That is, during recessions, the upper end of the shock distribution collapses--large upward earnings movements become less likely--whereas the bottom end expands--large drops in earnings become more likely. Thus, while the dispersion of shocks does not increase, shocks become more left skewed and, hence, riskier during recessions. Second, to study between-group differences, we group individuals based on several observable characteristics at the time a recession hits. One of these characteristics--the average earnings of an individual at the beginning of a business cycle episode--proves to be an especially good predictor of fortunes during a recession: prime-age workers that enter a recession with high average earnings suffer substantially less compared with those who enter with low average earnings (such "asymmetry" is not evident in expansions). Finally, we find that the cyclical nature of earnings risk is dramatically different for the top 1 percent compared with all other individuals--even relative to those in the top 2 to 5 percent.

Keywords: Countercyclical income risk, idiosyncratic labor income

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feds 2013-24
September 2012

The Informational Content of the Embedded Deflation Option in TIPS (PDF)

Olesya V. Grishchenko, Joel M. Vanden, and Jianing Zhang

Abstract: In this paper we estimate the value of the embedded option in U.S. Treasury Inflation Protected Securities (TIPS). The option value exhibits significant time variation that is correlated with periods of deflationary expectations. We use our estimated option values to construct an embedded option price index and an embedded option return index. We then use our embedded option indices as independent variables and examine their statistical and economic significance for explaining the future inflation rate. In almost all of our regressions, the embedded option return index is significant even in the presence of traditional inflation variables, such as lagged inflation, the return on gold, the return on crude oil, the VIX index return, and the yield spread between nominal Treasuries and TIPS.We conduct several robustness tests, including alternative weighting schemes, alternative variable specifications, and alternative control variables. We conclude that the embedded option in TIPS contains useful information for future inflation, both in-sample and out-of-sample. Our results should be valuable to anyone who is interested in assessing inflationary expectations.

Keywords: TIPS, embedded option, inflation, deflation, term structure

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Abstract: Can the freedom to choose how retirement funds are invested leave workers worse off? We analyze social risks of allowing choice, using the Social Security system as an example. Comparing a privatized alternative with the current system via simulation, we document that choice in both equity allocation and equity composition lead to increased income inequality and risk of shortfalls relative to currently promised benefits. While private accounts disproportionately increase shortfall risk for low-income workers, allowing choice increases risk for all workers (even with high return outcomes). Our results suggest that restricted choice should be a central component of private-account-based systems.

Keywords: Social Security, private retirement accounts, behavioral finance

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feds 2013-22
March 2013

Early Withdrawals from Retirement Accounts During the Great Recession (PDF)

Robert Argento, Victoria L. Bryant, and John Sabelhaus

Abstract: Early withdrawals from retirement accounts are a double-edged sword, because withdrawals reduce retirement resources, but they also allow individuals to smooth consumption when they experience demographic and economic shocks. Using tax data, we show that pre-retirement withdrawals increased between 2004 and 2010, especially after 2007, but early withdrawal rates are substantial (relative to new contributions) in all of those years. Early withdrawal events are strongly correlated with shocks to income and marital status, and lower-income taxpayers are more likely to experience the types of shocks associated with early withdrawals and more likely to have a taxable withdrawal when they experience a given shock.

Keywords: Retirement plans, withdrawals

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feds 2013-21
March 2013

Financial Stability Monitoring (PDF)

Tobias Adrian, Daniel Covitz, and Nellie Liang

Abstract: While the Dodd Frank Act (DFA) broadens the regulatory reach to reduce systemic risks to the U.S. financial system, it does not address some important risks that could migrate to or emanate from entities outside the federal safety net. At the same time, it limits the types of interventions by financial authorities to address systemic events when they occur. As a result, a broad and forward-looking monitoring program, which seeks to identify financial vulnerabilities and guide the development of pre-emptive policies to help mitigate them, is essential. Systemic vulnerabilities arise from market failures that can lead to excessive leverage, maturity transformation, interconnectedness, and complexity. These vulnerabilities, when hit by adverse shocks, can lead to fire sale dynamics, negative feedback loops, and inefficient contractions in the supply of credit. We present a framework that centers on the vulnerabilities that propagate adverse shocks, rather than shocks themselves, which are difficult to predict. Vulnerabilities can emerge in four areas: (1) systemically important financial institutions (SIFIs), (2) shadow banking, (3) asset markets, and (4) the nonfinancial sector. This framework also highlights how policies that reduce the likelihood of systemic crises may do so only by raising the cost of financial intermediation in non-crisis periods.

Keywords: Stability, monitoring, vulnerabilities

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feds 2013-20
August 2011

Taxation of Human Capital and Wage Inequality: A Cross-Country Analysis (PDF)

Fatih Guvenen, Burhanettin Kuruscu, and Serdar Ozkan

Abstract: Wage inequality has been significantly higher in the United States than in continental European countries (CEU) since the 1970s. Moreover, this inequality gap has further widened during this period as the US has experienced a large increase in wage inequality, whereas the CEU has seen only modest changes. This paper studies the role of labor income tax policies for understanding these facts, focusing on male workers. We construct a life cycle model in which individuals decide each period whether to go to school, work, or stay non-employed. Individuals can accumulate skills either in school or while working. Wage inequality arises from differences across individuals in their ability to learn new skills as well as from idiosyncratic shocks. Progressive taxation compresses the (after-tax) wage structure, thereby distorting the incentives to accumulate human capital, in turn reducing the cross-sectional dispersion of (before-tax) wages. Consistent with the model, we empirically document that countries with more progressive labor income tax schedules have (i) significantly lower before-tax wage inequality at different points in time and (ii) experienced a smaller rise in wage inequality since the early 1980s. We then study the calibrated model and find that these policies can account for half of the difference between the US and the CEU in overall wage inequality and 84% of the difference in inequality at the upper end (log 90-50 differential). In a two-country comparison between the US and Germany, the combination of skill-biased technical change and changing progressivity of tax schedules explains all the difference between the evolution of inequality in these two countries since the early 1980s.

Keywords: Wage inequality, human capital, skill-biased technical change, tax policies

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Abstract: This paper presents a forecasting model of unemployment based on labor force ?ows data that, in real time, dramatically outperforms the Survey of Professional Forecasters, historical forecasts from the Federal Reserve Board's Greenbook, and basic time-series models. Our model's forecast has a root-mean-squared error about 30 percent below that of the next-best forecast in the near term and performs especially well surrounding large recessions and cyclical turning points. Further, because our model uses information on labor force ?ows that is likely not incorporated by other forecasts, a combined forecast including our model's forecast and the SPF forecast yields an improvement over the latter alone of about 35 percent for current-quarter forecasts, and 15 percent for next-quarter forecasts, as well as improvements at longer horizons.

Keywords: Unemployment, forecasting, flows

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feds 2013-18
February 2013

Uncertainty, Risk, and Incentives: Theory and Evidence (PDF)

Zhiguo He, Si Li, Bin Wei, and Jianfeng Yu

Abstract: Uncertainty has qualitatively different implications than risk in studying executive incentives. We study the interplay between profitability uncertainty and moral hazard, where profitability is multiplicative with managerial effort. Investors who face greater uncertainty desire faster learning, and consequently offer higher managerial incentives to induce higher effort from the manager. In contrast to the standard negative risk-incentive trade-off, this "learning-by-doing" effect generates a positive relation between profitability uncertainty and incentives. We document empirical support for this prediction.

Keywords: Executive compensation, optimal contracting, learning, uncertainty, risk-incentive trade-off

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Abstract: While uncovered interest parity (UIP) fails unconditionally, UIP conditional on monetary policy actions remains a cornerstone of macroeconomic models used for monetary policy analysis. We posit that monetary policy actions are partially revealed by FOMC statements and propose a new identification strategy to uncover the degree to which such policy actions induce comovement in exchange rates and long-term interest rates consistent with uncovered interest parity. We reach three conclusions. First, there is evidence in favor of UIP at long horizons, conditional on monetary policy actions, for Dollar/Euro and Dollar/Yen exchange rates. Second, short-run movements in exchange rates following monetary policy surprises are consistent with the overshooting prediction of Dornbusch (1976), although our approach cannot test UIP at short horizons. Finally, we examine the degree to which monetary policy statements since the onset of the zero-lower bound (ZLB) on the short-term interest rate in the United States have engendered different comovement between long-term interest rates and exchange rates and find little evidence for a change in relationships.

Keywords: Monetary policy, exchange rates

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Abstract: Monetary policy actions since 2008 have influenced long-term interest rates through forward guidance and quantitative easing - both "unconventional" strategies. We examine whether the effect of such actions on Treasury yields have passed through to private yields to a degree comparable to experience before 2008. In order to perform this examination, we propose a strategy to identify the comovement between Treasury yields and private yields induced by monetary policy when an observable representing policy changes, such as changes in the interbank rate, is not available, or when other systematic factors may be important. Our strategy implies that least squares regressions, even within an event window, can be misleading, and our empirical results find evidence for such misleading effects. Implementation of our instrumental variables strategy suggests that the movements in Treasury yields induced by monetary policy statements have passed through to private yields, but to a smaller degree than typical prior to the end of 2008. This may suggest that the effectiveness of unconventional policy actions in stimulating activity are attenuated relative to conventional policy actions.

Keywords: Monetary policy, Treasury yields, private yields

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Abstract: Monetary policy actions since 2008 have influenced long-term interest rates through forward guidance and quantitative easing. We propose a strategy to identify the comovement between interest rate and equity price movements induced by monetary policy when an observable representing policy changes, such as changes in the interbank rate, is not available. A decline in long-term interest rates induced by monetary policy statements prior to 2009 is accompanied by a 6- to 9-percent increase in equity prices. This association is substantially attenuated in the period since the zero-lower bound has been binding - with a policy-induced 100 basis-point decline in 10-year Treasury yields associated with a 1- to 3-percent increase in equity prices. Empirical analysis suggests this attenuation does not represent a change in responses to monetary-policy induced movements in interest rates, but reflects the importance of both short- and long-term interest rates.

Keywords: Monetary policy, stock market

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Abstract: We develop two novel approaches to solving for the Laplace transform of a time-changed stochastic process. We discard the standard assumption that the background process is Levy. Maintaining the assumption that the business clock and the background process are independent, we develop two different series solutions for the Laplace transform of the time-changed process. In fact, our methods apply not only to Laplace transforms, but more generically to expectations of smooth functions of random time. We apply the methods to introduce stochastic time change to the standard class of default intensity models of credit risk, and show that stochastic time-change has a very large effect on the pricing of deep out-of-the-money options on credit default swaps.

Keywords: Stochastic time change, default intensity, credit risk, CDS options

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Abstract: Credit to consumers and business is critical to the efficient functioning of the U.S. economy, and finance companies are a key source of such credit. Every five years, the Federal Reserve conducts a two-part survey: the Census of Finance Companies (CFC) to identify the universe of such firms and the Survey of Finance Companies (SFC) to obtain balance-sheet data from firms identified in the CFC. In 2010, this survey underwent a major revision that addressed both the absence of a comprehensive list frame and low response rates. A follow-up study of nonrespondents to the CFC was conducted to obtain information on the operating status of the unobserved firms, and their status as a finance company under the definitions of the CFC. An important complication was the presence of complicated tangles of firms within a corporate hierarchy, whereas the CFC intended to include the consolidated assets of the highest-level parent finance company in such a hierarchy; the follow-up was designed to provide information to estimate the extent of such relationships in the initial sample data. This paper describes the way the CFC and the follow-up were used to construct an estimate of the universe of finance companies.

Keywords: Survey redesign, coverage error, frame error, non-response error, population estimation

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Abstract: This paper studies the welfare consequences of exogenous variations in trend inflation in a New Keynesian economy. Consumption and leisure respond asymmetrically to a rise and a decline in trend inflation. As a result, an increase in the variance of shocks to the trend inflation process decreases welfare not only by increasing the volatilities of consumption and leisure, but also by decreasing their average levels. I find that the welfare cost of drifting trend inflation is modest and that it comes mainly from reduced average levels of consumption and leisure, not from their increased volatilities.

Keywords: Great inflation, second-order approximation, trend inflation, welfare

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Abstract: Efforts in the United States to promote bank liquidity through reserve requirements, a minimum ratio of liquid assets relative to liabilities, extend at least as far back as the aftermath of the Panic of 1837. These requirements were quite important during the National Banking Era. Nevertheless, suspensions of deposit convertibility and liquidity shortfalls continued to occur during banking panics. Eventually, efforts to ensure that banks remained liquid resulted in a shift away from reserve requirements in favor of a central bank able to add liquidity to the financial system. This paper reviews the issues raised in the historical debates about reserve requirements along with some empirical evidence on banks' holdings of reserves, to provide some insights and lessons that are relevant today. A key lesson is that individual bank liquidity during stress periods is inherently and intricately tied to the liquidity policies of the central bank.

Keywords: Reserve requirements, bank liquidity, lender of last resort, banking panic

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Abstract: This paper studies how the collapse of the asset backed securities (ABS) market during the financial crisis of 2007-2009 affected the supply of credit to the broader economy using a new dataset that describes unique interbank relationships within the credit union industry. This industry is important for consumer finance, and we find that ABS related losses at correspondent credit unions are associated with a large contraction in the supply of consumer credit and a hoarding of cash among downstream credit unions. We also find that this contraction in credit supply was concentrated among downstream credit unions that began the crisis with lower capital asset ratios, and that it may have amplified the initial decline in house prices. These results suggest that capital regulation might shape the ability of financial institutions to transmit securities price volatility onto the real economy.

Keywords: Asset backed securities, credit supply, credit unions

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Abstract: This paper examines how the presence of uncertainty alters allocations and prices when the nominal interest rate is constrained by the zero lower bound. I conduct the analysis using a standard New Keynesian model in which the nominal interest rate is determined according to a truncated Taylor rule. I find that an increase in the variance of shocks to the discount factor process reduces consumption, inflation, and output by a substantially larger amount when the zero lower bound is binding than when it is not. Due to the zero lower bound constraint, policy functions for the real interest rates and the marginal costs of production are highly convex and concave, respectively. As a result, a mean-preserving spread in the shock distribution increases the expectation of future real interest rates and decreases the expectation of future real marginal costs, which lead forward-looking households and firms to reduce consumption and set lower prices today. The more flexible prices are, the larger the effects of uncertainty are at the zero lower bound.

Keywords: Occasionally binding constraints, liquidity trap, zero lower bound, uncertainty

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Abstract: Beaudry and Portier (American Economic Review, 2006) propose an identification scheme to study the effects of news shocks about future productivity in Vector Error Correction Models (VECM). This comment shows that their methodology does not have a unique solution, when applied to their VECMs with more than two variables. The problem arises from the interplay of cointegration assumptions and long-run restrictions imposed by Beaudry and Portier (2006).

Keywords: Vector Error Correction Model, long-run restrictions, news shocks

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feds 2013-07
November 2012

A Test for Selection in Matched Administrative Earnings Data (PDF)

Jesse Bricker and Gary V. Engelhardt

Abstract: We test whether individuals in the Health and Retirement Study who consented to have administrative earnings data matched to survey responses represent a non-random sample. For both men and women, there is a general pattern of negative selection across three measures of pre-entry labor-market behavior: labor-force participation, self-employment, and earnings. However, for some outcomes the estimates are not precise enough to draw firm conclusions. The strongest results are that men who consented were 4.7 percentage points less likely to be self-employed than those who did not, and women who consented earned 13 percent less than those who did not.

Keywords: Sample selection, administrative data, survey data

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Abstract: We study cross-country differences in price and quality in the market for semiconductor wafer manufacturing services. Using a proprietary transaction-level data set, we document i) substantial constant-quality price differences across suppliers, and ii) shifts toward lower priced suppliers. Chinese producers on average charged 17% less than leading Taiwanese producers for otherwise identical products and increased their market share by 14.7 percentage points. The extent of cross-country price dispersion is also diminishing over a product's life. A model with costs of switching suppliers is consistent with these pricing dynamics and can sustain realistic quality-adjusted price dispersion.

Keywords: Pricing, intra-industry trade

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Abstract: This paper explores the empirical relationship between government debt and future macroeconomic activity using data on twenty advanced economies throughout the post-war era. We use robust inference techniques to deal with the bias arising from the persistent nature of debt to GDP ratio as an endogenous predictor of GDP growth. Our results show that statistical significance of the coefficient on the debt ratio in predictive regressions changes considerably with the use of robust inference techniques. For countries with relatively low average debt ratios we find a negative threshold effect as their debt ratios increase toward moderate levels. For countries with chronically high debt ratios, GDP growth slows as relative government debt increases, but we find no significant threshold effect.

Keywords: Government debt, GDP growth, near unit-root process, threshold, subsampling, threshold, subsampling

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Abstract: This paper examines the geographic variation in Medicare and non-Medicare health spending and finds little support for the view that most of the variation is attributable to differences in practice styles. Instead, I find that socioeconomic factors that affect the need for medical care, as well as interactions between the Medicare system, Medicaid, and private health spending, can account for most of the variation in Medicare spending. Furthermore, I find that the health spending of the non-Medicare population is not well correlated with Medicare spending, suggesting that Medicare spending is not a good proxy for average health spending by state. Finally, there is a negative correlation between the level and growth of Medicare spending: Low-spending states are not low-growth states and are thus unlikely to provide the key to curbing excess cost growth in Medicare.

The paper also explores the econometric differences between controlling for health attributes at the state level vs the individual level. I show that a state-level approach is better at controlling for health attributes and argue that this econometric difference likely explains most of the difference between my results and those of the Dartmouth group.

More broadly, the paper shows that the geographic variation in health spending does not provide a useful measure of the inefficiencies of our health system. States where Medicare spending is high are very different in multiple dimensions from states where Medicare spending is low, and thus it is difficult to isolate the effects of differences in health spending intensity from the effects of the differences in the underlying state characteristics. I show, for example, that the relationships between health spending, physician composition and quality are likely the result of omitted factors rather than the result of causal relationships.

Keywords: Geographic variation, medicare spending, health spending, Dartmouth

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Abstract: I test and find supporting evidence for the precautionary motive hypothesis of liquidity hoarding for U.S. commercial banks during the recent financial crisis. I find that banks held more liquid assets in anticipation of future losses from securities write-downs. Exposure to securities losses in their investment portfolios and expected loan losses (measured by loan loss reserves) represent key measures of banks' on-balance sheet risks, in addition to off-balance sheet liquidity risk stemming from unused loan commitments. Furthermore, unrealized securities losses and loan loss reserves seem to better capture the risks stemming from banks' asset management and provide supporting evidence for the precautionary nature of liquidity hoarding. Moreover, I find that more than one-fourth of the reduction in bank lending during the crisis is due to the precautionary motive.

Keywords: Financial crisis, liquidity risk, banks

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feds 2013-02
November 2012

Financing Constraints, Firm Dynamics, and International Trade (3 MB PDF)

Till Gross and Stephane Verani

Note: This paper is a revised version of FEDS Working Paper #2012-68.

Abstract: There is growing empirical support for the conjecture that access to credit is an important determinant of firms' export decisions. We study a multi-country general equilibrium economy in which entrepreneurs and lenders engage in long-term credit relationships. Financial constraints arise as a consequence of financial contracts that are optimal under private information. Consistent with empirical regularities, the model implies that older and larger firms have lower average and more stable growth rates, and are more likely to survive. Exporters are larger, their survival in international markets increases with the time spent exporting, and the sales of older exporters are larger and more stable.

Keywords: Private information, long-term financial contracts, exporter dynamics, international trade, financial intermediation

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feds 2013-01
January 2013

The Federal Reserve's Balance Sheet and Earnings: A primer and projections (PDF)

Seth B. Carpenter, Jane E. Ihrig, Elizabeth C. Klee, Daniel W. Quinn, and Alexander H. Boote

Abstract: Over the past few years, the Federal Reserve's use of unconventional monetary policy tools has led it to hold a large portfolio of securities. The asset purchases are intended to put downward pressure on longer-term interest rates, but also affect the Federal Reserve's balance sheet and income. We present a framework for projecting Federal Reserve assets and liabilities and income through time. The projections are based on public economic forecasts and announced Federal Open Market Committee policy principles. The projections imply that for the next several years, the Federal Reserve's balance sheet remains large by historical standards, and earnings remain high. Using the FOMC's stated exit strategy principles and the Blue Chip financial forecasts of the federal funds rate, the projections have the Federal Reserve's portfolio beginning to contract in 2015, returning to a more normal size in 2018 or 2019, and returning to a more normal composition a year thereafter. The projections imply that Federal Reserve remittances to the Treasury may decline for a time, and in some cases fall to zero. Once the portfolio is normalized, earnings are projected to return to their long-run trend. On net over the entire period of unconventional monetary policy actions, cumulative earnings are higher than what they might have been without the Federal Reserve asset purchase programs. To illustrate the interest rate sensitivity of the portfolio, we consider scenarios where interest rates are 100 basis points higher or lower than in the baseline. With higher interest rates, earnings tend to fall a bit more and remittances to the Treasury stop for a longer period than in our baseline projections, while with lower interest rates earnings are a bit larger and remittances continue throughout the projection period.

Keywords: Federal Reserve's balance sheet, unconventional monetary policy, monetary policy implementation

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