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Working Papers

Federal Reserve Bank of St. Louis working papers are preliminary materials circulated to stimulate discussion and critical comment.

Recent Working Papers

An Empirical Analysis of the Cost of Borrowing

We examine borrowing costs for firms using a security-level database with bank loans and corporate bonds issued by U.S. companies. We find significant within-firm dispersion in borrowing rates, even after controlling for security and firm observable characteristics. Obtaining a bank loan is 132 basis points cheaper than issuing a bond, after accounting for observable factors. Changes in borrowing costs have persistent negative impacts on firm-level outcomes, such as investment and borrowing, and these effects vary across sectors. These findings contribute to our understanding of borrowing costs and their implications for corporate policies and performance.

Sovereign Debt Restructuring and Credit Recovery

This paper focuses on the significant growth of domestic credit once the debt is restructured and shows that is not correlated with the size of the haircut. Second, it performs an event study around Ecuador’s sovereign default and restructuring of 2008-2009 to study changes in domestic bank lending behavior. After external debt restructuring, private lending increased the most for banks highly exposed to public debt. Finally, it provides a simple model were uncertainty about the return on government external debt during default has spillover effects on the domestic economy by creating dispersion in beliefs across domestic banks, which leads to a misallocation of credit. External debt restructuring eliminates domestic belief heterogeneity by making the return on bonds observable to everyone. This simple framing is not only consistent with the substantial growth in domestic credit upon debt restructuring but also with its independence from the haircut size observed in the data.

The St. Louis Fed DSGE Model

This document contains a technical description of the dynamic stochastic general equilibrium (DSGE) model developed and maintained by the Research Division of the St. Louis Fed as one of its tools for forecasting and policy analysis. The St. Louis Fed model departs from an otherwise standard medium-scale New Keynesian DSGE model along two main dimensions: first, it allows for household heterogeneity, in the form of workers and capitalists, who have different marginal propensities to consume (MPC). Second, it explicitly models a fiscal sector endowed with multiple spending and revenue instruments, such as social transfers and distortionary income taxes. Both of these features make the model well-suited for the analysis of fiscal policy counterfactuals, and monetary-fiscal interactions. We describe how the model is estimated using historical data for the US economy and how the COVID-19 pandemic is accounted for. Some examples of model output are presented and discussed.

Why Are the Wealthiest So Wealthy? New Longitudinal Empirical Evidence and Implications for Theories of Wealth Inequality

Correct order of authors: Hubmer, Halvorsen, Salgado, Ozkan. We use 1993--2015 Norwegian administrative panel data on wealth and income to study lifecycle wealth dynamics. By employing a novel budget constraint approach, we show that at age 50 the excess wealth of the top 0.1%, relative to mid-wealth households, is accounted for by higher saving rates (38%), inheritances (34%), returns (23%), and labor income (5%). One-fourth of the wealthiest---the "New Money"---start with negative wealth but experience rapid wealth growth early in life. Relative to the "Old Money," the New Money are characterized by even higher saving rates, returns, and labor income. We use these dynamic facts to test six commonly used models of wealth inequality. Although these models can generate the high concentration of wealth seen in the cross-section, they tend to put too much weight on (accidental) bequests and fail to capture the contribution of the New Money. A model with heterogeneous returns that decrease in wealth, and non-homothetic preferences is consistent with the new facts on the dynamics of wealth accumulation.

Work from Home and Interstate Migration

Interstate migration by working-age adults in the US declined substantially during the Great Recession and remained subdued through 2019. We document that interstate migration rose sharply following the 2020 Covid-19 outbreak, nearly recovering to pre-Great recession levels, and provide evidence that this reversal was primarily driven by the rise in work from home (WFH). Before the pandemic, interstate migration by WFH workers was consistently 50% higher than for commuters. Since the Covid-19 outbreak, this migration gap persisted while the WFH share tripled. Using quasi-panel data and plausibly exogenous changes in employer WFH policies, we address concerns about omitted variables or reverse causality and conclude that access to WFH induces greater interstate migration. An aggregate accounting exercise suggests that over half of the rise in interstate migration since 2019 can be accounted for by the rise in the WFH share. Moreover, both actual WFH and pre-pandemic WFH potential, based on occupation shares, can account for a sizable share of cross-state variation in migration.

A Theoretical Treatment of Foreign Fighters and Terrorism

The paper offers a game-theoretical model that includes three participants – the terrorist organization, its foreign fighters, and the adversarial host government. In stage 1, the terrorist group induces foreign fighters to emigrate through wage incentives, while the host government deters these fighters through proactive border security. Foreign fighters decide whether to emigrate from their source country (extensive margin) in stage 2, after which these fighters determine their level of attacks (intensive margin) in stage 3. Comparative statics to the Nash equilibrium are tied to changes in the employment or opportunity cost in the source country, as well as to changes in radicalization. Our basic model provides a theoretical foundation to recent empirical results. An extension involves a four-stage game with the host government assuming a leadership role prior to the terrorist group choosing its wage incentive.

After 40 Years, How Representative Are Labor Market Outcomes in the NLSY79?

In 1979, the National Longitudinal Study of Youth 1979 (NLSY79) began following a group of US residents born between 1957 and 1964. It has continued to re-interview these same individuals for more than four decades. Despite this long sampling period, attrition remains modest. This paper shows that after 40 years of data collection, the remaining NLYS79 sample continues to be broadly representative of their national cohorts with regard to key labor market outcomes. For NLSY79 age cohorts, life-cycle profiles of employment, hours worked, and earnings are comparable to those in the Current Population Survey. Moreover, average lifetime earnings over the age range 25 to 55 closely align with the same measure in Social Security Administration data. Our results suggest that the NLSY79 can continue to provide useful data for economists and other social scientists studying life-cycle and lifetime labor market outcomes, including earnings inequality.

Diffusion of new technologies

CORRECT ORDER OF AUTHORS: Aakash Kalyani, Nicholas Bloom, Marcela Carvalho, Tarek Hassan, Josh Lerner, and Ahmed Tahoun. We identify phrases associated with novel technologies using textual analysis of patents, job postings, and earnings calls, enabling us to identify four stylized facts on the diffusion of jobs relating to new technologies. First, the development of new technologies is geographically highly concentrated, more so even than overall patenting: 56% of the economically most impactful technologies come from just two U.S. locations, Silicon Valley and the Northeast Corridor. Second, as the technologies mature and the number of related jobs grows, hiring spreads geographically. But this process is very slow, taking around 50 years to disperse fully. Third, while initial hiring in new technologies is highly skill biased, over time the mean skill level in new positions declines, drawing in an increasing number of lower-skilled workers. Finally, the geographic spread of hiring is slowest for higher-skilled positions, with the locations where new technologies were pioneered remaining the focus for the technology’s high-skill jobs for decades.

The Creativity Decline: Evidence from US Patents

Economists have long struggled to understand why aggregate productivity growth has dropped in recent decades while the number of new patents filed has steadily increased. I offer an explanation for this puzzling divergence: the creativity embodied in US patents has dropped dramatically over time. To separate creative from derivative patents, I develop a novel, text-based measure of patent creativity: the share of technical terminology that did not appear in previous patents. I show that only creative and not derivative patents are associated with significant improvements in firm level productivity. Using the measure, I show that inventors on average file creative patents upon entry, and file derivative patents with more experience. I embed this life-cycle of creativity in a growth model with endogenous creation and imitation of technologies. In this model, falling population growth explains 27% of the observed decline in patent creativity, 30% of the slowdown in productivity growth, and 64% of the increase in patenting.

Consumption Dynamics and Welfare Under Non-Gaussian Earnings Risk

CORRECT ORDER OF AUTHORS: Fatih Guvenen, Serdar Ozkan, and Rocio Madera. The order of coauthors has been assigned randomly using AEA’s Author Randomization Tool. Recent empirical studies document that the distribution of earnings changes displays substantial deviations from lognormality: in particular, earnings changes are negatively skewed with extremely high kurtosis (long and thick tails), and these non-Gaussian features vary substantially both over the life cycle and with the earnings level of individuals. Furthermore, earnings changes display nonlinear (asymmetric) mean reversion. In this paper, we embed a very rich “benchmark earnings process” that captures these non-Gaussian and nonlinear features into a lifecycle consumption-saving model and study its implications for consumption dynamics, consumption insurance, and welfare. We show four main results. First, the benchmark process essentially matches the empirical lifetime earnings inequality—a first-order proxy for consumption inequality—whereas the canonical Gaussian (persistent-plus-transitory) process understates it by a factor of five to ten. Second, the welfare cost of idiosyncratic risk implied by the benchmark process is between two-to-four times higher than the canonical Gaussian one. Third, the standard method in the literature for measuring the pass-through of income shocks to consumption—can significantly overstate the degree of consumption smoothing possible under non-Gaussian shocks. Fourth, the marginal propensity to consume out of transitory income (e.g., from a stimulus check) is higher under non-Gaussian earnings risk.

Sluggish news reactions: A combinatorial approach for synchronizing stock jumps

Stock prices often react sluggishly to news, producing gradual jumps and jump delays. Econometricians typically treat these sluggish reactions as microstructure effects and settle for a coarse sampling grid to guard against them. Synchronizing mistimed stock returns on a fine sampling grid allows us to better approximate the true common jumps in related stock prices.

The Adoption of Non-Rival Inputs and Firm Scope

Custom software is distinct from other types of capital in that it is non-rival---once a firm makes an investment in custom software, it can be used simultaneously across its many establishments. Using confidential US Census data, we document that while firms with more establishments are more likely to invest in custom software, they spend less on it as a share of total capital expenditure. We explain these empirical patterns by developing a model that incorporates the non-rivalry of custom software. In the model, firms choose whether to adopt custom software, the intensity of their investment, and their scope, balancing the cost of managing multiple establishments with the increasing returns to scope from the non-rivalrous custom software investment. Using the calibrated model, we assess the extent to which the decline in the rental rate of custom software over the past 40 years can account for a number of macroeconomic trends, including increases in firm scope and concentration.

Trade Risk and Food Security

We study the role of international trade risk for food security, the patterns of production and trade across sectors, and its implications for policy. We document that food import dependence across countries is associated with higher food insecurity, particularly in low-income countries. We provide causal evidence on the role of trade risk for food security by exploiting the exogeneity of the Ukraine-Russia war as a major trade disruption limiting access to imports of critical food products. Using micro-level data from Ethiopia, we empirically show that districts relatively more exposed to food imports from the conflict countries experienced a significant increase in food insecurity by consuming fewer varieties of foods. Motivated by this evidence, we develop a multi-country multi-sector model of trade and structural change with stochastic trade costs to study the impact and policy implications of trade risk. In the model, importers operate subject to limited liability and trade off the production cost advantage against the risk of higher trade costs when sourcing goods internationally. We find that trade risk can threaten food security, with substantial quantitative effects on trade flows and the sectoral composition of economic activity. We study the desirability of trade policy and production subsidies in partially mitigating exposure to trade risk and diversifying domestic economic activity.

Where Did the Workers Go? The Effect of COVID Immigration Restrictions on Post-Pandemic Labor Market Tightness

During the COVID pandemic there were unprecedented shortfalls in immigration. At the same time, during the economic recovery, the labor market was tight, with the number of vacancies per unemployed worker reaching 2.5, more than twice its pre-pandemic average. In this paper, we investigate whether these two trends are linked. We do not find evidence to support the hypothesis that the immigration shortfalls caused the tight labor market for two reasons. First, at the peak, we were missing about 2 million immigrant workers, but this number had largely recovered by February 2022 just as the labor market was becoming tight. Second, states, cities, and industries that were most impacted by the immigration restrictions did not have larger increases in labor market tightness. We build a shift-share instrument to examine the causal impact of the immigration restrictions and still find no evidence to support the hypothesis that the immigration restrictions were the underlying cause of increased labor market tightness.

Structural Change and the Rise in Markups

Is the recent rise in markups caused by increased monopoly power or is it a natural consequence of structural change? I show that the rise in aggregate markups has been driven by a reallocation of market share away from non-services to services-producing firms and a faster increase of services’ markups. I develop a two-sector model to assess the sources of the rise in markups, in which the two forces of structural change play opposing roles. On one hand, an increase in the relative productivity of manufacturing leads to a decline of the relative price of manufactured goods and to an increase of the goods markups. On the other hand, the increase in incomes that triggers the rise of the services sector leads to higher markups for firms in services. I show that the rise in markups is in line with the rise of the services sector and the fall of the relative price of manufactured goods, and may not necessarily reflect a decline of competition. I provide novel experimental evidence supporting the notion that the price elasticity of demand decreases with income.

Heterogeneous Responses to Job Mobility Shocks in a HANK Model with a Frictional Labor Market


Cross-border Patenting, Globalization, and Development

We build a quantitative model that captures the relationships between cross-border patenting, globalization, and development. Our theory delivers a ‘structural gravity’ equation for cross-border patents. To test the model’s predictions, we compile a new dataset that tracks patents within and between countries and industries over time. The econometric analysis reveals a strong, positive impact of policy and globalization on cross-border patent flows between 1995 and 2018, especially from North to South. A counterfactual analysis shows these North-to-South flows benefited both regions, with larger gains in the South, especially after 2000, thus reducing global income inequality.

Risk Management in Monetary Policymaking: The 1994-95 Fed Tightening Episode

The 1994-95 Fed tightening episode was one of the most notable in the Fed’s history. First, the FOMC raised the policy rate by 300 basis points in a year, even though headline and core inflation were trending lower prior to the liftoff that occurred in February 1994. Second, the Fed’s actions caught the Treasury market by surprise, triggering a sharp decline in long-term bond prices. Third, Fed Chair Alan Greenspan and the Federal Open Market Committee were regularly surprised that inflation was not rising by more than the forecasts suggested during the episode. This article presents some evidence that the Greenbook forecast systemically, albeit modestly, overpredicted CPI inflation during the tightening period. Greenspan eventually concluded that the nascent strengthening in labor productivity growth that was a key factor in restraining the growth of unit labor costs, and thus in keeping inflation pressures in check. At the same time, the success of the episode stemmed importantly from the decision by Greenspan and the FOMC to increase the policy rate to a level deemed restrictive for most of 1995. This effort reduced longer-run inflation expectations without triggering a recession. By that metric the 1994-95 tightening episode was a roaring success. Although not the focus of this article, the 1994-95 tightening episode holds important lessons for the FOMC in late 2023, which is attempting to defuse a sharp and unexpected increase in headline and core inflation to levels not seen since the early 1980s without triggering a recession.

Bootstrapping out-of-sample predictability tests with real-time data

In this paper we develop a block bootstrap approach to out-of-sample inference when real-time data are used to produce forecasts. In particular, we establish its first-order asymptotic validity for West-type (1996) tests of predictive ability in the presence of regular data revisions. This allows the user to conduct asymptotically valid inference without having to estimate the asymptotic variances derived in Clark and McCracken’s (2009) extension of West (1996) when data are subject to revision. Monte Carlo experiments indicate that the bootstrap can provide satisfactory finite sample size and power even in modest sample sizes. We conclude with an application to inflation forecasting that adapts the results in Ang et al. (2007) to the presence of real-time data.

What about Japan?

As a result of the Bank of Japan's large-scale asset purchases, the consolidated Japanese government borrows mostly at the floating rate from households and invests in longer-duration risky assets to earn an more than 3% of GDP in expectation. We quantify the impact of Japan's low-rate policies on its government and households. Because of the duration mismatch on the government balance sheet, the government's fiscal space expands when real rates decline, allowing the government to keep its promises to older Japanese households. A typical younger Japanese household does not have enough duration in its portfolio to continue to finance its spending plan and will be worse off. Low-rate policies tend to tax younger and less financially sophisticated households.

A journal ranking based on central bank citations

We present a ranking of journals geared toward measuring the policy relevance of research. We compute simple impact factors that count only citations made in central bank publications, such as their working paper series. Whereas this ranking confirms the policy relevance of the major general interest journals in the field of economics, the major finance journals fare less favourably. Journals specialising in monetary economics, international economics and financial intermediation feature highly, but surprisingly not those specialising in econometrics. The ranking is topped by the Brookings Papers on Economic Activity, followed by the Quarterly Journal of Economics and the Journal of Monetary Economics, the American Economic Journal: Macroeconomics, and the Journal of Political Economy.

On the Transition to Modern Growth: Lessons from Recent Agricultural Employment

We study a model where a single good can be produced using a diminishing-returns technology (Malthus) and a constant-returns technology (Solow). We map the Malthus technology to agriculture and show that the share of agricultural employment declines at a constant rate. Using a few recent observations on the share, we estimate the onset of transition for the U.S. and Western Europe without using output data. We show that output growth is higher after the estimated onset of transition than it is before. Our model implies that output growth during the transition is a first-order autoregressive process and that the rate of decline in the share of agricultural employment is a sufficient statistic for the autoregressive coefficient. Quantitatively, while there is no a priori reason that recent agricultural employment would pin down output dynamics over two centuries, the autoregressive coefficient is practically the same as the one implied by the decline in agricultural employment. This quantitative result holds for developing economies as well.

Income Differences and Health Disparities: Roles of Preventive vs. Curative Medicine

Using data from the Medical Expenditure Panel Survey (MEPS) I find that early in life the rich spend significantly more on health care, whereas from middle to very old age the poor outspend the rich by 25% in the US. Furthermore, while low-income individuals are less likely to incur medical expenses, they are more prone to experiencing extreme expenses when they do seek care. To account for these facts, I develop and estimate a life-cycle model of two types of health capital: physical and preventive. Physical health capital determines survival probabilities, whereas preventive health capital governs the distribution of shocks to physical health capital, thereby controlling life expectancy. Moreover, I incorporate key features of the US health care system, including private and public health insurance. Because of their lower marginal utility of consumption, the rich spend more on preventive care, resulting in milder health shocks (and lower curative medical expenditures) in old age compared to the poor. Notably, public insurance, which by design covers large expenditures, amplifies these differences by hampering the poor's incentives to invest in preventive health. Therefore, the model also implies a widening life expectancy gap between income groups in response to rising inequality. Policy experiments suggest that expanding health insurance coverage and subsidizing preventive care to encourage health care use by the poor early in life can generate substantial welfare gains, even when accounting for the higher taxes required to finance them.

Real Wage Growth at the Micro Level

This paper investigates patterns in real wage growth in 2022 to determine whether wages have kept up with rising price levels, and how this differs among labor market participants. Using the CPS for wages and imputing expenditure data from the CEX, we measure separately nominal wage growth and inflation rates at the micro level. We find that there is more heterogeneity in the former, meaning that when we combine them, an individual’s real wage growth is primarily driven by their nominal wage growth. In 2022, 57% of individuals experienced negative real wage growth, with older and less educated workers, as well as job-stayers, being hit the hardest. Conversely, younger and highly educated workers, as well as job-switchers, had higher real wage growth.

Marriage Market Sorting in the U.S.

We study the multidimensional sorting of males and females in the U.S. marriage market over the past decade using a model of targeted search. We find strong vertical sorting on income and education, and horizontal sorting on race. We find that women put significant effort into targeting men at the top of the desirability scale, while men put less effort and target women with similar characteristics. We find no improvement in quality of matching and no noticeable changes in sorting patterns or individual search behavior, despite rapid improvement in search technology. Finally, we find that targeted search substantially reduces income inequality across married couples, even when compared with random matching, by producing a large number of matches between low income and high income individuals.

Uncovering the Differences among Displaced Workers: Evidence from Canadian Job Separation Records

We revisit the measurement of the sources and consequences of job displacement using Canadian job separation records. To circumvent administrative data limitations, conventional approaches address selection by identifying displacement effects through mass-layoff separations, which are interpreted as involuntary. We refine this procedure and find that only a quarter of mass-layoff separations are indeed layoffs. Isolating mass-layoff separations that reflect involuntary displacement, we find twice the earnings losses relative to existing estimates. We uncover heterogeneity in losses for separations with different reason and timing, ranging from 15 percent for quits after a mass layoff to 60 percent for layoffs before it.

Impulse Response Functions for Self-Exciting Nonlinear Models

We calculate impulse response functions from regime-switching models where the driving variable can respond to the shock. Two methods used to estimate the impulse responses in these models are generalized impulse response functions and local projections. Local projections depend on the observed switches in the data, while generalized impulse response functions rely on correctly specifying regime process. Using Monte Carlos with different misspecifications, we determine under what conditions either method is preferred. We then extend model-average impulse responses to this nonlinear environment and show that they generally perform better than either generalized impulse response functions and local projections. Finally, we apply these findings to the empirical estimation of regime-dependent fiscal multipliers and find multipliers less than one and generally small differences across different states of slack.

Growth-at-Risk is Investment-at-Risk

We investigate the role financial conditions play in the composition of U.S. growth-at-risk. We document that, by a wide margin, growth-at-risk is investment-at-risk. That is, if financial conditions indicate U.S. real GDP growth will be in the lower tail of its conditional distribution, we know that the main contributor is a decline in investment. Consumption contributes under extreme financial stress. Government spending and net exports do not play a role.

Trade Liberalization versus Protectionism: Dynamic Welfare Asymmetries

We investigate whether the losses from an increase in trade costs (protectionism) are equal to the gains from a symmetric decrease in trade costs (liberalization). We incorporate dynamics through capital accumulation into a multicountry trade model and show that the welfare changes are asymmetric: Losses from protectionism are smaller than the gains from liberalization. In contrast, standard static trade models imply that the losses equal the gains. The intuition for asymmetry in our model is that, following protectionism, the economy can coast on its previously accumulated capital stock, so higher trade costs do not imply large losses immediately. We develop an accounting device to decompose the source of welfare asymmetries into three time-varying contributions: share of income allocated to consumption, measured productivity, and capital stock. Asymmetry in capital accumulation is the largest contributing factor, and measured productivity is the smallest.

How Much Should We Trust Regional-Exposure Designs?

Many prominent studies in macroeconomics, labor, and trade use panel data on regions to identify the local effects of aggregate shocks. These studies construct regional-exposure instruments as an observed aggregate shock times an observed regional exposure to that shock. We argue that the most economically plausible source of identification in these settings is uncorrelatedness of observed and unobserved aggregate shocks. Even when the regression estimator is consistent, we show that inference is complicated by cross-regional residual correlations induced by unobserved aggregate shocks. We suggest two-way clustering, two-way heteroskedasticity- and autocorrelation-consistent standard errors, and randomization inference as options to solve this inference problem. We also develop a feasible optimal instrument to improve efficiency. In an application to the estimation of regional fiscal multipliers, we show that the standard practice of clustering by region generates confidence intervals that are too small. When we construct confidence intervals with robust methods, we can no longer reject multipliers close to zero at the 95% level. The feasible optimal instrument more than doubles statistical power; however, we still cannot reject low multipliers. Our results underscore that the precision promised by regional data may disappear with correct inference.

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