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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

Fiscal Policy during a Pandemic

I use a dynamic stochastic general equilibrium model to study the effects of the 2019-20 coronavirus pandemic in the United States. The pandemic is modeled as a large negative shock to the utility of consumption of contact-intensive services. General equilibrium forces propagate this negative shock to the non-services and financial sectors, triggering a deep recession. I use a calibrated version of the model to analyze different types of fiscal policies: (i) government purchases, (ii) income tax cuts, (iii) unemployment insurance benefits, (iv) unconditional transfers, and (v) liquidity assistance to services firms. I find that UI benefits are the most effective tool to stabilize income for borrowers, who are the hardest hit, while savers favor unconditional transfers. Liquidity assistance programs are effective if the policy objective is to stabilize employment in the affected sector.

FRED-QD: A Quarterly Database for Macroeconomic Research

In this paper we present and describe a large quarterly frequency, macroeconomic database. The data provided are closely modeled to that used in Stock and Watson (2012a). As in our previous work on FRED-MD, our goal is simply to provide a publicly available source of macroeconomic “big data” that is updated in real time using the FRED database. We show that factors extracted from this data set exhibit similar behavior to those extracted from the original Stock and Watson data set. The dominant factors are shown to be insensitive to outliers, but outliers do affect the relative influence of the series as indicated by leverage scores. We then investigate the role unit root tests play in the choice of transformation codes with an emphasis on identifying instances in which the unit root-based codes differ from those already used in the literature. Finally, we show that factors extracted from our data set are useful for forecasting a range of macroeconomic series and that the choice of transformation codes can contribute substantially to the accuracy of these forecasts.

The 2008 U.S. Auto Market Collapse

New vehicle sales in the U.S. fell nearly 40 percent during the past recession, causing significant job losses and unprecedented government interventions in the auto industry. This paper explores three potential explanations for this decline: increasing oil prices, falling home values, and falling household income expectations. First, we use the historical macroeconomic relationship between oil prices and vehicle sales to show that the oil price spike explains roughly 15 percent of the auto sales decline between 2007 and 2009. Second, we establish that declining home values explain only a small portion of the observed reduction in household new vehicle sales. Using a county-level panel from the episode, we find (1) a one-dollar fall in home values reduced household new vehicle spending by 0.5 to 0.7 cents and overall new vehicle spending by 0.9 to 1.2 cents and (2) falling home values explain between 16 and 19 percent of the overall new vehicle spending decline. Next, examining state-level data for 1997-2016, we find (3) the short-run responses of new vehicle consumption to home value changes are larger in the 2005-2011 period relative to other years, but at longer horizons (e.g. 5 years), the responses are similar across the two sub-periods and (4) the service flow from vehicles, as measured by miles traveled, responds very little to house price shocks. We also detail the sources of the differences between our findings (1) and (2) from existing research. Third, we establish that declining current and expected future income expectations potentially played an important role in the auto market's collapse. We build a permanent income model augmented to include infrequent repeated car buying. Our calibrated model matches the pre-recession distribution of auto vintages and the liquid-wealth-to-income ratio, and exhibits a large vehicle sales decline in response to a mild decline in expected permanent income due to a transitory slowdown in income growth. In response to the shock, households delay replacing existing vehicles, allowing them to smooth the effects of the income shock without significantly adjusting the service flow from their vehicles. Augmenting our model with a richer set of household expectations allows us to match 65 percent of the overall new vehicle spending decline (i.e. roughly the portion of the decline not explained by oil prices and falling home values). Combining our negative results regarding housing wealth and oil prices with our positive model-based findings, we interpret the auto market collapse as consistent with existing permanent income based approaches to durable goods purchases (e.g., Leahy and Zeira (2005)).

A Comparison of Fed "Tightening" Episodes since the 1980s

Deciding to undertake a series of tightening actions present unique challenges for Federal Reserve policymakers. These challenges are both political and economic. Using a variety of economic and financial market metrics, this article examines how the economy and financial markets evolved in response to the five tightening episodes enacted by the FOMC since 1983. The primary aim is to compare the most-recent episode, from December 2015 to December 2018, with the previous four episodes. The findings in this article indicate that the current episode bears some resemblance to previous Fed tightening episodes, but also differs in several key dimensions. For example, in the first four episodes, the data show the FOMC was generally tightening into a strengthening economy with building price pressures. In contrast, in the fifth episode the FOMC began its tightening regime during a deceleration in economic activity and with headline and core inflation remaining well below the FOMC’s 2 percent inflation target. Moreover, both short- and long-term inflation expectations were drifting lower. These developments helped explain why there was a one-year gap between the first and second increases in the federal funds target rate in the most-recent episode. Another key difference is that in three of the first four episodes, the FOMC continued to tighten after the yield curve inverted; a recession then followed shortly thereafter. However, in the final episode, the FOMC ended its tightening policy about eight months before the yield curve inverted. It remains to be seen if a recession follows this inversion.

Optimal Fiscal Policies under Market Failures

The aggregate capital stock in a nation can be overaccumulated for many different reasons. This paper studies which policy or policy mix is more effective in achieving the socially optimal (golden rule) level of aggregate capital stock in an infinite-horizon heterogeneous-agents incomplete-markets economy where capital is over-accumulated for two distinct reasons: (i) precautionary savings and (ii) production externalities. By solving the Ramsey problem analytically along the entire transitional path, we show that public debt and capital taxation play very distinct roles in dealing with the overaccumulation problem. The Ramsey planner opts neither to use a capital tax to correct the overaccumulation problem if it is caused solely by precautionary saving---regardless of the feasibility of public debt---nor use debt (financed by consumption tax) to correct the overaccumulation problem if it is caused solely by pollution---regardless of the feasibility of a capital tax. The key is that the modified golden rule has two margins: an intratemporal margin pertaining to the marginal product of capital (MPK) and an intertemporal margin pertaining to the time discount rate. To achieve the MGR, the Ramsey planner needs to equate not only the private MPK with the social MPK but also the interest rate with the time discount rate---neither of which is equalized in a competitive equilibrium. Yet public debt and a capital tax are each effective only in calibrating one of the two margins, respectively, but not both.

The Closing of a Major Airport: Immediate and Longer-Term Housing Market Effects

The closing of a busy airport has large effects on noise and economic activity. Using a unique dataset, we examine the effects of closing Denver’s Stapleton Airport on nearby housing markets. We find evidence of immediate anticipatory price effects upon announcement, but no price changes at closing likely because closing was widely anticipated. Further, after airport closure, high income and white households moved into these locations and developers upgraded the quality of houses being built. Finally, post-closing, these demographic and housing stock changes had substantial effects on housing prices, even after restricting the sample to pre-existing housing.

The Determination of Public Debt under both Aggregate and Idiosyncratic Uncertainty

We analyze the Ramsey planner's decisions to finance stochastic public expenditures under incomplete insurance markets for idiosyncratic risk. We show analytically that whenever the market interest rate lies below the time discount rate, the Ramsey planner has a dominant incentive to increase debt to meet the private sector's demand for full self-insurance regardless of the relative size of aggregate shocks---suggesting a departure from tax smoothing. However, if a full self-insurance Ramsey allocation is infeasible in the absence of a government debt limit, an interior or bounded Ramsey equilibrium does not exist. The strong incentives for the Ramsey planner to smooth both individual consumption (via increasing public debt) and aggregate consumption (via tax smoothing) imply that (i) the long-run Ramsey equilibrium is characterized by full self-insurance and constant taxes if state-contingent bonds are available and (ii) when state-contingent bonds are not available, the government's attempt to balance the competing incentives between tax smoothing and individual consumption smoothing---even at the cost of extra tax distortion---implies a bounded stochastic unit root component in optimal taxes and in the bond supply. In all cases considered in this paper, a sufficiently high average level of public debt (financed by distortionary taxation) to support full self-insurance is desirable and welfare improving. Therefore, adding a liquidity premium into the value of government bonds via incomplete financial markets can bring the theory of public finance into closer conformity with realty.

Predicting Benchmarked US State Employment Data in Real Time

US payroll employment data come from a survey of nonfarm business establishments and are therefore subject to revisions. While the revisions are generally small at the national level, they can be large enough at the state level to substantially alter assessments of current economic conditions. Researchers and policymakers must therefore exercise caution in interpreting state employment data until they are “benchmarked” against administrative data on the universe of workers some 5 to 16 months after the reference period. This paper develops and tests a state space model that predicts benchmarked US state employment data in realtime. The model has two distinct features: 1) an explicit model of the data revision process and 2) a dynamic factor model that incorporates realtime information from other state-level labor market indicators. We find that across the 50 US states, the model reduces the average size of benchmark revisions by about 9 percent. When we optimally average the model’s predictions with those of existing models, we find that we can reduce the average size of the revisions by about 15 percent.

Policy Interventions in Sovereign Debt Restructurings

The wave of sovereign defaults in the early 1980s and the string of debt crises in the decades that followed have fostered proposals involving policy interventions in sovereign debt restructurings. A key question about these proposals that has proved hard to handle is how they in influence the behavior of creditors and debtors. We address such challenge by incorporating these policy proposals into a quantitative model in the tradition of Eaton and Gersovitz (1981) that includes renegotiation in sovereign debt restructurings. Critically, the model also endogenizes the choice of debt maturity, an essential aspect of sovereign defaults and restructurings. We evaluate several policy interventions, and we identify the crucial features that matter to improve the outcome of distressed debt restructurings and reduce the frequency of debt distress events.

A Theory of Economic Unions: A Comment

Gino Gancia, Giacomo Ponzetto and Jaume Ventura have written an extremely interesting paper on a topic that is very timely for the global economy. In this article, I will first argue that GPV have succeeded in formalizing their hypothesis, and that while providing very suggestive analytical results, additional work can and should be done with the model, especially with regards to relative changes in the relative weights of incumbent countries. Second, I will comment on the potential insights if the rest of the world is modeled more realistically. Third, I will call for extending the baseline model to incorporate additional aspects beyond trade, such as investment and immigration flows, which appear to be relevant for the story of the European Union and its discontents. Four, I will add my non-European perspective on using the model to understand the story of the European Union.

Tax Progressivity, Economic Booms, and Trickle-Up Economics

We propose a method to decompose changes in the tax structure into a component measuring the level of taxes and a component orthogonal to the level that measures progressivity. While our focus is on the progessivity results, we find that the level shock is similar to standard tax shocks found in the empirical literature in that a rise in the level is contractionary. An increase in tax progressivity sets off an economic boom. Those at the bottom of the income distribution (who are constrained hand-to-mouth consumers) set off a consumption boom that expands the overall economy. Those at the top of the income distribution benefit disproportionately from expansions, and their income gains more than offset the increases in tax from higher marginal rates. The net result is that an increase in progressivity leads to an increase in inequality, not a decrease as conventional wisdom would suggest. We interpret these results as evidence in favor of trickle-up, not trickle-down, economics.

Crises in the Housing Market: Causes, Consequences, and Policy Lessons

The global financial crisis of the past decade has shaken the research and policy worlds out of their belief that housing markets are mostly benign and immaterial for understanding economic cycles. Instead, a growing consensus recognizes the central role that housing plays in shaping economic activity, particularly during large boom and bust episodes. This article discusses the latest research regarding the causes, consequences, and policy implications of housing crises with a broad focus that includes empirical and structural analysis, insights from the 2000's experience in the United States, and perspectives from around the globe. Even with the significant degree of heterogeneity in legal environments, institutions, and economic fundamentals over time and across countries, several common themes emerge to guide current and future thinking in this area.

MoNK: Mortgages in a New-Keynesian Model

We propose a tractable framework for monetary policy analysis in which both short- and long-term debt affect equilibrium outcomes. This objective is motivated by observations from two literatures suggesting that monetary policy contains a dimension affecting expected future interest rates and thus the costs of long-term financing. In New-Keynesian models, however, long-term loans are redundant assets. We use the model to address three questions: what are the effects of statement vs. action policy shocks; how important are standard New- Keynesian vs. cash flow effects in their transmission; and what is the interaction between these two effects?

International technology Diffusion: A Gravity Approach

This paper investigates, empirically, the determinants of international technology diffusion. To do that, I set up a multi-country model of innovation and diffusion with perfect enforcement of intellectual property rights (IPR). The model yields a gravity equation for bilateral royalty payments that is estimated using methods from empirical trade. I investigate discrepancies between model’s predictions and observed royalty payments to identify the role of fundamentals vs. other factors such as imperfect IPR protection. Fundamentals account for most of the variation in royalty payments, whereas imperfect IPR protection and other factors are important in accounting for discrepancies between model and data.

Bretton Woods and the Reconstruction of Europe

The Bretton Woods international financial system, which was in place from roughly 1949 to 1973, is the most significant modern policy experiment to attempt to simultaneously manage international payments, international capital flows, and international currency values. This paper uses an international macroeconomic accounting methodology to study the Bretton Woods system and finds that it: (1) significantly distorted both international and domestic capital markets and hence the accumulation and allocation of capital; (2) significantly slowed the reconstruction of Europe, albeit while limiting the indebtedness of European countries. Our results also provide support for the utility of the accounting methodology in that it finds a sharp change in the behavior of domestic and international capital market wedges that coincides with the breakdown of the system.

Binary Conditional Forecasts

While conditional forecasting has become prevalent both in the academic literature and in practice (e.g., bank stress testing, scenario forecasting), its applications typically focus on continuous variables. In this paper, we merge elements from the literature on the construction and implementation of conditional forecasts with the literature on forecasting binary variables. We use the Qual-VAR [Dueker (2005)], whose joint VAR-probit structure allows us to form conditional forecasts of the latent variable which can then be used to form probabilistic forecasts of the binary variable. We apply the model to forecasting recessions in real-time and investigate the role of monetary and oil shocks on the likelihood of two U.S. recessions.

House Price Growth Interdependencies and Comovement

This paper examines house price diffusion across metropolitan areas in the United States. We develop a generalization of the Hamilton and Owyang (2012) Markov-switching model, where we incorporate direct regional spillovers using a spatial weighting matrix. The Markov-switching framework allows consideration for house price movements that occur due to similar timing of downturns across MSAs. The inclusion of the spatial weighting matrix improves fit compared to a standard endogenous clustering model. We find seven clusters of MSAs that experience idiosyncratic recessions plus one distinct national house price cycle. Notably only the housing downturn associated with the Great Recession spread across all of the MSAs in our sample; other house price downturns remained contained to a single cluster. Previous research has found that housing cycles and business cycles are intertwined. To examine this potential relationship we apply our spatial Markov-switching model to employment growth data. We find that house price comovement and employment comovement are distinct across cities.

How to Starve the Beast: Fiscal and Monetary Policy Rules

Societies often rely on simple rules to restrict the size and behavior of governments. When fiscal and monetary policies are conducted by a discretionary and profligate government, I find that revenue ceilings vastly outperform debt, deficit and monetary rules, both in effectiveness at curbing public spending and welfare for private agents. However, effective revenue ceilings induce an increase in deficit, debt and inflation. Under many scenarios, including recurrent adverse shocks, the optimal ceiling on U.S. federal revenue is about 15% of GDP, which leads to welfare gains for private agents worth about 2% of consumption. Austerity programs should be sudden instead of gradual, and focus on lowering revenue to reduce spending rather than raising revenue to lower debt.

Consumption in the Great Recession: The Financial Distress Channel

During the Great Recession, the collapse of consumption across the U.S. varied greatly but systematically with house-price declines. We nd that financial distress among U.S. households amplified the sensitivity of consumption to house-price shocks. We uncover two essential facts: (1) the decline in house prices led to an increase in household financial distress prior to the decline in income during the recession, and (2) at the zip-code level, the prevalence of financial distress prior to the recession was positively correlated with house-price declines at the onset of the recession. Using a rich-estimated-dynamic model to measure the financial distress channel, we nd that these two facts amplify the aggregate drop in consumption by 7 percent and 45 percent respectively.

Macroeconomic Implications of Uniform Pricing

We compile a new database of grocery prices in Argentina, with over 9 million observations per day. We find uniform pricing both within and across regions—i.e., product prices almost do not vary within stores of a chain. Uniform pricing implies that prices would not change with regional conditions or shocks, particularly so if chains operate in several regions. We confirm this hypothesis using employment data. While prices in stores of chains operating almost exclusively in one region do react to changes in regional employment, stores of chains that operate in many regions do not seem to react to local labor market conditions. We study the impact of uniform pricing on estimates of local and aggregate consumption elasticities in a tractable two-region model in which firms have to set the same price in all regions. The estimated model predicts an almost one-third larger elasticity of consumption to a regional than an aggregate income shock because prices adjust more in response to aggregate shocks. This result highlights that some caution may be necessary when using regional shocks to estimate aggregate elasticities, particularly when the relevant prices are set uniformly across regions.

What Does Financial Crisis Tell Us About Exporter Behavior and Credit Reallocation?

Using Japanese firm data covering the Japanese financial crisis in the early 1990s, we find that exporters' domestic sales declined more significantly than their foreign sales, which in turn declined more significantly than non-exporters' sales. This stylized fact provides a new litmus test for different theories proposed in the literature to explain a trade collapse associated with a financial crisis. In this paper we embed the Melitz's (2003) model into a tractable DSGE framework with incomplete financial markets and endogenous credit allocation to explain both the Japanese firm-level data and the well-documented aggregate trade collapse during a financial crisis in world economic history. The model highlights the role of credit reallocation between non-exporters and exporters as the main mechanism in explaining exporters' behaviors and trade collapse following a financial crisis.

How Should Unemployment Insurance Vary over the Business Cycle?

We study optimal unemployment insurance (UI) over the business cycle using a heterogeneous agent job search model with aggregate risk and incomplete markets. We validate the model-implied micro and macro labor market elasticities to changes in UI generosity against existing estimates and reconcile divergent empirical findings. We show that generating the observed demographic differences between UI recipients and non-recipients is critical in determining the magnitudes of these elasticities. We find that the optimal policy features countercyclical replacement rates with average generosity close to current U.S. policy but adopts drastically longer payment durations reminiscent of European policies.

What Do Survey Data Tell Us about US Businesses?

This paper examines the reliability of survey data on business incomes, valuations, and rates of return, which are key inputs for studies of wealth inequality and entrepreneurial choice. We compare survey responses of business owners with available data from administrative tax records, brokered private business sales, and publicly traded company filings and document problems due to nonrepresentative samples and measurement errors across several surveys, subsamples, and years. We find that the discrepancies are economically relevant for the statistics of interest. We investigate reasons for these discrepancies and propose corrections for future survey designs.

Spousal Labor Supply Response to Job Displacement and Implications for Optimal Transfers

I document a small spousal earnings response to the job displacement of the family head. The response is even smaller in recessions, when earnings losses are larger and additional insurance is most valuable. I investigate whether the small response is an outcome of the crowding-out effects of government transfers. To accomplish this, I use an incomplete markets model with family labor supply and aggregate fluctuations where predicted spousal labor supply elasticities with respect to transfers are in line with microeconomic estimates both in aggregate and across subpopulations. Counterfactual experiments indeed reveal that generous transfers in recessions discourage the spousal labor supply significantly. I then show that the optimal policy features procyclical means-tested and countercyclical employment-tested transfers, unlike the existing policy that maintains generous transfers of both types in recessions. Abstracting from the incentive costs of transfers on the spousal labor supply changes both the level and cyclicality of optimal transfers.

What is the Value of Being a Superhost?

We construct a search model where sellers post prices and produce goods of unknown quality. A match reveals the quality of the seller. Buyers rate sellers based on quality. We show that unrated sellers charge a low price to attract buyers and that highly rated sellers post a high price and sell with a higher probability than unrated sellers. We nd that welfare is higher with a ratings system. Using data on Airbnb rentals, we show that Superhosts and hosts with high ratings: 1) charge higher prices, 2) have a higher occupancy rate and 3) higher revenue than average hosts.

Diverging Tests of Equal Predictive Ability

We investigate claims made in Giacomini and White (2006) and Diebold (2015) regarding the asymptotic normality of a test of equal predictive ability. A counterexample is provided in which, instead, the test statistic diverges with probability one under the null.

Effects of Neighboring Nation Terrorism on Imports

We present a monopolistic competition model to analyze the effects of own nation and neighboring nation terrorism on a nation’s imports. The theoretical analysis shows that own nation terrorism may leave relative price of imports unaffected, but neighboring nation terrorism must raise the relative price, reducing imports. We find that a 10% increase in terrorist attacks in a neighboring nation reduces a country’s imports from the rest of the world by approximately $320 million USD, on average. Mediation analysis shows that trading delays is a potential channel of transmission of trade costs of terrorism to a neighbor.

Comparative Advantage and Moonlighting

The proportion of multiple jobholders (moonlighters) is negatively correlated with productivity (wages) in cross-sectional and time series data, but positively correlated with education. We develop a model of the labor market to understand these seemingly contradictory facts. An income effect explains the negative correlation with productivity while a comparative advantage of skilled workers explains the positive correlation with education. We provide empirical evidence of the comparative advantage in CPS data. We calibrate the model to 1994 data on multiple jobholdings, and assess its ability to reproduce the 2017 data. There are three exogenous driving forces: productivity, number of children and the proportion of skilled workers. The model accounts for 68.7% of the moonlithing trend for college-educated workers, and overpredicts it by 33.7 percent for high school-educated workers. Counterfactual experiments reveal the contribution of each exogenous variable.

The Nonlinear Effects of Fiscal Policy

We argue that the fiscal multiplier of government purchases is increasing in the spending shock, in contrast to what is assumed in most of the literature. The fiscal multiplier is largest for large positive government spending shocks and smallest for large contractions in government spending. We empirically document this fact using aggregate U.S. data. We find that a neoclassical, life-cycle, incomplete markets model calibrated to match key features of the US economy can explain this empirical finding. The mechanism hinges on the relationship between fiscal shocks, their form of financing, and the response of labor supply across the wealth distribution. The model predicts that the aggregate labor supply elasticity is increasing in the size of the fiscal shock, and this holds regardless of whether shocks are deficit- or balanced-budget financed (albeit through different mechanisms). We find evidence of our mechanism in micro data for the US.

Contagious Switching

In this paper, we analyze the propagation of recessions across countries. We construct a model with multiple qualitative state variables that evolve in a VAR setting. The VAR structure allows us to include country-level variables to determine whether policy also propagates across countries. We consider two different versions of the model. One version assumes the discrete state of the economy (expansion or recession) is observed. The other assumes that the state of the economy is unobserved and must be inferred from movements in economic growth. We apply the model to Canada, Mexico, and the U.S. to test if spillover effects were similar before and after NAFTA. We find that trade liberalization has increased the degree of business cycle propagation across the three countries.


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