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

Endogenous Social Distancing in an Epidemic

I present a model where work implies social interactions and the spread of a disease is described by an SIR-type framework where both susceptible and infectious are asymptomatic. Upon the outbreak of a disease a lower contact rate can be achieved at the cost of lower consumption. Individuals do not internalize the effects of their decisions on the evolution of the epidemic while the planner does. Specifically, the planner internalizes that a low contact rate early in the epidemic implies a low stock of infectious in the future; and a low stock of infectious in the future permits an increase in the contact rate without risking additional infections. Since a low contact rate is associated with low consumption, the planner effectively substitutes consumption early in the epidemic for consumption later. The individual's response does not, hence the planner obtains a flatter infection curve than that generated by the individual's' response, even though the planner's objective is not to ``flatten the curve.''

Shadow Bank Runs

Short-term debt is commonly used to fund illiquid assets. A conventional view asserts that such arrangements are run-prone in part because redemptions must be processed on a first-come, first-served basis. This sequential service protocol, however, appears absent in the wholesale banking sector---and yet, shadow banks appear vulnerable to runs. We explain how banking arrangements that fund fixed-cost operations using short-term debt can be run-prone even in the absence of sequential service. Interventions designed to eliminate run risk may or may not improve depositor welfare. We describe how optimal policies vary under different conditions and compare these to recent policy interventions by the Security and Exchange Commission and the Federal Reserve. We conclude that the conventional view concerning the societal benefits of liquidity transformation and its recommendations for prudential policy extend far beyond their application to depository institutions.

Measuring Labor Supply and Demand Shocks during COVID-19

We measure labor demand and supply shocks at the sector level around the COVID-19 outbreak by estimating a Bayesian structural vector autoregression on monthly statistics of hours worked and real wages. Most sectors were subject to historically large negative labor supply and demand shocks in March and April, with substantial heterogeneity in the size of shocks across sectors. Our estimates suggest that two-thirds of the drop in the aggregate growth rate of hours in March and April 2020 are attributable to labor supply. We validate our estimates of supply shocks by showing that they are correlated with sectoral measures of telework.

International Trade of Essential Goods During a Pandemic

This paper studies the role of international trade of essential goods during a pandemic. We consider a multi-country, multi-sector model with essential and non-essential goods. Essential goods provide utility relative to a reference consumption level, and a pandemic consists of an increase in this reference level. Each country produces domestic varieties of both types of goods using capital and labor subject to sectoral adjustment costs, and all varieties are traded internationally subject to trade barriers. We study the role of international trade of essential goods in mitigating or amplifying the impact of a pandemic. We find that the effects depend crucially on the countries' trade imbalances in essential goods. Net importers of these goods are relatively worse off during a pandemic than net exporters. The welfare losses of net importers are lower in a world with high trade barriers, while the reverse is the case for net exporters. Yet, once a pandemic arrives, net exporters of essential goods benefit from an increase in trade barriers, while net importers benefit from a decrease in them. These findings are consistent with preliminary evidence on changes in trade barriers across countries during the COVID-19 pandemic.

Scarring Body and Mind: The Long-Term Belief-Scarring Effects of COVID-19

The largest economic cost of the COVID-19 pandemic could arise if it changed behavior long after the immediate health crisis is resolved. A common explanation for such a long-lived effect is the scarring of beliefs. We show how to quantify the extent of such belief changes and determine their impact on future economic outcomes. We find that the long-run effect of the COVID crisis depends crucially on whether bankruptcies and changes in habit make existing capital obsolete. A policy that avoided most permanent separation of workers from capital could generate a much larger benefit than originally thought, that could easily be 180% of annual GDP, in present value.

Maturity Structure and Liquidity Risk

This paper studies the optimal maturity structure for government debt when markets for liquidity insurance are incomplete or non-competitive. There is no fiscal risk. Government debt in the model solves a dynamic inefficiency. Issuing debt in short and long maturities solves a liquidity insurance problem, but optimal yield curve policy is only possible if long-duration debt is rendered illiquid. Optimal policy is implementable through treasury operations only--adjustments in the primary deficit are not necessary.

Are Government Bonds Net Wealth or a Liability? ---Optimal Debt and Taxes in an OLG Model with Uninsurable Income Risk

A positive national debt is often rationalized either by the assumption of dynamic inefficiency in an overlapping-generations (OLG) model, or by the hypothesis of heterogeneous-agents and incomplete-markets (HAIM) in an infinite horizon model. Both assumptions imply insufficient private liquidity to support private saving and investment, thus calling for a positive level of public debt to improve social welfare. However, since public debt is financed often by distortionary future taxes, optimal debt and tax policies ought to be studied jointly in a single framework. In this paper we use a primal Ramsey approach to analytically characterize optimal debt and tax policy in an OLG-HAIM model. We show that (i) public debt can be a liability instead of net wealth, despite insufficient private liquidity to support private saving and investment, and (ii) such a debt policy can dramatically change the government's optimal tax scheme since the sign and magnitude of the optimal quantity of debt dictate the sign and magnitude of optimal taxes as well as the priority order of tax tools (such as a labor tax vs. a capital tax) in financing the public debt.

Fiscal Policy during a Pandemic

I study the effects of the 2019-20 coronavirus outbreak in the United States and subsequent fiscal policy response in a nonlinear DSGE model. The pandemic is a shock to the utility of contact-intensive services that propagates to other sectors via general equilibrium, triggering a deep recession. I use a calibrated version of the model to analyze different types of fiscal policies. I find that UI benefits are the most effective tool to stabilize income for borrowers, who are the hardest hit, while savers may favor unconditional transfers. Liquidity assistance programs are effective if the policy objective is to stabilize employment in the affected sector. I also study the effects of the $2 trillion CARES Act of 2020.

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 (modified golden rule) level of aggregate capital stock in an infinite-horizon heterogeneous-agents incomplete-markets economy where capital may be 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 use an analytically tractable model to show that the Ramsey planner's decisions to finance stochastic public expenditures under uninsurable idiosyncratic risk implies a departure from tax smoothing. In the absence of state-contingent bonds 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. Nonetheless, a sufficiently high average level of public debt to support individuals’ self-insurance position is welfare improving, consistent with the strictly positive quantity of government debt observed throughout human history.

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 orthogonal components measuring the level and progressivity of taxes. 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. We find that an increase in tax progressivity sets off an economic boom. When tax progressivity increases, those at the bottom of the income distribution experience an increase in disposable income; these consumers have a high marginal propensity to consume, and this increase in income results in a consumption boom which expands the overall economy. This overall economic expansion benefits those at the top of the income distribution as well, and the income and capital gains they experience as a result of the economic boom more than offset the losses they experienced due to the increase in tax progressivity. 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 using data on technology licensing fees for 61 countries during 1995-2012. A multi-country model of innovation and diffusion yields a gravity equation for bilateral royalty payments as a function of economic fundamentals. The gravity equation is estimated using nonlinear methods. I then investigate discrepancies between the model's predictions and observed royalty payments to identify the role of fundamentals vs. other factors such as imperfect IPR protection, the production structure and tax regulations. An accounting decomposition exercise shows that fundamentals account for most of the variation in royalty payments, whereas imperfect IPR protection and other factors are important in accounting for discrepancies between the model and the 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 comovement across U.S. metropolitan areas (MSAs). We develop a Markov-switching framework that includes a spatial similarity element based on distances between MSAs. Our approach allows for house price comovements that occur due to similar timing of downturns across groups or clusters of MSAs. The inclusion of the spatial element improves the model fit compared to a standard endogenous clustering model. We find seven clusters of MSAs, where each cluster experiences idiosyncratic house price downturns, plus one distinct national house price cycle. Notably, only the housing downturn associated with the Great Recession spread across all the MSAs in our sample; all other house price downturns remained contained to a single cluster. We also identify MSA economic and geographic characteristics that correlate with cluster membership. In addition, while prior research has found housing and business cycles to be related closely at the national level, we find very different house price comovement and employment comovement across clusters and across MSAs.

How to Starve the Beast: Fiscal Policy Rules

Countries have widely imposed fiscal rules designed to constrain government spending and ensure fiscal responsibility. This paper studies the effectiveness and welfare implications of revenue, deficit and debt rules when governments are discretionary and profligate. The optimal prescription is a revenue ceiling coupled with a balance budget requirement. For the U.S., the optimal revenue ceiling is about 15% of output, 3 percentage points below the postwar average. Most of the benefits can still be reaped with a milder constraint or escape clauses during adverse times. Imposing a single fiscal rule allows governments to comply without necessarily curbing spending; on their own, revenue ceilings are only mildly effective, while deficit and debt rules are altogether ineffective.

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. Finally, using a quantitative regional model with multi-region firms and uniform pricing, we find an almost one-half smaller elasticity of prices to a regional than an aggregate shock. 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.

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