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

Understanding Lowflation

Central banks are viewed as having a demonstrated ability to lower long-run inflation. Since the financial crisis, however, the central banks in some jurisdictions seem almost powerless to accomplish the opposite. In this article, we offer an explanation for why this may be the case. Because central banks have limited instruments, long-run inflation is ultimately determined by fiscal policy. Central bank control of long-run inflation therefore ultimately hinges on its ability to gain fiscal compliance with its objectives. This ability is shown to be inherently easier for a central bank determined to lower inflation than for a central bank determined to accomplish the opposite. Among other things, the analysis here suggests that for the central banks of advanced economies, any stated inflation target is more credibly viewed as a ceiling.

Fiscal Multipliers and Financial Crises

What type of fiscal policy is most effective during a financial crisis? I study the macroeconomic effects of the US fiscal policy response to the Great Recession, accounting not only for standard tools such as government purchases and transfers but also for financial sector interventions such as bank recapitalizations and credit guarantees. A nonlinear quantitative model calibrated to the US allows me to study the state-dependent effects of different types of fiscal policies. I combine the model with data on the US fiscal policy response to find that the fall in aggregate consumption would have been 50% worse in the absence of that response with a cumulative loss of 9.16%. Transfers and bank recapitalizations yielded the largest fiscal multipliers at the height of the crisis, due to new transmission channels that arise from linkages between household and bank balance sheets.

Why did Rich Families Increase their Fertility? Inequality and Marketization of Child Care

A negative relationship between income and fertility has persisted for so long that its existence is often taken for granted. One economic theory builds on this relationship and argues that rising inequality leads to greater differential fertility between rich and poor. We show that the relationship between income and fertility has flattened between 1980 and 2010 in the US, a time of increasing inequality, as high income families increased their fertility. These facts challenge the standard theory. We propose that marketization of parental time costs can explain the changing relationship between income and fertility. We show this result both theoretically and quantitatively, after disciplining the model on US data. We explore implications of changing differential fertility for aggregate human capital. Additionally, policies, such as the minimum wage, that affect the cost of marketization, have a negative effect on the fertility and labor supply of high income women. We end by discussing the insights of this theory to the economics of marital sorting.

On the Benefits of Currency Reform

Money allows agents to achieve allocations that are not possible without it. However, currency in most economies is a uniform object, and there may be incentive compatible allocations that cannot be implemented with a uniform currency. We show that currency reform, ie, changing the monetary base by replacing one currency with another, is a powerful tool that can enable a monetary authority to achieve a desired allocation. Our monetary mechanism with currency reform is anonymous and features a nonlinear exchange rate between currencies and a monotone value of money. These results help interpret the characteristics of currency reforms observed in practice.

Insurance and Inequality with Persistent Private Information

We study optimal insurance contracts for an agent with Markovian private information. Our main results characterize the implications of constrained efficiency for long-run welfare and inequality. Under minimal technical conditions, there is Absolute Immiseration: in the long run, the agent’s consumption and utility converge to their lower bounds. When types are persistent and utility is unbounded below, there is Relative Immiseration: low-type agents are immiserated at a faster rate than high-type agents, and “pathwise welfare inequality” grows without bound. These results extend and substantially generalize the hallmark findings from the classic literature with iid types, suggesting that the underlying forces are robust to a broad class of private information processes. The proofs rely on novel recursive techniques and martingale arguments. When the agent has CARA utility, we also analytically and numerically characterize the short-run properties of the optimal contract. Persistence gives rise to qualitat- ively novel short-run dynamics and allocative distortions (or “wedges”) and, quantitatively, induces less efficient risk-sharing. We compare properties of the wedges to their counterparts in the dynamic taxation literature.

The 2008 U.S. Auto Market Collapse

​New vehicle sales in the U.S. fell nearly 40 percent during the last recession, causing significant job losses and unprecedented government interventions in the auto industry. This paper explores two potential explanations for this decline: falling home values and falling households' income expectations. First, we establish that declining home values explain only a small portion of the observed reduction in vehicle sales. Using a county-level panel from the episode, we find: (1) A one-dollar fall in home values reduced new vehicle spending by about 0.9 cents; and (2) Falling home values explain approximately 19 percent of the aggregate vehicle spending decline. Next, examining state-level data from 1997-2016, we find: (3) The short-run responses of 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 from 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. Second, we establish that declining current and expected future income expectations 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 exhibits a large vehicle sales decline in response to a moderate decline in expected permanent income. In response to the decline in permanent income, households delay replacing existing vehicles, allowing them smooth the effects of the income shock without significantly adjusting the service flow from their vehicles. Combining our negative results regarding housing wealth with our positive model-based findings, we interpret the auto market collapse as consistent with existing permanent income based approaches to durable goods consumption (e.g., Leahy and Zeira (2005)).

Imperfect Information Transmission from Banks to Investors: Macroeconomic Implications

We study the interaction of information transmission in loan-backed asset markets and screening effort in a general equilibrium framework. Originating banks can screen their borrowers, but can inform investors of their asset type only through an error-prone rating technology. The premium paid on highly rated assets emerges as the main determinant of screening effort. Because the rating technology is imperfect, this premium is insufficient to induce the efficient level of screening. However, the fact that banks know their asset quality and produce public information accordingly helps keep the premium high. Mandatory rating and mandatory ratings disclosure policies interfere with this decision margin, thereby reducing informativeness of high ratings, lowering the premium paid on them, and exacerbating the credit misallocation problem. Policies that work to increase accuracy and/or cost of rating technology can help restore efficiency. If, as in Skreta and Veldkamp (2009), we associate the expansion leading up to the recent financial crisis with declining rating accuracy, our model helps interpret several puzzling pre-crisis observations: laxer screening effort, intensified rating activity, ratings inflation, the decline in the premium paid on highly rated assets, and rising prevalence of triple-A ratings. The same model mechanism also helps explain the variation in default rates across asset classes documented in Cornaggia, Cornaggia, and Hund (2017).

A Search-Based Neoclassical Model of Capital Reallocation

As a form of investment, the importance of capital reallocation between …firms has been increasing over time, with the purchase of used capital accounting for 25% to 40% of …firms’ total investment nowadays. Cross-…firm reallocation of used capital also exhibits intriguing business-cycle properties, such as (i) the illiquidity of used capital is countercyclical (or the quantity of used capital reallocation across …rms is procyclical), (ii) the prices of used capital are procyclical and more so than those of new capital goods, and (iii) the dispersion of …firms' ’TFP or MPK (or the bene…t of capital reallocation) is countercyclical. We build a search-based neoclassical model to qualitatively and quantitatively explain these stylized facts. We show that search frictions in the capital market are essential for our empirical success but not sufficient—---fi…nancial frictions and endogenous movements in the distribution of …rm-level TFP (or MPK) and interactions between used-capital investment and new investment are also required to simultaneously explain these stylized facts, especially that prices of used capital are more volatile than that of new investment and the dispersion of …firm TFP is countercyclical.

Bank runs without sequential service

Banking models in the tradition of Diamond and Dybvig (1983) rely on sequential service to explain belief driven runs. But the run-like phenomena witnessed during the …nancial crisis of 2007–08 occurred in the wholesale shadow banking sector where sequential service is largely absent. This suggests that something other than sequential service is needed to help explain runs. We show that in the absence of sequential service runs can easily occur whenever bank-funded in- vestments are subject to increasing returns to scale consistent with available evidence. Our framework is used to understand and evalu- ate recent banking and money market regulations.

Financial Development and International Trade

This paper studies the industry-level and aggregate implications of fi nancial development on international trade. I set up a multi-industry general equilibrium model of international trade with heterogeneous fi rms subject to fi nancial frictions. Industries differ in capital-intensity, which leads to differences in external fi nance dependence. The model is parameterized to match key features of fi rm-level data. Financial development leads to substantial reallocation of international trade shares from labor- to capital-intensive industries, with minor effects at the aggregate-level. These fi ndings are consistent with estimates from cross-country industry-level and aggregate data.

Majority Voting in a Model of Means Testing

We study a model of endogenous means testing where households differ in their income and where the in-kind transfer received by each household declines linearly with income. Majority voting determines the two dimensions of public policy: the size of the welfare program and the means-testing rate. We establish the existence of a sequential majority voting equilibrium, when the households vote first on the size of the program and then on the means-testing rate. We show that the means-testing rate increases with the size of the program but the fraction and the identity of the households receiving the transfers are independent of the program size.

Sovereign Debt Restructurings

Sovereign debt crises generally involve debt restructurings characterized by a mix of face-value haircuts and debt maturity extensions. The prevalence of maturity extensions has been hard to reconcile with economic theory. We develop a new quantitative model of endogenous sovereign debt restructuring that captures key stylized facts of sovereign debt and restructuring episodes. While debt dilution pushes in the direction of negative maturity extensions, three factors are quantitatively important in overcoming the effects of debt dilution and generating maturity extensions: (i) income recovery after default, (ii) credit exclusion after restructuring, and (iii) regulatory costs of book-value haircuts. Methodologically, we implement dynamic discrete choice solution methods that allow for smoother decision rules, rendering the problem tractable.

Long-Term Finance and Investment with Frictional Asset Markets

Trading frictions in financial markets affect more long- than short-term bonds generating an upward sloping yield curve. Long-term financing is more expensive in economies with higher trading frictions so firms choose to borrow and invest in shorter horizons and lower productivity projects. The theory guides a new identification of the slope of liquidity spread in the data. We measure and calibrate the model for the US, and counterfactual exercises suggest that variations in trading frictions can have significant effects on maturity choices and investment. A policy intervention with government-backed financial intermediaries in the secondary market can improve liquidity and reduce the cost of long-term finance, which promotes investment in longer-term projects, generating substantial welfare gains.

Explaining Intergenerational Mobility: The Role of Fertility and Family Transfers

Poor families have more children and transfer less resources to them. This suggests that family decisions about fertility and transfers dampen intergenerational mobility. To evaluate the quantitative importance of this mechanism, we extend the standard heterogeneous-agent life-cycle model with earnings risk and credit constraints to allow for endogenous fertility, family transfers, and education. The model, estimated to the US in the 2000s, implies that a counterfactual flat income-fertility profile would-through the equalization of initial conditions-increase intergenerational mobility by 7%. The impact of a counterfactual constant transfer per child is twice as large.

Uniform Pricing Within and Across Regions: New Evidence from Argentina

We compile a new database of grocery prices in Argentina, with over 9 million observations per day. Our main novel finding is that product prices almost do not vary within stores of a chain (i.e., uniform pricing). We also find that prices do not change significantly with regional conditions or shocks, particularly so for chains that operate in many regions. To study the impact of uniform pricing on both consumers and firms, this paper uses a tractable model based on the trade literature. Motivated by our empirical findings, each firm has to set the same price in both regions. Relative to a counterfactual in which firms can set different prices across regions (i.e., flexible pricing), uniform pricing reduces firms’ profits by 0.4%. Consumers, however, prefer uniform pricing and are willing to give up 6.7% of their income to avoid flexible pricing in the baseline model. The effect on consumers, however, depends on how much uniform pricing limits firms’ power to extract consumer surplus and how heterogeneous the regions are.

International Credit Markets and Global Business Cycles

This paper stresses a new channel through which global financial linkages contribute to the co-movement in economic activity across countries. We show in a two-country setting with borrowing constraints that international credit markets are subject to self-fulfilling variations in the world real interest rate. Those expectation-driven changes in the borrowing cost in turn act as global shocks that induce strong cross-country co-movements in both financial and real variables (such as asset prices, GDP, consumption, investment and employment). When firms around the world benefit from unexpectedly low debt repayments today, they borrow and invest more, which leads to excessive supply of collateral and of loanable funds at a low interest rate, thus fueling a boom in both home and foreign economies. As a consequence, business cycles are synchronized internationally. Such a stylized model thus offers one way to rationalize both the existence of world business-cycle factor documented by recent empirical studies through dynamic factor analysis and such a factor’s intimate link to global financial markets.

Long and Plosser Meet Bewley and Lucas

We develop a N-sector business cycle network model a la Long and Plosser (1983), featuring heterogenous money demand a la Bewley (1980) and Lucas (1980). Despite incomplete markets and a well-defined distribution of real money balances across heteroge- neous households, the enriched N-sector network model remains analytically tractable with closed-form solutions up to the aggregate level. Relying on the tractability, we establish several important results: (i) The economy’s input-output network linkages become en- dogenously time-varying over the business cycle—thanks to the influence of the endogenous distribution of money demand on cross-sector allocations of commodities. (ii) Despite flex- ible prices, money is neither neutral nor superneutral and transitory monetary injections can generate highly persistent effects on sectoral output, thanks to the time-varying distri- bution of money demand and its effect on input-output coefficients. (iii) Although money injection is distributed equally across households by design, the real effects are asymmetric across production sectors, e.g., the impact of money is strongest on downstream sectors that purchase intermediate goods from the rest of the economy, but weakest on upstream sectors that supply intermediate goods to the other sectors, in sharp contrast to the case of sectoral technology shocks and government spending shocks. Our model also shows that movements in the distribution of money demand could be an important source of the measured labor wedge documented by the business cycle accounting literature.

National and Regional Housing Vacancy: Insights Using Markov-switching Models

Abstract We examine housing vacancy rates over time and space using Markov-switching models. Our theoretical analysis extends a standard search and matching model for housing by incorporating regime-switching behavior and interregional spillovers. Such an approach is strongly supported by our empirical results. Our estimations allow us to examine differences in vacancy rates as well as explore the possibility of asymmetries within and across housing markets, depending on the state/regime of a given housing market. Estimated vacancy rates, conditional on the vacancy regime, vary across regions in all models. Models allowing for interregional effects tend to perform better than models lacking this feature. These models track vacancies well. Noteworthy is their performance during the Great Recession/Financial Crisis. The importance and diversity of interregional effects are demonstrated, and vacancies in a specific Census region are affected by vacancies in other regions. Moreover, the sizes of these effects depend on the vacancy state of the specific region.

Designing UISAs for Developing Countries

The benefits of implementing Unemployment Insurance Savings Accounts (UISAs) are studied in the presence of the multiple sources of information frictions often existing in developing countries. A benchmark incomplete markets economy is calibrated to Mexico in the early 2000s. The unconstrained optimal allocation would imply very large welfare gains relative to the benchmark economy (similar to an increase in consumption of 23% in every period). More importantly, in presence of multiple sources of information frictions, about half of those potential gains can be accrued through the implementation of UISAs with replacement rates between 40-50%, contribution rates between 10-15%, an initial liquidity transfer of about 20 quarters of average income, and higher payroll taxes to finance those initial stocks.

Trade in Commodities and Business Cycle Volatility

This paper studies the role of the patterns of production and international trade on the higher business cycle volatility of emerging economies. We study a multi-sector small open economy in which firms produce and trade commodities and manufactures. We estimate the model to match key cross-sectional differences across countries: emerging economies run trade surpluses in commodities and trade deficits in manufactures, while sectoral trade flows are balanced in developed economies. We find that these differences amplify the response of emerging economies to fluctuations in commodity prices. We show evidence consistent with these findings using cross-country data.

Regional Consumption Responses and the Aggregate Fiscal Multiplier

We use regional variation in the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act (2009-2012) to analyze the e ect of government spending on consumer spending. Our consumption data come from household-level retail purchases in Nielsen and auto purchases from Equifax credit balances. We estimate that a $1 increase in county-level government spending increases consumer spending by $0.18. We translate the regional consumption responses to an aggregate fiscal multiplier using a multi-region, New Keynesian model with heterogeneous agents and incomplete markets. Our model successfully generates the estimated positive local multiplier, a result that distinguishes our incomplete markets model from models with complete markets. The aggregate consumption multiplier is 0.4, which implies an output multiplier higher than one. The aggregate consumption multiplier is almost twice the local estimate because trade linkages propagate government spending across regions.

Offshoring Barriers, Regulatory Burden and National Welfare

We present a model which considers both regulatory burden of offshoring barriers and possible terms of trade gains from such barriers. Non-tariff barriers are shown to be unambiguously welfare-reducing, and tariff barriers raise welfare only when associated terms-of-trade gains exceed resulting regulatory burdens, in which case there is a positive optimal offshoring tax. Otherwise, free trade is optimal. Welfare reductions from an offshoring tax are more likely with several developed nations engaging in offshoring. We derive and characterize the Nash equilibrium in such a case.

Monetary Policy and Liquid Government Debt

We examine the conduct of monetary policy in a world where the supply of outside money is controlled by the fiscal authority-a scenario increasingly relevant for many developed economies today. Central bank control over the long-run inflation rate depends on whether fiscal policy is Ricardian or Non-Ricardian. The optimal monetary policy follows a generalized Friedman rule that eliminates the liquidity premium on scarce treasury debt. We derive conditions for determinacy under both fiscal regimes and show that they do not necessarily correspond to the Taylor principle. In addition, Non-Ricardian regimes may suffer from multiplicity of steady-states when the government runs persistent deficits.

Escaping the Middle-income Trap —A Cross-Country Analysis on the Patterns of Industrial Upgrading

With rapid industrial upgrading along the global value chain of manufactured goods, China has transformed, within one generation, from an impoverished agrarian society to a middle-income nation as well as the largest manufacturing powerhouse in the world. This article identifies the pattern of China’s industrial upgrading and compares it with those of other successfully industrialized economies and the failed ones. We find that (i) China (since 1978) followed essentially the same path of industrial upgrading as that of Japan and the “Asian Tigers.” These economies succeeded in catching up with the developed western world by going through three developmental stages sequentially; namely, a proto-industrialization in the rural areas, a first industrial revolution featuring mass production of labor-intensive light consumer goods, and then a second industrial revolution featuring mass production of the means of mass production (i.e., capital-intensive heavy industrial good s such as steel, machine tools, electronics, automobiles, communication and transport infrastructures). (ii) In contrast, economies stuck in the low-income trap or middle-income trap did not follow the above sequential stages of industrialization. For example, many Eastern European and Latin American countries after WWII jumped to the stage of heavy industrialization without fully developing their labor-intensive light industries, and thus stagnated in the middle-income trap. Also, there is a clear lack of proto-industrialization in the rural areas for many African economies that have remained in the low-income trap. We believe that laissez-faire and “free market” alone is unable to trigger industrial upgrading. Instead, correct government-led bottom-up industrial policies are the key to escaping the low- and middle-income traps.

An Empirical Investigation of Direct and Iterated Multistep Conditional Forecasts

When constructing unconditional point forecasts, both direct- and iterated-multistep (DMS and IMS) approaches are common. However, in the context of producing conditional forecasts, IMS approaches based on vector autoregressions (VAR) are far more common than simpler DMS models. This is despite the fact that there are theoretical reasons to believe that DMS models are more robust to misspecification than are IMS models. In the context of unconditional forecasts, Marcellino, Stock, and Watson (MSW, 2006) investigate the empirical relevance of these theories. In this paper, we extend that work to conditional forecasts. We do so based on linear bivariate and trivariate models estimated using a large dataset of macroeconomic time series. Over comparable samples, our results reinforce those in MSW: the IMS approach is typically a bit better than DMS with significant improvements only at longer horizons. In contrast, when we focus on the Great Moderation sample we find a marked improvement in the DMS approach relative to IMS. The distinction is particularly clear when we forecast nominal rather than real variables where the relative gains can be substantial.

The (Unintended?) Consequences of the Largest Liquidity Injection Ever

The design of lender-of-last-resort interventions can exacerbate the bank-sovereign nexus. During sovereign crises, central bank provision of long-term liquidity incentivizes banks to purchase high-yield eligible collateral securities matching the maturity of the central bank loans. Using unique security-level data, we find that the European Central Bank's 3-year Long-Term Re financing Operation caused Portuguese banks to purchase short-term domestic government bonds, equivalent to 10.6% of amounts outstanding, and pledge them to obtain central bank liquidity. The steepening of eurozone peripheral sovereign yield curves right after the policy announcement is consistent with the equilibrium effects of this "collateral trade."

The Persistence of Financial Distress

Using recently available proprietary panel data, we show that while many (35%) US consumers experience financial distress at some point in the life cycle, most of the events of financial distress are primarily concentrated in a much smaller proportion of consumers in persistent trouble. Roughly 10% of consumers are distressed for more than a quarter of the life cycle, and less than 10% of borrowers account for half of all distress events. These facts can be largely accounted for in a straightforward extension of a workhorse model of defaultable debt that accommodates a simple form of heterogeneity in time preference but not otherwise.

Banking on the Boom, Tripped by the Bust: Banks and the World War I Agricultural Price Shock

How do banks respond to asset booms? This paper examines i) how U.S. banks responded to the World War I farmland boom; ii) the impact of regulation; and iii) how bank closures exacerbated the post-war bust. The boom encouraged new bank formation and balance sheet expansion (especially by new banks). Deposit insurance amplified the impact of rising crop prices on bank portfolios, while higher minimum capital requirements dampened the effects. Banks that responded most aggressively to the asset boom had a higher probability of closing in the bust, and counties with more bank closures experienced larger declines in land prices.

Financing Ventures: Some Macroeconomics

The relationship between venture capital and growth is examined using an endogenous growth model incorporating dynamic contracts between entrepreneurs and venture capitalists. At each stage of financing, venture capitalists evaluate the viability of startups. If viable, venture capitalists provide funding for the next stage. The success of a project depends on the amount of funding. The model is confronted with stylized facts about venture capital; viz., statistics by funding round concerning the success rates, failure rates, investment rates, equity shares, and IPO values. Raising capital gains taxation reduces growth and welfare.

Markup Cyclicality: A Tale of Two Models

Many models in the business cycle literature generate counter-cyclical price markups. This paper examines if the prominent models in the literature are consistent with the empirical findings of micro-level markup behavior in Hong (2016). In particular, I test the markup behavior of the following two models: (i) an oligopolistic competition model, and (ii) a New Keynesian model with heterogeneous price stickiness. First, I explore the Atkeson and Burstein (2008) model of oligopolistic competition, in which markups are an increasing function of firm market shares. Coupled with an exogenous uncertainty shock as in Bloom (2009), i.e. a second-moment shock to firm productivities in recessions, this model results in a countercyclical average markup, as in the data. However, in contrast with the data, this model predicts that smaller firms reduce their markups. Second, I calibrate both Calvo and menu cost models of price stickiness to match the empirical heterogeneity in price dura tions across small and large firms, as in Goldberg and Hellerstein (2011). I find that both models can match the average counter-cyclicality of markups in response to monetary shocks. Furthermore, since small firms adjust prices less frequently, they exhibit greater markup counter-cyclicality, consistent with the empirical patterns. Quantitatively, however, only the menu cost model, through its selection effect, can match the extent of the empirical heterogeneity in markup cyclicality. In addition, both sticky price models imply pro-cyclical markup behavior in response to productivity shocks.


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