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


Does Commonality in Illiquidity Matter to Investors?

This paper investigates whether investors are compensated for taking on commonality risk in equity portfolios. A large literature documents the existence and the causes of commonality in illiquidity, but the implications for investors are less understood. We find a return premium for commonality risk in NYSE stocks that is both economically and statistically significant. The commonality risk premium is independent of illiquidity level effects, and robust to variations in illiquidity measurement and systematic illiquidity estimation. We also show that precision in commonality risk estimation can be increased by the use of daily illiquidity measures, instead of monthly.

Can Self-Help Groups Really Be Self-Help?

This paper examines a cost-reducing innovation to the delivery of Self-Help Group” microfinance services. These groups typically rely on outside agents to found and administer the groups although funds are raised by the group members. The innovation is to have the agents earn their payment by charging membership fees rather than following the status quo in which the agents are paid by an outside organization and instead offer free services to clients. The theory we develop shows that such member- ship fees could actually improve performance without sacrificing membership, simply by mitigating an adverse selection problem. Empirically, we evaluate this innovation in East Africa using a randomized control trial. We find that privatized entrepreneurs providing the self-help group services indeed outperform their NGO-compensated coun- terparts along several dimensions. Over time, they cost the NGO less and lead more profitable groups; also, households with access to privately-delivered groups borrow and save more, invest more in businesses, and may have higher consumption. Consistent with the theory, these privatized groups attract wealthier, more business-oriented members, although they attract no fewer members.

How Did the Financial Crisis Alter the Correlations of U.S. Yield Spreads?

We investigate the pairwise correlations of 11 U.S. fixed income yield spreads over a sample that includes the Great Financial Crisis of 2007-2009. Using cross-sectional methods and nonparametric bootstrap breakpoint tests, we characterize the crisis as a period in which pairwise correlations between yield spreads were systematically and significantly altered in the sense that spreads comoved with one another much more than in normal times. We find evidence that, for almost half of the 55 pairs under investigation, the crisis has left spreads much more correlated than they were previously. This evidence is particularly strong for liquidity- and default-risk-related spreads, long-term spreads, and the spreads that were most likely directly affected by policy interventions.

Investment and Bilateral Insurance

Private information may limit insurance possibilities when a few agents form a partnership to pool idiosyncratic risk. We show that these insurance possibilities can improve if the partnership's income depends on capital accumulation and production, because cheating distorts investment. As agents' weights in the partnership increase, they are more affected by the investment distortion, and their incentives to misreport under the full information allocation are reduced. In the long run, either one of the partners is driven to immiseration, or both partners' lifetime utilities are approximately equal. The second case is only possible with capital accumulation. The theory's testable implications are in line with empirical evidence on the organization of small-business partnerships.

What Do We Know about the Relationship between Access to Finance and International Trade?

The recent financial crisis has focused attention on the relationship between access to finance and international trade, triggering a burgeoning segment of the literature evaluating this link empirically. We review the role of finance in international trade and the main theories connecting them. Moreover, we provide a structured road map to recent empirical studies while summarizing what we have learned to date about this relationship. We separately analyze studies that rely on aggregate, industry-level, and firm-level data, emphasizing the differences between those that analyze ordinary times and those that focus on banking and financial crises. We discuss the role of diverse measures of access to finance, financial health, and financial vulnerability along with the key challenges in estimating the relationship between trade and finance. We conclude that once the heterogeneity of methodologies and measures of access to and dependence on finance is accounted for, the empirical literature suggests an important role for finance in determining export participation at the extensive margin but weaker results for the intensive margin of trade. Moreover, while empirical studies tend to favor a causal relationship moving from finance to trade, there is some evidence suggesting causality moving in the opposite direction, which merits further investigation.

Testing the Economic Value of Asset Return Predictability

In this paper we provide analytical, simulation, and empirical evidence on a test of equal economic value from competing predictive models of asset returns. We define economic value using the concept of a performance fee - the amount an investor would be willing to pay to have access to an alternative predictive model that is used to make investment decisions. We establish that this fee can be asymptotically normal under modest assumptions. Monte Carlo evidence shows that our test can be accurately sized in reasonably large samples. We apply the proposed test to predictions of the US equity premium.

Endogenous Credit Limits with Small Default Costs

We analyze an exchange economy of unsecured credit where borrowers have the option to declare bankruptcy in which case they are temporarily excluded from financial markets. Endogenous credit limits are imposed that are just tight enough to prevent default. Economies with temporary exclusion differ from their permanent exclusion counterparts in two important properties. If households are extremely patient, then the first–best allocation is an equilibrium in the latter economies but not necessarily in the former. In addition, temporary exclusion permits multiple stationary equilibria, with both complete and with incomplete consumption smoothing.

Self-Fulfilling Credit Cycles

This paper argues that self-fulfilling beliefs in credit conditions can generate endoge- nously persistent business cycle dynamics. We develop a tractable dynamic general equi- librium model in which heterogeneous firms face idiosyncratic productivity shocks. Capital from less productive firms is lent to more productive ones in the form of credit secured by collateral and also as unsecured credit based on reputation. A dynamic complemen- tarity between current and future credit constraints permits uncorrelated sunspot shocks to trigger persistent aggregate fluctuations in debt, factor productivity and output. In a calibrated version we compare the features of sunspot cycles with those generated by shocks to economic fundamentals.

Bankruptcy and Delinquency in a Model of Unsecured Debt

This paper documents and interprets a fact central to the dynamics of informal consumer debt default: delinquency does not mean a persistent cessation of payment. In particular, we observe that for individuals 60 to 90 days late on payments, (i) 85% make payments during the next quarter to avoid getting into severe delinquency, and (ii) 40% reduce their debt (either because they made payments or received debt forgiveness). To understand these facts, we develop a theoretically and institutionally plausible model of debt delinquency and bankruptcy. Our model reproduces the dynamics of delinquency and suggests an interpretation of the data in which lenders frequently (in roughly 40% of cases) reset loan terms for delinquent borrowers, typically offering partial debt forgiveness, rather than a blanket imposition of the “penalty rates” most unsecured credit contracts specify.

Why Doesn't Technology Flow from Rich to Poor Countries?

What is the role of a country’s financial system in determining technology adoption? To examine this, a dynamic contract model is embedded into a general equilibrium setting with competitive intermediation. The terms of finance are dictated by an intermediary’s ability to monitor and control a firm’s cash flow, in conjunction with the structure of the technology that the firm adopts. It is not always profitable to finance promising technologies. A quantitative illustration is presented where financial frictions induce entrepreneurs in India and Mexico to adopt less-promising ventures than in the United States, despite lower input prices.

International Channels of the Fed’s Unconventional Monetary Policy,

Previous research has established that the Federal Reserve’s large scale asset purchases (LSAPs) significantly influenced international bond yields. We use dynamic term structure models to uncover to what extent signaling and portfolio balance channels caused these declines. For the U.S. and Canada, the evidence supports the view that LSAPs had substantial signaling effects. For Australian and German yields, signaling effects were present but likely more moderate, and portfolio balance effects appear to have played a relatively larger role than in the U.S. and Canada. Portfolio balance effects were small for Japanese yields and signaling effects basically nonexistent. These findings about LSAP channels are consistent with predictions based on interest rate dynamics during normal times: Signaling effects tend to be large for countries with strong yield responses to conventional U.S. monetary policy surprises, and portfolio balance effects are consistent with the degree of substitutability across international bonds, as measured by the covariance between foreign and U.S. bond returns.

Federal Reserve Lending to Troubled Banks During the Financial Crisis, 2007-10

Numerous commentaries have questioned both the legality and appropriateness of Federal Reserve lending to banks during the recent financial crisis. This article addresses two questions motivated by such commentary: 1) Did the Federal Reserve violate either the letter or spirit of the law by lending to undercapitalized banks? 2) Did Federal Reserve credit constitute a large fraction of the deposit liabilities of failed banks during their last year prior to failure? The Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation Improvement Act of 1991 (FDICIA) imposed limits on the number of days that the Federal Reserve may lend to undercapitalized or critically undercapitalized depository institutions. We find no evidence that the Federal Reserve ever exceeded statutory limits during the recent financial crisis, recession and recovery periods. In most cases, the number of days that Federal Reserve credit was extended to an undercapitalized or critically undercapitalized depository institution was appreciably less than the number of days permitted under law. Furthermore, compared with patterns of Fed lending during 1985-90, we find that few banks that failed during 2008-10 borrowed from the Fed during their last year prior to failure, and only a few had outstanding Fed loans when they failed. Moreover, Federal Reserve loans averaged less than 1 percent of total deposit liabilities among nearly all banks that did borrow from the Fed during their last year. It is impossible to know whether the enactment of FDICIA explains differences in Federal Reserve lending practices during 2007-10 and the previous period of financial distress in the 1980s. However, it does seem clear that Federal Reserve lending to depository institutions during the recent episode was consistent with the Congressional intent of this legislation.

Did Affordable Housing Legislation Contribute to the Subprime Securities Boom?

We use a regression discontinuity approach and present new institutional evidence to investigate whether affordable housing policies influenced the market for securitized subprime mortgages. We use merged loan-level data on non-prime mortgages with individual- and neighborhood-level data for California and Florida. We find no evidence that lenders increased subprime originations or altered loan pricing around the discrete eligibility cutoffs for the Government-Sponsored Enterprises'''' (GSEs) affordable housing goals or the Community Reinvestment Act. Although we find evidence that the GSEs bought significant quantities of subprime securities, our results indicate that these purchases were not directly related to affordable housing mandates.

Credit Scoring and Loan Default

This paper introduces a measure of credit score performance that abstracts from the influence of "situational factors." Using this measure, we study the role and effectiveness of credit scoring that underlied subprime securities during the mortgage boom of 2000-2006. Parametric and nonparametric measures of credit score performance reveal different trends, especially on originations with low credit scores. The paper demonstrates an increasing trend of reliance on credit scoring not only as a measure of credit risk but also as a means to offset other riskier attributes of the origination. This reliance led to deterioration in loan performance even though average credit quality—as measured in terms of credit scores— actually improved over the years.

What do happiness and health satisfaction data tell us about relative risk aversion?

In this paper we provide estimates of the coefficient of relative risk aversion using information on self-reports of subjective personal well-being from multiple datasets, including three cross-sectional surveys and two panel surveys, namely the Gallup World Poll, the European Social Survey, the World Values Survey, the British Household Panel Survey for the United Kingdom, and the General Social Survey for the United States. We additionally consider the implications of allowing for health-state dependence in the utility function on the estimates of risk aversion and examine how the marginal utility of income changes in poor health states. Our estimates of relative risk aversion with cross-section data vary closely around 1, which corresponds to logarithmic utility, while the estimates with panel data are slightly larger. We find that controlling for health dependence generally reduces these estimates. In contrast with other studies in the literature, our results also suggest that the marginal utility of income increases when satisfaction with health deteriorates, and this effect is robust across the various datasets analyzed.

The (Non-)Resiliency of Foreign Direct Investment in the United States

We study the contraction of foreign direct investment (FDI) flows in the United States during the recent financial crisis and show their unusual non-resiliency, which depends in part on the global nature of the economic recession, but also on the increases in the cost of financing FDI in the economies in which the flows originate. To formally study the effects of external financial conditions on FDI in the United States, we exploit the three dimensions of a panel of U.S. inward FDI flows organized by recipient U.S. industries, source countries, and years for the recorded flows. Changes in the cost of finance in the source countries have little or no effect on total inward flows (the sum of equity, debt, and reinvested earnings) over the 2006-2010 period. However, U.S. industries characterized by more financial vulnerability experience statistically significant variations in the debt and equity components of inward FDI flows in response to the changes in the cost of capital that occurred in the source countries during the crisis.

The Effect of Neighborhood Spillovers on Mortgage Selection

In this paper we analyze how spillovers in mortgage adoption affect mortgage product choice across neighborhoods and across borrowers of different racial or ethnic groups. We use loan-level data on subprime mortgages for metropolitan areas in California and Florida during 2004 and 2005, the peak years of the subprime mortgage boom. We identify an important and statistically significant effect of spillovers, both within and across groups, on the consumers\' choice of hybrid mortgage products that were popular during this period. In particular, we find that the group-specific spillover effects are strengthened by the group affiliation (race and ethnicity) of the borrower. The effects are particularly important among Hispanic and white borrowers, but not among black borrowers.

Capital Flows and Japanese Asset Volatility,

Characterizing asset price volatility is an important goal for financial economists. The literature has shown that variables that proxy for the information arrival process can help explain and/or forecast volatility. Unfortunately, however, obtaining good measures of volume and/or order flow is expensive or difficult in decentralized markets such as foreign exchange. We investigate the extent that Japanese capital flows—which are released weekly—reflect information arrival that improves foreign exchange and equity volatility forecasts. We find that capital flows can help explain transitory shocks to GARCH volatility.

Differences in Subprime Loan Pricing Across Races and Neighborhoods

We investigate whether race and ethnicity influenced subprime loan pricing during 2005, the peak of the subprime mortgage expansion. We combine loan-level data on the performance of non-prime securitized mortgages with individual- and neighborhood- level data on racial and ethnic characteristics for metropolitan areas in California and Florida. Using a model of rate determination that accounts for predicted loan performance, we evaluate the differences in subprime mortgage rates in terms of racial and ethnic groups and neighborhood characteristics. We find evidence of adverse pricing for blacks and Hispanics. The evidence of adverse pricing is strongest for purchase mortgages and mortgages originated by non-depository institutions.

Should easier access to international credit replace foreign aid?

We examine the interaction between foreign aid and binding borrowing constraint for a recipient country. We also analyze how these two instruments affect economic growth via non-linear relationships. First of all, we develop a two-country, two-period trade-theoretic model to develop testable hypotheses and then we use dynamic panel analysis to test those hypotheses empirically. Our main findings are that: (i) better access to international credit for a recipient country reduces the amount of foreign aid it receives, and (ii) there is a critical level of international financial transfer, and the marginal effect of foreign aid is larger than that of loans if and only if the transfer (loans or foreign aid) is below this critical level.

Lessons from the Evolution of Foreign Exchange Trading Strategies,

The adaptive markets hypothesis posits that trading strategies evolve as traders adapt their behavior to changing circumstances. This paper studies the evolution of trading strategies for a hypothetical trader who chooses portfolios from foreign exchange (forex) technical rules in major and emerging markets, the carry trade, and U.S. equities. The results show that a backtesting procedure to choose optimal portfolios improves upon the performance of nonadaptive rules. We also find that forex trading alone dramatically outperforms the S&P 500, with much larger Sharpe ratios over the whole sample, but there is little gain to coordinating forex and equity strategies, which explains why practitioners consider these tools separately. Forex trading returns dip significantly in the 1990s but recover by the end of the decade and have been markedly superior to an equity position since 1998. Overall, trading rule returns still exist in forex markets—with substantial stability in the types of rules—though they have migrated to emerging markets to a considerable degree.

Mortgage Defaults

We present a model in which households facing income and housing-price shocks use long-term mortgages to purchase houses. Interest rates on mortgages reflect the risk of default. The model accounts for observed patterns of housing consumption, mortgage borrowing, and defaults. We use the model as a laboratory to evaluate default-prevention policies. While recourse mortgages make the penalty for default harsher and thus may lower the default rate, they also lower equity and increase payments and thus may increase the default rate. Introducing loan-to-value (LTV) limits for new mortgages increases equity and thus lowers the default rate, with negligible negative effects on housing demand. The combination of recourse mortgages and LTV limits reduces the default rate while boosting housing demand. Recourse mortgages with LTV limits are also necessary to prevent large increases in the mortgage default rate after large declines in the aggregate price of housing.

Negative Correlation between Stock and Futures Returns: An Unexploited Hedging Opportunity?

The negative correlation between equity and commodity futures returns is widely perceived by investors as an unexploited hedging opportunity. A Lucas (1982) two-country asset-pricing model is adapted to analyze the fundamentals driving equity and commodity futures returns. Using the model we argue that such a negative correlation could arise as an equilibrium relationship which reflects traders’ perceptions about the shocks driving the fundamentals such as energy and consumables, and does not necessarily indicate any hedging opportunity.

A Bayesian Multi-Factor Model of Instability in Prices and Quantities of Risk in U.S. Financial Markets

This paper analyzes the empirical performance of two alternative ways in which multi-factor models with time-varying risk exposures and premia may be estimated. The first method echoes the seminal two-pass approach advocated by Fama and MacBeth (1973). The second approach extends previous work by Ouysse and Kohn (2010) and is based on a Bayesian approach to modelling the latent process followed by risk exposures and idiosynchratic volatility. Our application to monthly, 1979-2008 U.S. data for stock, bond, and publicly traded real estate returns shows that the classical, two-stage approach that relies on a nonparametric, rolling window modelling of time-varying betas yields results that are unreasonable. There is evidence that all the portfolios of stocks, bonds, and REITs have been grossly over-priced. On the contrary, the Bayesian approach yields sensible results as most portfolios do not appear to have been misspriced and a few risk premia are precisely estimated with a plausibile sign. Real consumption growth risk turns out to be the only factor that is persistently priced throughout the sample.

Did Doubling Reserve Requirements Cause the Recession of 1937-1938? A Microeconomic Approach

In 1936-37, the Federal Reserve doubled the reserve requirements imposed on member banks. Ever since, the question of whether the doubling of reserve requirements increased reserve demand and produced a contraction of money and credit, and thereby helped to cause the recession of 1937-1938, has been a matter of controversy. Using microeconomic data to gauge the fundamental reserve demands of Fed member banks, we find that despite being doubled, reserve requirements were not binding on bank reserve demand in 1936 and 1937, and therefore could not have produced a significant contraction in the money multiplier. To the extent that increases in reserve demand occurred from 1935 to 1937, they reflected fundamental changes in the determinants of reserve demand and not changes in reserve requirements.

Regime Shifts in Mean-Variance Efficient Frontiers: Some International Evidence

Regime switching models have been assuming a central role in financial applications because of their well-known ability to capture the presence of rich non-linear patterns in the joint distribution of asset returns. This paper examines how the presence of regimes in means, variances, and correlations of asset returns translates into explicit dynamics of the Markowitz mean-variance frontier. In particular, the paper shows both theoretically and through an application to international equity portfolio diversification that substantial differences exist between bull and bear regime-specific frontiers, both in statistical and in economic terms. Using Morgan Stanley Capital International (MSCI) investable indices for five countries/macro-regions, it is possible to characterize the mean-variance frontiers and optimal portfolio strategies in bull periods, in bear periods, and in periods where high uncertainty exists on the nature of the current regime. A recursive back-testing exercise shows that between 1998 and 2010, adopting a switching mean-variance strategy may have yielded considerable risk-adjusted payoffs, which are the largest in correspondence to the 2007-2009 financial crisis.

Does the Macroeconomy Predict U.K Asset Returns in a Nonlinear Fashion? Comprehensive Out-of-Sample Evidence

We perform a comprehensive examination of the recursive, comparative predictive performance of a number of linear and non-linear models for UK stock and bond returns. We estimate Markov switching, threshold autoregressive (TAR), and smooth transition autoregressive (STR) regime switching models, and a range of linear specifications in addition to univariate models in which conditional heteroskedasticity is captured by GARCH type specifications and in which predicted volatilities appear in the conditional mean. The results demonstrate that U.K. asset returns require non-linear dynamics be modeled. In particular, the evidence in favor of adopting a Markov switching framework is strong. Our results appear robust to the choice of sample period, changes in the adopted loss function and to the methodology employed to test the null hypothesis of equal predictive accuracy across competing models.

Out-of-Sample Predictions of Bond Excess Returns and Forward Rates: An Asset-Allocation Perspective

This paper investigates the out-of-sample predictability of bond excess returns. We assess the economic value of the forecasting ability of empirical models based on long-term forward interest rates in a dynamic asset allocation strategy. The results show that the information content of forward rates does not generate systematic economic value to investors. Indeed, these models do not outperform the no-predictability benchmark. Furthermore, their relative performance deteriorates over time.

Ambiguity in Asset Pricing and Portfolio Choice: A Review of the Literature

A growing body of empirical evidence suggests that investors’ behavior is not well described by the traditional paradigm of (subjective) expected utility maximization under rational expectations. A literature has arisen that models agents whose choices are consistent with models that are less restrictive than the standard subjective expected utility framework. In this paper we conduct a survey of the existing literature that has explored the implications of decision-making under ambiguity for financial market outcomes, such as portfolio choice and equilibrium asset prices. We conclude that the ambiguity literature has led to a number of significant advances in our ability to rationalize empirical features of asset returns and portfolio decisions, such as the empirical failure of the two-fund separation theorem in portfolio decisions, the modest exposure to risky securities observed for a majority of investors, the home equity preference in international portfolio diversification, the excess volatility of asset returns, the equity premium and the risk-free rate puzzles, and the occurrence of trading break-downs.

A Yield Spread Perspective on the Great Financial Crisis: Break-Point Test Evidence

We use a simple partial adjustment econometric framework to investigate the effects of the crisis on the dynamic properties of a number of yield spreads. We find that the crisis has caused substantial disruptions revealed by changes in the persistence of the shocks to spreads as much as by in their unconditional mean levels. Formal breakpoint tests confirm that the financial crisis has been over approximately since the Spring of 2009. The financial crisis can be conservatively dated as a August 2007 – June 2009 phenomenon, although some yield spread series seem to point out to an end of the most serious disruptions as early as in December 2008. We uncover evidence that the LSAP program implemented by the Fed in the US residential mortgage market has been effective, in the sense that the risk premia in this market have been uniquely shielded from the disruptive effects of the crisis.

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