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From the Finance and Economics Discussion Paper Series

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    Jacob Adenbaum, Adam Copeland, and John J. Stevens | The U.S. federal government enacted fuel efficiency standards for medium and heavy trucks for the first time in September 2011. Rationales for using this policy tool typically depend upon frictions existing in the marketplace or consumers being myopic, such that vehicle purchasers undervalue the future fuel savings from increased fuel efficiency. We measure by how much long-haul truck owners undervalue future fuel savings by employing recent advances to the classic hedonic approach to estimate the distribution of willingness-to-pay for fuel efficiency. We find significant heterogeneity in truck owners' willingness to pay for fuel efficiency, with the elasticity of fuel efficiency to price ranging from 0.51 at the 10th percentile to 1.33 at the 90th percentile, and an average of 0.91. Combining these results with estimates of future fuel savings from increases in fuel efficiency, we find that long-haul truck owners' willingness-to-pay for a 1 percent increase in fuel efficiency is, on average, just 29.5 percent of the expected future fuel savings. These results suggest that introducing fuel efficiency standards for heavy trucks might be an effective policy tool to raise medium and heavy trucks' fuel economy.

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    Sarena F. Goodman and Adam M. Isen | We study how randomized variation from the Vietnam draft lottery affects the next generation's labor market. Using the universe of federal tax returns, we link fathers from draft cohorts to their sons and offer two primary findings. First, sons of men called by the lottery have lower earnings and labor force participation than their peers. Second, they are more likely to volunteer for military service themselves. Similar but smaller effects are uncovered for daughters. Our findings demonstrate that manipulating parental circumstances can alter children's outcomes and, more specifically, are consistent with two separately operating channels: (1) parental inputs as important determinants of human capital development and (2) intergenerational transmission of occupation.

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    Bruce C. Fallick, Michael Lettau, and William L. Wascher | Rigidity in wages has long been thought to impede the functioning of labor markets. One recent strand of the research on wage flexibility in the United States and elsewhere has focused on the possibility of downward nominal wage rigidity and what implications such rigidity might have for the macroeconomy at low levels of inflation. The Great Recession of 2008-09, during which the unemployment rate topped 10 percent and price deflation was at times seen as a distinct possibility, along with the subsequent slow recovery and persistently low inflation, has added to the relevance of this line of inquiry. In this paper, we use establishment-level data from a nationally representative establishment-based compensation survey collected by the Bureau of Labor Statistics to investigate the extent to which downward nominal wage rigidity is present in U.S. labor markets. We use several distinct methods proposed in the literature to test for downward nominal wage rigidity, and to assess whether such rigidity is more severe at low rates of inflation and in the presence of negative economic shocks than in more normal economic times. Like earlier studies, we find evidence of a significant amount of downward nominal wage rigidity in the United States. We find no evidence that the high degree of labor market distress during the Great Recession reduced the amount of downward nominal wage rigidity and some evidence that operative rigidity may have increased during that period.

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    Felicia Ionescu and Nicole Simpson | In recent years, the proportion of students facing a binding constraint on government student loans has grown. This has led to substantially increased use of private loans as a supplementary source of finance for households' higher education investment. A critical aspect of the private market for student loans is that loan terms must reflect students' risk of default. College investment will therefore differ from a world in which government student loans, whose terms are not sensitive to credit risk, are expanded to no longer bind. Moreover, beyond simply crowding out private lending, expansions of the government student loan program will feed back into default risk on private loans. The goal of this paper is to provide a quantitative assessment of the likely effects of the private market for student loans on college enrollment. We build a model of college investment that reflects uninsured idiosyncratic risk and a well-defined life-cycle that is consistent with observed borrowing and default behavior across family income and college preparedness. We find that higher government borrowing limits increase college investment but lead to more default in the private market for student loans, while tuition subsides increase college investment and reduce default rates in the private market. Consequently, higher limits on government student loans have small negative welfare effects, while tuition subsidies increase aggregate welfare.

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    Mark A. Carlson and Jonathan D. Rose | This paper analyzes the run on Continental Illinois in 1984. We find that the run slowed but did not stop following an extraordinary government intervention, which included the guarantee of all liabilities of the bank and a commitment to provide ongoing liquidity support. Continental's outflows were driven by a broad set of US and foreign financial institutions. These were large, sophisticated creditors with holdings far in excess of the insurance limit. During the initial run, creditors with relatively liquid balance sheets nevertheless withdrew more than other creditors, likely reflecting low tolerance to hold illiquid assets. In addition, smaller and more-distant creditors were more likely to withdraw. In the second and more drawn out phase of the run, institutions with relative large exposures to Continental were more likely to withdraw, reflecting a general unwillingness to have an outsized exposure to a troubled institution even in the absence of credit risk. Finally, we show that the concentration of holdings of Continental's liabilities was a key dynamic in the run and was importantly linked to Continental's systemic importance.

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    Filippo Curti and Marco Migueis | Operational risk models, such as the loss distribution approach, frequently use past internal losses to forecast operational loss exposure. However, the ability of past losses to predict exposure, particularly tail exposure, has not been thoroughly examined in the literature. In this paper, we test whether simple metrics derived from past loss experience are predictive of future tail operational loss exposure using quantile regression. We find evidence that past losses are predictive of future exposure, particularly metrics related to loss frequency.

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    Alexander Ljungqvist and Michael Smolyansky | Do corporate tax increases destroy jobs? And do corporate tax cuts boost employment? Answering these questions has proved empirically challenging. We propose an identification strategy that exploits variation in corporate income tax rates across U.S. states. Comparing contiguous counties straddling state borders over the period 1970 to 2010, we find that increases in corporate tax rates lead to significant reductions in employment and income. We find little evidence that corporate tax cuts boost economic activity, unless implemented during recessions when they lead to significant increases in employment and income. Our spatial-discontinuity approach permits a causal interpretation of these findings by both establishing a plausible counterfactual and overcoming biases resulting from the fact that tax changes are often prompted by changes in economic conditions.

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    Jonathan D. Rose | This paper explores the economic issues related to systemically important insurance companies, using an example from the Great Depression, the National Surety Company. National Surety was a large and diverse insurance company that experienced a major crisis in 1933 due to losses from its guarantees of mortgage-backed securities. A liquidity crisis ensued, as policyholders staged a massive run on the company, demanding the return of their unearned premiums. The New York State Insurance Commissioner stepped in with a reorganization plan that split the company in two, out of fear that a disorderly liquidation would have systemic consequences given the sheer number of the company's counterparties, scattered all across the United States. A key dynamic of the crisis was that policy holders at an insurance company have a dual role as holders of liabilities and as providers of income.

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    Jenny Schuetz, Genevieve Giuliano, and Eun Jin Shin | Over the past 20 years, local and regional governments in the Los Angeles metropolitan area have invested significant resources in building rail transit infrastructure that connects major employment centers. One goal of transit infrastructure is to catalyze the development of high density, mixed-use housing and commercial activity within walking distance of rail stations, referred to as Transit Oriented Development (TOD). This project examines the quantity, type, and mix of economic activity that has occurred around newly built rail stations in Los Angeles over the past 20 years. Specifically, have the number of jobs or housing market characteristics changed near stations? We use establishment-level data on employment and property-level data on housing transactions to analyze changes in several employment and housing outcomes. Results suggest that new rail stations were located in areas that, prior to station opening, had unusually high employment density and mostly multifamily rental housing. There is no evidence of changes in employment density, housing sales volume, or new housing development within five years after station opening. Regressions suggest that a subset of stations saw increased employment density within five to ten years after opening.

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    Luca Guerrieri, Dale Henderson, and Jinill Kim | Consumption and investment comove over the business cycle in response to shocks that permanently move the price of investment. The interpretation of these shocks has relied on standard one-sector models or on models with two or more sectors that can be aggregated. However, the same interpretation continues to go through in models that cannot be aggregated into a standard one-sector model. Furthermore, such a two-sector model with distinct factor input shares across production sectors and commingling of sectoral outputs in the assembly of final consumption and investment goods, in line with the U.S. Input-Output Tables, has implications for aggregate variables. It yields a closer match to the empirical evidence of positive comovement for consumption and investment.

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    Michael Smolyansky | Can policies directed at the banking sector in one jurisdiction spill over and affect real economic activity elsewhere? To investigate this question, I exploit changes in tax rates on bank profits across U.S. states. Banks respond by reallocating small-business lending to otherwise unaffected states. Moreover, counties in non-tax-changing states that have more exposure to "treated" banks experience greater changes in lending, which in turn impacts local employment. The findings demonstrate that policies aimed at the banking sector in one jurisdiction can impose externalities on other regions. Critically, financial linkages between regions serve as the transmission channel for these policy externalities.

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    Timothy S. Hills, Taisuke Nakata, and Sebastian Schmidt | Even when the policy rate is currently not constrained by its effective lower bound (ELB), the possibility that the policy rate will become constrained in the future lowers today's inflation by creating tail risk in future inflation and thus reducing expected inflation. In an empirically rich model calibrated to match key features of the U.S. economy, we find that the tail risk induced by the ELB causes inflation to undershoot the target rate of 2 percent by as much as 45 basis points at the economy's risky steady state. Our model suggests that achieving the inflation target may be more difficult now than before the Great Recession, if the recent ELB experience has led households and firms to revise up their estimate of the ELB frequency.

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    Alvaro A. Mezza, Daniel R. Ringo, Shane M. Sherlund, and Kamila Sommer | This paper estimates the effect of student loan debt on subsequent homeownership in a uniquely constructed administrative data set for a nationally representative cohort aged 23 to 31 in 2004 and followed over time, from 1997 to 2010. Our unique data combine anonymized individual credit bureau data with college enrollment histories and school characteristics associated with each enrollment spell, as well as several other data sources. To identify the causal effect of student loans on homeownership, we instrument for the amount of the individual's student loan debt using changes to the in-state tuition rate at public 4-year colleges in the student's home state. We find that a 10 percent increase in student loan debt causes a 1 to 2 percentage point drop in the homeownership rate for student loan borrowers during the first five years after exiting school. Validity tests suggest that the results are not confounded by local economic conditions or non-random selection int o the estimation sample.

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    Thomas T. Laubach and John C. Williams | Persistently low real interest rates have prompted the question whether low interest rates are here to stay. This essay assesses the empirical evidence regarding the natural rate of interest in the United States using the Laubach-Williams model. Since the start of the Great Recession, the estimated natural rate of interest fell sharply and shows no sign of recovering. These results are robust to alternative model specifications. If the natural rate remains low, future episodes of hitting the zero lower bound are likely to be frequent and long-lasting. In addition, uncertainty about the natural rate argues for policy approaches that are more robust to mismeasurement of natural rates.

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    Christine L. Dobridge | In this paper, I examine the effects of a countercyclical fiscal policy that gave firms additional tax refunds--additional liquidity--at the end of the past two recessions. I take advantage of a discontinuity in the slope of the tax refund formula to estimate the policy's impact. I find that after passage of the policy in 2002, firms allocated $0.40 of every tax refund dollar to investment. After passage of the policy in 2009, in contrast, firms used the refunds to increase cash holdings ($0.96 of every refund dollar) before paying down debt in the following year. I provide evidence that differences in macroeconomic conditions across the two periods drove these differences in firm responses, illustrating how the effects of stimulus vary across recessionary states of the world. I also show that while the policy had no discernable effect on investment in the most recent recessionary period, it did reduce firms' bankruptcy risk and the probability of a future credit- rating downgrade.

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    Hie Joo Ahn and James D. Hamilton | This paper develops new estimates of flows into and out of unemployment that allow for unobserved heterogeneity across workers as well as direct effects of unemployment duration on unemployment-exit probabilities. Unlike any previous paper in this literature, we develop a complete dynamic statistical model that allows us to measure the contribution of different shocks to the short-run, medium-run, and long-run variance of unemployment as well as to specific historical episodes. We find that changes in the inflows of newly unemployed are the key driver of economic recessions and identify an increase in permanent job loss as the most important factor.

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    Garth Baughman | Deadlines and fixed end dates are pervasive in matching markets including school choice, the market for new graduates, and even financial markets such as the market for federal funds. Deadlines drive fundamental non-stationarity and complexity in behavior, generating significant departures from the steady-state equilibria usually studied in the search and matching literature. I consider a two-sided matching market with search frictions where vertically differentiated agents attempt to form bilateral matches before a deadline. I give conditions for existence and uniqueness of equilibria, and show that all equilibria exhibit an "anticipation effect" where less attractive agents become increasingly choosy over time, preferring to wait for the opportunity to match with attractive agents who, in turn, become less selective as the deadline approaches. When payoffs accrue after the deadline, or agents do not discount, a sharp characterization is available: at any point in t ime, the market is segmented into a first class of matching agents and a second class of waiting agents. This points to a different interpretation of unraveling observed in some markets and provides a benchmark for other studies of non-stationary matching. A simple intervention -- a small participation cost -- can dramatically improve efficiency.

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    Raven S. Molloy, Christopher L. Smith, Riccardo Trezzi, and Abigail Wozniak | We document a clear downward trend in labor market fluidity that is common across a variety of measures of worker and job turnover. This trend dates to at least the early 1980s if not somewhat earlier. Next we pull together evidence on a variety of hypotheses that might explain this downward trend. It is only partly related to population demographics and is not due to the secular shift in industrial composition. Moreover, the decline in labor market fluidity seems unlikely to have been caused by an improvement in worker-firm matching, the formalization of hiring practices, or an increase in land use regulation or other regulations. Plausible avenues for further exploration include changes in the worker-firm relationship, particularly with regard to compensation adjustment; changes in firm characteristics such as firm size and age; and a decline in social trust, which may have increased the cost of job search or made both parties in the hiring process more risk averse.

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    Sian L. Seldin | The Board of Governors of the Federal Reserve System has published extensive statistical information on the U.S. economy and banking industry since 1914. This information has been published in various formats, usually referred to as "statistical releases." Titles and release numbers of the publications have changed frequently. Federal Reserve Board Statistical Releases: a Publications History describes these changes; it is a convenient tool that lightens the burden of tracing the titles and release numbers by providing history in a single location.

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    David M. Byrne, John G. Fernald, and Marshall B. Reinsdorf | After 2004, measured growth in labor productivity and total-factor productivity (TFP) slowed. We find little evidence that the slowdown arises from growing mismeasurement of the gains from innovation in IT-related goods and services. First, mismeasurement of IT hardware is significant prior to the slowdown. Because the domestic production of these products has fallen, the quantitative effect on productivity was larger in the 1995-2004 period than since, despite mismeasurement worsening for some types of IT--so our adjustments make the slowdown in labor productivity worse. The effect on TFP is more muted. Second, many of the tremendous consumer benefits from smartphones, Google searches, and Facebook are, conceptually, non-market: Consumers are more productive in using their nonmarket time to produce services they value. These benefits do not mean that market-sector production functions are shifting out more rapidly than measured, even if consumer welfare is rising. Still, gains in non-market production appear too small to compensate for the loss in overall wellbeing from slower market-sector productivity growth. Third, other measurement issues we can quantify (such as increasing globalization and fracking) are also quantitatively small relative to the slowdown. Finally, we suggest high-priority areas for future research.

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