Inspecting the mechanism of quantitative easing in the euro area

Ralph Koijen, François Koulischer, Benoît Nguyen, Motohiro Yogo | Journal of Financial Economics (2021)

Using security-level holdings for all euro-area investors, we study portfolio rebalancing during the quantitative easing program from March 2015 to December 2017. Foreign investors outside the euro area accommodated most of the Eurosystem’s purchases. Duration, government credit, and corporate credit risk did not get concentrated in particular regions or investor sectors. We estimate a demand system for government bonds by instrumental variables to relate portfolio rebalancing to yield changes. Government bond yields decreased by 65 basis points on average, and this estimate varies from 38 to 83 basis points across countries.

The Fragility of Market Risk Insurance

Ralph Koijen and Motohiro Yogo | Journal of Finance (2022)

Variable annuities, which package mutual funds with minimum return guarantees over long horizons, accounted for $1.5 trillion or 35% of U.S. life insurer liabilities in
2015. Sales decreased and fees increased during the global financial crisis, and insurers made guarantees less generous or stopped offering guarantees to reduce risk
exposure. These effects persist in the low-interest rate environment after the global financial crisis, and variable annuity insurers suffered large equity drawdowns during the COVID-19 crisis. We develop and estimate a model of insurance markets in which financial frictions and market power determine pricing, contract characteristics, and the degree of market completeness.

Monetary Policy, Redistribution, and Risk Premia

Rohan Kekre and Moritz Lenel | Econometrica (Accepted in 2022)

We study the transmission of monetary policy through risk premia in a heterogeneous agent New Keynesian environment. Heterogeneity in households’ marginal propensity to take risk (MPR) summarizes di fferences in portfolio choice on the margin. An unexpected reduction in the nominal interest rate redistributes to households with high MPRs, lowering risk premia and amplifying the stimulus to the real economy. Quantitatively, this mechanism rationalizes the role of news about future excess returns in driving the stock market response
to monetary policy shocks and amplifi es their real eff ects by 1.3-1.4 times.

The Flight to Safety and International Risk Sharing

Rohan Kekre and Moritz Lenel | Working Paper (2021)

We study a business cycle model of the international monetary system featuring a time-varying demand for safe dollar bonds, greater risk-bearing capacity in the U.S. than the rest of the world, and nominal rigidities. A flight to safety generates a dollar appreciation and decline in global output. Dollar bonds thus command a negative risk premium and the U.S. holds a levered portfolio of capital financed in dollars. We quantify the eff ects of safety shocks and heterogeneity in risk-bearing capacity for global macroeconomic volatility; U.S. external adjustment; and the international transmission of monetary and fiscal policies, including dollar swap lines.

Where Has All the Big Data Gone?

Maryam Farboodi, Adrien Matray, Laura Veldkamp and Venky Venkateswaran  | Review of Financial Studies (2022)

As financial technology improves and data become more abundant, do market prices reflect this growing information and allocate capital more efficiently? While a number of recent studies have documented rises in aggregate price efficiency, we show that there are large cross-sectional differences. The previously-documented increases are driven by a rise in the informativeness of large, growth stocks. The informational efficiency of smaller assets’ prices or prices of asset with less growth potential are either flat or declining. We document these new facts and use a structural model to decompose changes in price informativeness into the effects of changes in information and in growth or volatility characteristics of the assets. Finally, by computing the initial value of data implied by our structural model, we show that these findings could be explained partly by the fact that large firms have grown relatively larger.

The Local Innovation Spillovers of Listed Firms

Adrien Matray | Journal of Financial Economics (2021)

This paper provides causal evidence of local innovation spillovers, i.e. innovation by one firm fostering innovation by neighboring firms. First, I document that exogenous shocks to innovation by listed firms affect innovation by private firms in the same geographical area. I also find that such local innovation spillovers decline rapidly with distance. Second, I find that local innovation spillovers stem at least in part from knowledge diffusing locally through two channels: learning across local firms and inventors moving from their employer to both existing firms and newly started spin-outs. Finally, I study the two-way relationship between innovation spillovers and the availability of capital. I find that local innovation spillovers lead venture capital funds from outside the area to invest more in the local area, and that conversely capital availability amplifies local innovation spillovers.

Dividend Taxes and the Allocation of Capital

Charles Boissel and Adrien Matray | American Economic Review (2022)

This paper investigates the 2013 three-fold increase in the French dividend tax rate. Using administrative data covering the universe of firms over 2008-2017 and a quasi-experimental setting, we find that firms swiftly cut dividend payments and used this tax-induced increase in liquidity to invest more. Heterogeneity analyses show that firms with high demand and returns on capital responded most while no group of firms cut their investment. Our results reject models in which higher dividend taxes increase the cost of capital and show that the tax-induced increase in liquidity relaxes credit constraints which can reduce capital misallocation.

Loan guarantees and credit supply

Natalie Cox, Olivia Kim, Constantine Yannelis | Journal of Financial Economics (2021)

The efficiency of federal lending guarantees depends on whether guarantees increase lending supply or simply act as a subsidy to lenders. We use notches in the guarantee rate schedule for Small Business Administration (SBA) loans to estimate the elasticity of bank lending volume to loan guarantees. We show significant bunching in the loan distribution on the side of the size threshold that carries a more generous loan guarantee. The excess mass implies that increasing guarantee generosity by one percentage point of loan principal would increase per-loan lending volume by $19,000. Excess mass increases in periods with guarantee generosity, and placebo results indicate that the effect disappears when the guarantee notch is eliminated.

Costs of Financing US Federal Debt: 1791-1933

George Hall, Jonathan Payne, Thomas Sargent, Bálint Szoke | Working paper (2021)

We use computational Bayesian methods to estimate parameters of a statistical model of gold, greenback, and real yield curves for US federal debt from 1791 to 1933. Posterior probability coverage intervals indicate more uncertainty about yields during periods in which data are especially sparse. We detect substantial discrepancies between our approximate yield curves and standard historical series on yields on US federal debt, especially during War of 1812 and Civil War surges in government expenditures that were accompanied by units of account ambiguities. We use our approximate yield curves to describe how long it took to achieve Alexander Hamilton’s goal of reducing default risk premia in US yields by building a reputation for servicing debts as promised. We infer that during the Civil War suspension of convertibility of greenback dollars into gold dollars, US creditors anticipated a rapid post war return to convertibility at par, but that after the war they anticipated a slower return.

Credit Allocation and Macroeconomic Fluctuations

Karsten Müller, Emil Verner | Working paper (2021)

We study the relationship between credit expansions, macroeconomic fluctuations, and financial crises using a novel database on the sectoral distribution of private credit for 117 countries starting in 1940. Theory predicts that the sectoral allocation of credit matters for distinguishing between “good” and “bad” credit booms. We test the prediction that lending to households and the non-tradable sector, relative to the tradable sector, contributes to macroeconomic boom-bust cycles by (i) fueling unsustainable demand booms, (ii) increasing financial fragility, and (iii) misallocating resources across sectors. We show that credit to non-tradable sectors, including construction and real estate, is associated with a boom-bust pattern in output, similar to household credit booms. Such lending booms also predict elevated financial crisis risk and productivity slowdowns. In contrast, tradable-sector credit expansions are followed by stable output and productivity growth without a higher risk of a financial crisis. Our findings highlight that what credit is used for is important for understanding macro-financial linkages.

Busy bankruptcy courts and the cost of credit

Karsten Müller | Journal of Financial Economics (2022)

This paper estimates the effect of bankruptcy court caseload on access to credit by ex- ploiting firms’ plausibly exogenous exposure to the largest recorded drop in court backlog in the United States following the 2005 consumer bankruptcy reform. I show that a drop in court congestion reduces the time firms spend in bankruptcy and increases recovery values, which is priced into credit spreads and loan maturities. Consistent with a shock to credit supply, less congested courts increase firm leverage but leave default risk unchanged. A back-of-the-envelope calculation suggests that backlog in bankruptcy courts costs corporate borrowers at least $740 million per year in interest payments.

Low Interest Rates, Market Power, and Productivity Growth

Ernest Liu, Atif Mian, Amir Sufi | Econometrica (2022)

This study provides a new theoretical result that a decline in the long-term interest rate can trigger a stronger investment response by market leaders relative to market
followers, thereby leading to more concentrated markets, higher profits, and lower aggregate productivity growth. This strategic effect of lower interest rates on market
concentration implies that aggregate productivity growth declines as the interest rate approaches zero. The framework is relevant for antitrust policy in a low interest rate environment, and it provides a unified explanation for rising market concentration and falling productivity growth as interest rates in the economy have fallen to extremely low levels.

A Goldilocks Theory of Fiscal Deficits

Atif Mian, Ludwig Straub, Amir Sufi | NBER Working Paper (2022)

This paper proposes a tractable framework to analyze fiscal space and the dynamics of government debt, with a possibly binding zero lower bound (ZLB) constraint. Without the ZLB, a greater primary deficit unambiguously raises debt. However, debt need not explode: When R < G – φ, where φ is the sensitivity of R – G to debt, a modest permanent increase in the deficit can be sustained forever, a policy we call “free lunch”. With the ZLB, the relationship between deficit and debt can become non-monotone. Both high and low deficits can increase debt, as the latter weaken demand and reduce nominal growth at the ZLB. A rise in income inequality expands fiscal space outside the ZLB, but contracts it at the ZLB. Calibrating the model, we find little space for “free lunch” policies for the United States in 2019, but ample space for Japan.

International Friends and Enemies

Benny Kleinman, Ernest Liu, Stephen Redding | Working Paper (2022)

We examine whether as countries become more economically dependent on a trade partner, they realign politically towards that trade partner. We use network measures of economic exposure to foreign productivity growth derived from the class of trade models with a constant trade elasticity. We establish causality using two different sources of quasi-experimental variation: China’s emergence into the global economy and the reduction in the cost of air travel over time. In both cases, we find that increased economic friendship  causes increased political friendship, and that our theory-based network measures dominate simpler measures of trading relationships between countries.

Falling Rates and Rising Superstars

Thomas Kroen, Ernest Liu, Atif Mian, Amir Sufi | NBER Working Paper (2021)

Do low interest rates contribute to the rise in market concentration? Using data on firm financials and high frequency monetary policy shocks, we find that falling interest rates disproportionately benefit industry leaders, especially when the initial interest rate is already low. Falling rates raise the valuation of industry leaders relative to industry followers and this effect snowballs as the interest rate approaches zero. There are multiple channels through which falling rates disproportionately benefit industry leaders:(i) the cost of borrowing falls more for industry leaders, (ii) industry leaders are able to raise more debt, increase leverage, and buyback more shares, and (iii) capital investment and acquisitions increase more for industry leaders. All three of these effects also snowball as the interest rate approaches zero. The findings provide empirical support to the idea that extremely low interest rates and the rise of superstar firms are connected.

Dynamic Spatial General Equilibrium

Benny Kleinman, Ernest Liu, Stephen Redding | Working Paper (2022)

We develop a dynamic spatial model with forward-looking investment and migration. We characterize the existence and uniqueness of the steady-state equilibrium; generalize existing dynamic exact-hat algebra techniques to incorporate investment; and linearize the model to provide an analytical characterization of the economy’s transition path using spectral analysis. We show that U.S. states are closer to steady-state at the end of our sample period in 2015 than during the prior five decades. We find that much of the observed decline in the rate of income convergence across US states is explained by gradual adjustment given initial conditions, rather than by shocks to fundamentals, and that both capital and labor dynamics contribute to this gradual adjustment. We show that capital and labor dynamics interact with one another to generate slow and heterogeneous rates of convergence to steady-state.

Household Credit as Stimulus? Evidence from Brazil

Gabriel Garber, Atif Mian, Jacopo Ponticelli, Amir Sufi | NBER Working Paper (2022)

From 2011 to 2014, the Brazilian government conducted a heavily advertised major credit expansion program through government banks as part of its effort to stimulate the economy. Using administrative data on individual-level borrowing and spending, we find that the program led to a substantial rise in borrowing by government employees, especially those with low financial literacy. We trace the impact of credit stimulus on borrowers’ consumption through the 2011-16 business cycle, and find that the credit stimulus resulted in higher consumption volatility and lower average consumption over the cycle. Our results suggest a potential downside of using household credit as stimulus in emerging markets.

The Savings Glut of the Rich

Atif Mian, Ludwig Straub, Amir Sufi | NBER Working Paper (2021)

There has been a large rise in savings by Americans in the top 1% of the income or wealth distribution over the past 40 years, which we call the saving glut of the rich. Instead of financing investment, this saving glut has been associated with dissaving by the non-rich and dissaving by the government. An unveiling of the financial sector reveals that rich households have accumulated substantial financial assets that are direct claims on U.S. government and household debt. State-level analysis shows that the rise in top income shares has been important in generating the rise in savings by the rich.

Indebted Demand

Atif Mian, Ludwig Straub, Amir Sufi | Quarterly Journal of Economics (2021)

We propose a theory of indebted demand, capturing the idea that large debt burdens lower aggregate demand, and thus the natural rate of interest. At the core of the theory is the simple yet underappreciated observation that borrowers and savers differ in their marginal propensities to save out of permanent income. Embedding this insight in a two-agent perpetual-youth model, we find that recent trends in income inequality and financial deregulation lead to indebted household demand, pushing down the natural rate of interest. Moreover, popular expansionary policies—such as accommodative monetary policy—generate a debt-financed short-run boom at the expense of indebted demand in the future. When demand is sufficiently indebted, the economy gets stuck in a debt-driven liquidity trap, or debt trap. Escaping a debt trap requires consideration of less conventional macroeconomic policies, such as those focused on redistribution or those reducing the structural sources of high inequality.

How Does Credit Supply Expansion Affect the Real Economy? The Productive Capacity and Household Demand Channels

Atif Mian, Amir Sufi, Emil Verner | Journal of Finance (2020)

Credit supply expansion can affect an economy by increasing productive capacity or by boosting household demand. In this study, we develop a test to determine if
the household demand channel is present, and we implement the test using both a natural experiment in the United States in the 1980s and an international panel
of 56 countries over the last several decades. Consistent with the importance of the household demand channel, we find that credit supply expansion boosts nontradable sector employment and the price of nontradable goods, with limited effects on tradable sector employment. Such credit expansions amplify the business cycle and lead to more severe recessions.

A Demand System Approach to Asset Pricing

Ralph Koijen and Motohiro Yogo | Journal of Political Economy (2019)

We develop an asset pricing model with flexible heterogeneity in asset demand across investors, designed to match institutional and household holdings. A portfolio choice model implies characteristics-based demand when returns have a factor structure and expected returns and factor loadings depend on the assets’ own characteristics. We propose an instrumental variables estimator for the characteristics-based demand system to address the endogeneity of demand and asset prices. Using US stock market data, we illustrate how the model could be used to understand the role of institutions in asset market movements, volatility, and predictability.