Friday, 19 December 2014

2014-109: Assessing the Change in Labor Market Conditions

Otmane El Rhazi, Hess T. Chung, Bruce Fallick, Christopher J. Nekarda, and David D. Ratner. This paper describes a dynamic factor model of 19 U.S. labor market indicators, covering the broad categories of unemployment and underemployment, employment, workweeks, wages, vacancies, hiring, layoffs, quits, and surveys of consumers' and businesses' perceptions. The resulting labor market conditions index (LMCI) is a useful tool for gauging the change in labor market conditions. In addition, the model provides a way to organize discussions of the signal value of different labor market indicators in situations when they might be sending diverse signals. The model takes the greatest signal from private payroll employment and the unemployment rate. Other influential indicators include the insured unemployment rate, consumers' perceptions of job availability, and help-wanted advertising. Through the lens of the LMCI, labor market conditions have improved at a moderate p ace over the past several years, albeit with some notable variation along the way. In addition, from the perspective of the model, the unemployment rate declined a bit faster over the past two years than was consistent with the other indicators. Full Text



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2014-108: In Search of a Risk-free Asset

Otmane El Rhazi, Vladimir Yankov. To attract retail time deposits, over 7,000 FDIC insured U.S. commercial banks publicly post their yield offers. I document an economically sizable and highly pro-cyclical cross-sectional dispersion in these yield offers during the period 1997 - 2011. Banks adjusted their yields rigidly and asymmetrically with median duration of 7 weeks in response to increasing or constant Fed Funds rate target regimes and 3 weeks during regimes of decreasing Fed Fund rate target. I investigate to what extent information (search) costs on the part of the investors in this market can explain the observed pricing behavior. I build and estimate an asset pricing model with heterogeneous search cost investors. A large fraction of high information cost uninformed investors and the exit of low information cost informed investors rationalizes the observed price dispersion. I further qualitatively match the asymmetric yield rigidity within the framework of costly consumer search without the need to impose menu costs or other restrictions on the banks' repricing behavior. Full Text



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2014-107: Fiscal Multipliers at the Zero Lower Bound: The Role of Policy Inertia

Otmane El Rhazi, Timothy S. Hills and Taisuke Nakata. The presence of the lagged shadow policy rate in the interest rate feedback rule reduces the government spending multiplier nontrivially when the policy rate is constrained at the zero lower bound (ZLB). In the economy with policy inertia, increased inflation and output due to higher government spending during a recession speed up the return of the policy rate to the steady state after the recession ends. This in turn dampens the expansionary effects of the government spending during the recession via expectations. In our baseline calibration, the output multiplier at the ZLB is 2.5 when the weight on the lagged shadow rate is zero, and 1.1 when the weight is 0.9. Full Text



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2014-106: Are Concerns About Leveraged ETFs Overblown?

Otmane El Rhazi, Ivan T. Ivanov and Stephen L. Lenkey. Leveraged and inverse exchange-traded funds (ETFs) have been heavily criticized for exacerbating volatility in financial markets because it is thought that they mechanically rebalance their portfolios in the same direction as contemporaneous returns. We argue that these criticisms are likely exaggerated because they ignore the effects of capital flows on ETF rebalancing demand. Empirically, we find that capital flows substantially reduce the need for ETFs to rebalance when returns are large in magnitude and, therefore, mitigate the potential for these products to amplify volatility. We also show theoretically that flows can completely eliminate ETF rebalancing in the limit. Full Text



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2014-105: Conservatism and Liquidity Traps

Otmane El Rhazi, Taisuke Nakata and Sebastian Schmidt. Appointing Rogoff's (1985) conservative central banker improves welfare if the economy is subject to large contractionary shocks and the policy rate occasionally falls to the zero lower bound (ZLB). In an economy with occasionally binding ZLB constraints, the anticipation of future ZLB episodes creates a trade-off between inflation and output stabilization. As a consequence, inflation systematically falls below target even when the policy rate is above zero. A conservative central banker mitigates this deflationary bias away from the ZLB, improving allocations both at and away from the ZLB through expectations. Full Text



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2014-104: Bitcoin: Technical Background and Data Analysis

Otmane El Rhazi, Anton Badev and Matthew Chen. This paper provides the necessary technical background to understand basic Bitcoin operations and documents a set of empirical regularities related to Bitcoin usage. We present the micro-structure of the Bitcoin transaction process and highlight the use of cryptography for the purposes of transaction security and distributed maintenance of a ledger. Using publicly available transaction-level data, we examine patterns of general usage together with usage by Satoshi Dice, the largest online gambling service using Bitcoin as the method of payment. Our analysis suggests that less than 50 percent of all bitcoins in circulation are used in transactions. About half of these transactions involve less than U.S.$100 equivalent, and for the period for which we have data for Satoshi Dice, most of these small-value transactions were related to the online gambling service. Relatively less frequent large value transactions drive the average transaction value to levels above U.S.$40,000 equivalent value, and are not likely to involve payments for goods and services. Bitcoin exchange rates exhibit somewhat complicated dynamics. In the past 24 months, the USD-BTC exchange rate increased more than 50-fold. The daily variance of the USD-BTC exchange rate remained remarkably stable for this same period, once the variance calculations account for the changing exchange rate level. We also document that the exchange rates between bitcoin and other major currencies are not well aligned. We interpret this as lack of depth of the exchange markets and as costly exchange rather than as unexploited arbitrage opportunities. Finally, we examine the economic incentives for the participants in the distributed implementation of the Bitcoin scheme. Full Text



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Wednesday, 3 December 2014

IFDP1126: Cyclically Adjusted Current Account Balances

Otmane El Rhazi, Jane Haltmaier. The Great Financial Crisis coincided with a sizable reduction in global external imbalances, defined as the absolute value of the sum of individual country current account surpluses and deficits relative to global GDP. Although current account balances should not respond to a downturn that is uniform across countries, one that hits countries with current account deficits harder than those with surpluses might result in a decline in the global balance. This paper quantifies the cyclical portion of the current account balance for 35 countries using estimates of the severity of the cycle in each country relative to that of its trading partners in conjunction with three estimates of the sensitivity of the current account balance to changes in the output gap. Two of the estimates are derived from equations linking trade to income and the third is derived from the relationship between changes in current account balances and changes in output gap differentials. The main result is that the bulk of the reduction in the global current account imbalance since 2006 appears to have been structural. Cyclical forces are estimated to account for between 10 and 30 percent of the decline. In the aggregate, the cyclical effect is estimated to be currently holding down the global current account balance by about 1/2 percentage point. However, the size of the cyclical effect is more substantial for some countries. Both surplus and deficit countries have contributed to the decline in the absolute value of the global current account imbalance, but the contribution of the deficit countries is about twice as large as that of the surplus countries. Changes in oil prices have had largely offsetting effects on the global current account balance, but changes in real exchange rates in recent years have contributed to the reduction. Full Text



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Tuesday, 2 December 2014

IFDP1125: How Public Information Affects Asymmetrically Informed Lenders: Evidence from a Credit Registry Reform

Otmane El Rhazi, M. Ali Choudhary and Anil K. Jain. We exploit exogenous variation in the amount of public information available to banks about a firm to empirically evaluate the importance of adverse selection in the credit market. A 2006 reform introduced by the State Bank of Pakistan (SBP) reduced the amount of public information available to Pakistani banks about a firm's creditworthiness. Prior to 2006, the SBP published credit information not only about the firm in question but also (aggregate) credit information about the firm's group (where the group was defined as the set of all firms that shared one or more director with the firm in question). After the reform, the SBP stopped providing the aggregate group-level information. We propose a model with differentially informed banks and adverse selection, which generates predictions on how this reform is expected to affect a bank's willingness to lend. The model predicts that adverse selection leads less informed banks to reduce lending compared to more informed banks. We construct a measure for the amount of information each lender has about a firm's group using the set of firm-bank lending pairs prior to the reform. We empirically show those banks with private information about a firm lent relatively more to that firm than other, less-informed banks following the reform. Remarkably, this reduction in lending by less informed banks is true even for banks that had a pre-existing relationship with the firm, suggesting that the strength of prior relationships does not eliminate the problem of imperfect information. Full Text



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Wednesday, 26 November 2014

2014-103: Habit, Production, and the Cross-Section of Stock Returns

Otmane El Rhazi, Andrew Y. Chen. Solutions to the equity premium puzzle should inform us about the cross-section of stock returns. An external habit model with heterogeneous firms reproduces numerous stylized facts about both the equity premium and the value premium. The equity premium is large, time-varying, and linked with consumption volatility. The cross-section of expected returns is log-linear in B/M, and the slope matches the data. The explanation for the value premium lies in the interaction between the cross-section of cash flows and the time-varying risk premium. Value firms are temporarily low productivity firms, which will eventually experience high cash flows. The present value of these temporally distant cash flows is sensitive to risk premium movements. The value premium is the reward for bearing this sensitivity. Empirical evidence verifies that value firms have higher cash-flow growth. The data also show that value stock returns are more sensitive to risk premium movements, as measured by consumption volatility shocks. Full Text



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2014-102: The Demand for Short-Term, Safe Assets and Financial Stability: Some Evidence and Implications for Central Bank Policies

Otmane El Rhazi, Mark Carlson, Burcu Duygan-Bump, Fabio Natalucci, William R. Nelson, Marcelo Ochoa, Jeremy Stein, and Skander Van den Heuvel. A number of researchers have recently argued that the growth of the shadow banking system in the years preceding the recent U.S. financial crisis was driven by rising demand for "money-like" claims--short-term, safe instruments (STSI)--from institutional investors and nonfinancial firms. These instruments carry a money premium that lowers their yields. While government securities are an important part of the supply of STSI, financial intermediaries also take advantage of this money premium when they issue certain types of low-risk, short-term debt, such as asset-backed commercial paper or repo. In this paper, we take the demand for STSI as given and consider the extent to which central banks can improve financial stability and manage maturity transformation by the private sector through their ability to affect the public supply of STSI. The first part of the paper provides new evidence that complements the existing literature on two key ingredients that are necessary for there to be a role for policy: the extent to which public short-term debt and private short-term debt might be substitutes, and the relationship between the money premium and the supply of STSI. The second part of the paper then builds on this evidence and discusses potential ways a central bank could use its balance sheet and monetary policy implementation framework to affect the quantity and mix of short-term liquid assets that will be available to financial market participants. Full Text



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Friday, 21 November 2014

2014-100: Jumps in Bond Yields at Known Times

Otmane El Rhazi, Don H. Kim and Jonathan H. Wright. We construct a no-arbitrage term structure model with jumps in the entire state vector at deterministic times but of random magnitudes. Jump risk premia are allowed for. We show that the model implies a closed-form representation of yields as a time-inhomogeneous affine function of the state vector. We apply the model to the term structure of US Treasury rates, estimated at the daily frequency, allowing for jumps on days of employment report announcements. Our model can match the empirical fact that the term structure of interest rate volatility has a hump-shaped pattern on employment report days (but not on other days). The model also produces patterns in bond risk premia that are consistent with the empirical finding that much of the time-variation in excess bond returns accrues at times of important macroeconomic data releases. Full Text



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2014-99: Limited Deposit Insurance Coverage and Bank Competition

Otmane El Rhazi, Oz Shy, Rune Stenbacka, and Vladimir Yankov. Deposit insurance designs in many countries place a limit on the coverage of deposits in each bank. However, no limits are placed on the number of accounts held with different banks. Therefore, under limited deposit insurance, some consumers open accounts with different banks to achieve higher or full deposit insurance coverage. We compare three regimes of deposit insurance: No deposit insurance, unlimited deposit insurance, and limited deposit insurance. We show that limited deposit insurance weakens competition among banks and reduces total welfare relative to no or unlimited deposit insurance. Full Text



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2014-98: Homeowner Balance Sheets and Monetary Policy

Otmane El Rhazi, Aditya Aladangady. This paper empirically identifies an important channel through which monetary policy affects consumer spending: homeowner balance sheets. A monetary loosening increases home values, thereby strengthening homeowner balance sheets and stimulating household spending due to a combination of collateral and wealth effects. The magnitude of these effects on a given household depends on local housing market characteristics such as local geography and regulation. Cities with the largest geographic and regulatory barriers to new construction see 3-4% responses in real house prices compared with unconstrained, elastic-supply cities where construction holds prices in check. Using non-public geocoded microdata from the Consumer Expenditures Survey, house price and consumption responses are compared across areas differing in local land availability and zoning laws to identify a marginal propensity to consume out of housing of 0.07. Homeowners with debt service ratios in the highest quartile have MPCs as high as 0.14 compared with negligible responses for those with low debt service ratios. This indicates a strong role for collateral effects, as opposed to pure wealth effects, in driving the relationship between home values and spending. I discuss the implications of these results for the aggregate effects and regional heterogeneity in responses to monetary shocks. Full Text



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2014-97: Identifying the Stance of Monetary Policy at the Zero Lower Bound: A Markov-switching Estimation Exploiting Monetary-Fiscal Policy Interdependence

Otmane El Rhazi, Manuel Gonzalez-Astudillo. In this paper, I propose an econometric technique to estimate a Markov-switching Taylor rule subject to the zero lower bound of interest rates. I show that incorporating a Tobit-like specification allows to obtain consistent estimators. More importantly, I show that linking the switching of the Taylor rule coefficients to the switching of the coefficients of an auxiliary uncensored Markov-switching regression improves the identification of an otherwise unidentifiable prevalent monetary regime. To illustrate the proposed estimation technique, I use U.S. quarterly data spanning 1960:1-2013:4. The chosen auxiliary Markov-switching regression is a fiscal policy rule where federal revenues react to debt and the output gap. Results show that there is evidence of policy co-movements with debt-stabilizing fiscal policy more likely accompanying active monetary policy, and vice versa. Full Text



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2014-96: It Pays to Set the Menu: Mutual Fund Investment Options in 401(k) plans

Otmane El Rhazi, Veronika K. Pool, Clemens Sialm, and Irina Stefanescu. This paper investigates whether mutual fund families acting as service providers in 401(k) plans display favoritism toward their own funds. Using a hand-collected dataset on retirement investment options, we show that poorly-performing funds are less likely to be removed from and more likely to be added to a 401(k) menu if they are affiliated with the plan trustee. We find no evidence that plan participants undo this affiliation bias through their investment choices. Finally, the subsequent performance of poorly- performing affiliated funds indicates that these trustee decisions are not information driven. Full Text



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