Cashing in

Kevin Lewis

September 11, 2018

Banking and inequality: US state evidence
Chen Xu et al.
Social Science Journal, forthcoming


The question of how financial development affects economic inequality is a subject of much debate. This paper adds to this literature by examining whether banking deregulation affects income inequality using state-level data from the United States from the late 20th century. Specifically, we test the hypothesis that the deregulation of interstate branch-banking restrictions had an effect on income inequality as measured by the Gini Coefficient and Thiel Index. We conduct our tests using fixed-effects OLS models and System GMM dynamic panel analysis. Our results suggest that branching deregulation has resulted in increased income inequality in the United States.

Insolvency After the 2005 Bankruptcy Reform
Stefania Albanesi & Jaromir Nosal
NBER Working Paper, August 2018


The 2005 Bankruptcy Abuse Prevention and Consumer Protection Act (BAPCPA) is the most important reform of personal bankruptcy in the United States in recent years. This legislation overhauled eligibility requirements and increased monetary costs of filing for bankruptcy. Using administrative credit file data from a nationally representative panel, we quantify the effects of the reform on bankruptcy, insolvency, and foreclosure, we explore the mechanism generating these responses and examine the consequences for households. We find that the reform caused a 50% permanent drop in Chapter 7 filings, a 25% permanent rise in insolvency, but had no effect on Chapter 13 filings. Exploiting the cross-district variation in filing costs resulting from the reform, we show that these responses are driven by liquidity constraints associated with the higher monetary cost of filing for bankruptcy. We show that insolvency is associated with worse outcomes than bankruptcy, in terms of access to credit and credit scores, suggesting that BAPCPA may have removed an important form of relief for financially distressed borrowers.

Graying of U.S. Bankruptcy: Fallout from Life in a Risk Society
Deborah Thorne et al.
University of Idaho Working Paper, August 2018


The social safety net for older Americans has been shrinking for the past couple decades. The risks associated with aging, reduced income, and increased healthcare costs, have been off-loaded onto older individuals. At the same time, older Americans are increasingly likely to file consumer bankruptcy, and their representation among those in bankruptcy has never been higher. Using data from the Consumer Bankruptcy Project, we find more than a two-fold increase in the rate at which older Americans (age 65 and over) file for bankruptcy and an almost five-fold increase in the percentage of older persons in the U.S. bankruptcy system. The magnitude of growth in older Americans in bankruptcy is so large that the broader trend of an aging U.S. population can explain only a small portion of the effect. In our data, older Americans report they are struggling with increased financial risks, namely inadequate income and unmanageable costs of healthcare, as they try to deal with reductions to their social safety net. As a result of these increased financial burdens, the median senior bankruptcy filer enters bankruptcy with negative wealth of $17,390 as compared to more than $250,000 for their non-bankrupt peers. For an increasing number of older Americans, their golden years are fraught with economic risks, the result of which is often bankruptcy.

Liquidity vs. Wealth in Household Debt Obligations: Evidence from Housing Policy in the Great Recession
Peter Ganong & Pascal Noel
NBER Working Paper, August 2018 


We use variation in mortgage modifications to disentangle the impact of reducing long-term obligations with no change in short-term payments (“wealth”), and reducing short-term payments with approximately no change in long-term obligations (“liquidity”). Using regression discontinuity and difference-in-differences research designs with administrative data measuring default and consumption, we find that principal reductions that increase housing wealth without affecting liquidity have no effect, while maturity extensions that increase only liquidity have large effects. Our results suggest that liquidity drives borrower default and consumption decisions, and that distressed debt restructurings can be redesigned with substantial gains to borrowers, lenders, and taxpayers.

Disagreement Between FOMC Members and the Fed’s Staff: New Insights Based on a Counterfactual Interest Rate
Hamza Bennani, Tobias Kranz & Matthias Neuenkirch
Journal of Macroeconomics, forthcoming


We examine the degree and sources of disagreement between the members of the Federal Open Market Committee (FOMC) and the Federal Reserve’s (Fed’s) staff about the appropriate policy rate for the period 1994–2012. For that purpose, we compute a recommended interest rate for the Fed’s staff based on its own Greenbook forecasts and a time-varying monetary policy rule à la Taylor (1993), and compare it with the actual target rate. First, we find that there has been internal disagreement between FOMC members and the Fed’s staff about the appropriate policy rate. Second, we reveal that members with an occupational background in finance favor a relatively more hawkish monetary policy. In addition, a preference towards a tighter monetary policy is found under a Democratic President and during Alan Greenspan’s tenure as the Fed’s Chairman. Finally, higher oil prices, a low degree of uncertainty, and episodes of financial stability are also associated with higher interest rates as compared to the Fed staff’s recommendation.

The FOMC versus the staff, revisited: When do policymakers add value?
Carola Conces Bindera & Samantha Wetzel
Economics Letters, October 2018, Pages 72-75 


The Board of Governors staff and the Federal Open Market Committee both publish macroeconomic forecasts. Romer and Romer (2008) show that policymakers’ attempts to add information to the staff forecasts are counterproductive. In more recent years, however, policymakers have improved upon staff forecasts. We show that policymakers’ value-added in forecasting is greater when economic conditions are unfavorable or uncertain.

Measuring Gentrification: Using Yelp Data to Quantify Neighborhood Change
Edward Glaeser, Hyunjin Kim & Michael Luca
NBER Working Paper, August 2018


We demonstrate that data from digital platforms such as Yelp have the potential to improve our understanding of gentrification, both by providing data in close to real time (i.e. nowcasting and forecasting) and by providing additional context about how the local economy is changing. Combining Yelp and Census data, we find that gentrification, as measured by changes in the educational, age, and racial composition within a ZIP code, is strongly associated with increases in the numbers of grocery stores, cafes, restaurants, and bars, with little evidence of crowd-out of other categories of businesses. We also find that changes in the local business landscape is a leading indicator of housing price changes, and that the entry of Starbucks (and coffee shops more generally) into a neighborhood predicts gentrification. Each additional Starbucks that enters a zip code is associated with a 0.5% increase in housing prices.

The Effect of State Solvency on Bank Values and Credit Supply: Evidence from State Pension Cut Legislation
Lee Jeremy Cohen et al.
Journal of Financial and Quantitative Analysis, August 2018, Pages 1839-1870


We find the financial condition of states impacts bank credit supply through their municipal bond holdings. In particular, we treat sudden political and statutory actions during the 2011 union bargaining rights debates in Wisconsin and Ohio as exogenous shocks to state solvency. We show bank valuations and municipal bond spreads adjust to the announcements, and, over longer horizons, a new lending channel linked to state solvency emerges, whereby banks supply credit as municipal bond appreciations free up capital.

Eyes Wide Shut? The Moral Hazard of Mortgage Insurers during the Housing Boom
Neil Bhutta & Benjamin Keys
NBER Working Paper, July 2018


In the U.S. mortgage market, private mortgage insurance (PMI) is mandated for high-leverage mortgages purchased by Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac to serve as a private market check on GSE risk-taking. However, we document that PMI firms dramatically expanded insurance on high-risk mortgages at the tail-end of the housing boom, contradicting the industry's own research regarding house price risk. Using three detailed sources of mortgage and insurance data, we examine PMI application denial rates, default rates on PMI-backed loans, and growth rates of high-leverage lending around the GSE conforming loan limit, along with information extracted from company, industry and regulatory filings and reports. We conclude that PMI behavior during the housing boom in part reflects a "moral hazard" incentive inherent to insurance companies in general to underprice risk and be undercapitalized. Our results suggest that rather than providing discipline, private mortgage insurers facilitated GSE risk-taking.

Reducing residential mortgage default: Should policy act before or after home purchases?
Yifei Wu & Jeffrey Dorfman
PLoS ONE, July 2018


We examine two possible approaches to reducing residential mortgage default using a dynamic model of heterogeneous infinitely-lived agents acting optimally subject to uninsurable idiosyncratic earnings shocks and systemic house price shocks. We find higher down payments are very effective in minimizing residential mortgage foreclosures, even in periods of house price declines and recessions. In contrast, the length of the credit exclusionary period for people who experience bankruptcy or foreclosure has a much smaller impact on mortgage defaults. Thus, it is much more effective to prevent mortgage default before the mortgage closes than to pressure homeowners not to default once they are in financial trouble. This also suggests a major aspect of credit scores and credit policy is non-productive and punitive, harming people in return for little societal gain.


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