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2019 Economic Commentaries

  • The Souk al-Manakh Crash


    Ben R. Craig

    Abstract

    From 1978 to 1981, Kuwait’s two stock markets, one the conservatively regulated “official” market and the other the unregulated Souk al-Manakh, exploded in size, growing to the point where the amount of capital actively traded exceeded that of every other country in the world except the United States and Japan. A year later, the system collapsed in an instant, causing huge real losses to the economy and financial disruption lasting nearly a decade. This Commentary examines the emergence of the Souk, the simple financial innovation that evolved to solve its rapidly increasing need for liquidity and credit, and the herculean efforts to solve the tangled problems resulting from the collapse. Two lessons of Kuwait’s crisis are that it is difficult to separate the banking and unregulated financial sectors and that regulators need detailed data on the transactions being conducted at all financial institutions to give them the understanding of the entire network they must have to maintain financial stability. If Kuwaiti officials had had transaction-by-transaction data on the trades being made in both the regulated and unregulated stock markets, then the Kuwaiti crisis and its aftermath might not have been so severe. Read More

  • Have Stress Tests Impacted Small-Business Lending?


    Yuliya Demyanyk

    Abstract

    The Federal Reserve conducts stress tests of the largest bank holding companies to ensure that the banking system has sufficient capital to stay financially sound in the event of worsening economic conditions. Some groups have raised concerns that the stress tests will reduce lending to small businesses. This article describes recent research investigating the impact of the stress tests on small-business lending. It finds that the banks that are most affected by stress tests have reduced their small-business credit, but aggregate credit to small businesses has not fallen. Read More

  • Challenges with Estimating U Star in Real Time


    Murat Tasci

    Abstract

    Although the concept of the natural rate of employment, NAIRU, or “U star” is used to measure the amount of slack in the labor market, it is an unobservable quantity that must be estimated using data currently available. This Commentary investigates the degree to which our estimates of U star at various points in the current business cycle have changed as real-time data have been revised and as more data points have accumulated. I find that the availability of additional data has contributed to a significant change in our estimates of U star at earlier points in the business cycle, a result that suggests we might have been underestimating the level of labor market slack during some of the recent recovery period. In retrospect, our updated estimates of U star suggest labor markets were not as tight as we thought they were then. Read More

  • Racial Inequality, Neighborhood Effects, and Moving to Opportunity


    Dionissi Aliprantis

    Abstract

    Moving to Opportunity (MTO) was a housing mobility program designed to investigate neighborhood effects, the influences of the social and physical environment on human development and well-being. Some of the results from MTO have been interpreted as evidence that neighborhood effects are not as strong as earlier evidence had indicated. This Commentary discusses new research suggesting that neighborhood effects are, on the contrary, as strong and policy relevant as suspected before the experiment. This Commentary also discusses why the interpretation of the MTO data is important: If neighborhood effects drive outcomes, then addressing racial inequality requires concerted efforts beyond ending racial discrimination. Read More

  • Has the Real-Time Reliability of Monthly Indicators Changed over Time?


    Mark Bognanni

    Abstract

    Economic data are routinely revised after they are initially released. I examine the extent to which the real-time reliability of six monthly macroeconomic indicators important to policymakers has remained stable over time by studying the time-series properties of their short-term and long-term revisions. I show that the revisions to many monthly economic indicators display systematic behaviors that policymakers could build into their real-time assessments. I also find that some indicators’ revision series have varied substantially over time, suggesting that these indicators may now be less useful in real time than they once were. Lastly, I find that substantial revisions tend to occur indefinitely after the initial data release, a result which suggests a certain degree of caution is in order when using even thrice-revised monthly data in policymaking. Read More

  • The Winners and Losers from Trade


    Daniel R. Carroll Sewon Hur

    Abstract

    Although increased international trade is widely viewed as beneficial to the economies of the participating countries, the benefits are not distributed evenly across individuals within those countries, and indeed some individuals may bear a cost. We discuss two channels through which trade can affect individuals differently depending on their skill and income levels and assess the combined impact of those channels. We find that the effects of trade on the labor market and the effects of trade on prices go in opposite directions and are of similar magnitude. Read More

  • Trends in the Noninterest Income of Banks


    Joseph G. Haubrich Tristan Young

    Abstract

    A large fraction of banks’ revenue comes from noninterest income, which includes items such as overdraft fees and ATM charges. We investigate whether this source of income has increased since the financial crisis, given that banks’ interest income may have been impacted by the low interest rate environment. We find that total noninterest income has actually decreased. However, service charges, one of the subcomponents of noninterest income, have increased. The increase in service charges is masked in the data on total noninterest income because other types of noninterest income, specifically securitization fees and other types of noninterest income affected by the crisis, fell during the same period. Read More

  • Cyclical versus Acyclical Inflation: A Deeper Dive


    Saeed Zaman

    Abstract

    This Commentary builds on recent research separating the components of overall inflation into cyclical and acyclical categories, but it does so at a finer level of disaggregation than previous analyses to understand recent inflation developments in the two categories. The inflation rate among cyclically sensitive subcomponents, which comprise roughly 40 percent of overall core PCE inflation, has generally continued to firm in recent years in line with a strengthening labor market and has returned to near pre-Great Recession levels. By contrast, the inflation rate among the acyclical subcomponents remains subdued. A modest firming in acyclical core PCE inflation to a more normal level, combined with ongoing strength in the labor market, would be enough to return core PCE inflation to 2 percent within approximately one year. Read More

  • Bitcoin’s Decentralized Decision Structure


    Ben R. Craig Joseph Kachovec

    Abstract

    With the introduction of bitcoin, the world got not just a new currency, it also got evidence that a decentralized control structure could work in practice for institutional governance. This Commentary discusses the advantages and disadvantages of centralized and decentralized control structures by examining the features of the bitcoin payment system. We show that while the decentralized nature of the Bitcoin network "democratizes" payments, it is not obvious that the approach increases the equity or efficiency of markets or that the costs of the decentralized control structure won’t outweigh the benefits in the long run. Read More

  • The Flattening of the Phillips Curve: Policy Implications Depend on the Cause


    Filippo Occhino

    Abstract

    According to the historical relationship known as the Phillips curve, strengthening of the economy is commonly associated with increasing inflation. With inflation having only modestly picked up in the past few years as the economy has become more robust, many believe the Phillips curve relationship has weakened, with the curve becoming flatter. I show that the flattening can be due to very different types of structural changes and that knowing the type of change that has occurred is crucial for choosing the appropriate monetary policy. Read More

  • Behavior of a New Median PCE Measure: A Tale of Tails


    Daniel R. Carroll Randal J. Verbrugge

    Abstract

    We introduce two new measures of trend inflation, a median PCE inflation rate and a median PCE excluding OER inflation rate, and investigate their performance. Our analysis indicates that both perform comparably to other simple trend inflation estimators such as the trimmed-mean PCE. Furthermore, we find that the performance of the median PCE is related to skewness in the distribution of cross-sectional growth rates across categories in the PCE, and our results suggest that the Bowley skewness statistic may be useful in forecasting. Read More

  • Changes in the Occupational Structure of the United States: 1860 to 2015


    Joel Elvery

    Abstract

    This Commentary describes how the mix of occupations in which people have been employed in the United States has evolved over time. After 100 years of dramatic change, the mix of occupations has been more stable since 1970. This trend adds occupational structure to the growing list of ways our nation’s economy has become less dynamic in recent decades. Read More

  • Population, Migration, and Generations in Urban Neighborhoods


    Stephan D. Whitaker

    Abstract

    The number of people living in urban neighborhoods has been rising in recent decades. This Commentary investigates changes in the number, ages, and financial status of those who have been moving into and out of urban neighborhoods, using data from the Federal Reserve Bank of New York/Equifax Consumer Credit Panel. I find that since 2000, the increase in urban populations is the result of young adults migrating into urban neighborhoods and senior citizens aging in place. Urban populations have also become more educated and well to do. While declining urban neighborhoods may still outnumber growing urban neighborhoods within some regions, urban leaders there can work toward population or tax base growth knowing that consumer tastes and national trends are favorable to those goals. Read More

  • 12 Facts about Temporary Urbanists


    Stephan D. Whitaker

    Abstract

    Urban areas seem to be enjoying a renaissance of sorts due in part to the many young professionals who have moved into central neighborhoods since the 2000s. Many of these young professionals are thought to move back out after they have started families, but the details of these migration patterns are not well-known. I analyze data from the Federal Reserve Bank of New York/Equifax Consumer Credit Panel to answer 12 questions about these temporary urbanists—those who choose to move into an urban neighborhood and spend part of their early adulthood there. Read More

  • Changing Policy Rule Parameters Implied by the Median SEP Paths


    Edward S. Knotek II

    Abstract

    This Commentary estimates the implied parameters of simple monetary policy rules using the median paths for the federal funds rate and other economic variables provided in the Federal Open Market Committee's Summary of Economic Projections (SEP). The implied policy rule parameters appear to have changed over time, as the federal funds rate projections have become less responsive to the unemployment gap. This finding could reflect changes in policymakers' preferences, uncertainty over other aspects of the policy rule, or limitations of estimating simple monetary policy rules from the median SEP paths. Read More

  • Residual Seasonality in GDP Growth Remains after Latest BEA Improvements


    Victoria Consolvo Kurt G. Lunsford

    Abstract

    Measuring economic growth is complicated by seasonality, the regular fluctuation in economic activity that depends on the season of the year. The BEA uses statistical techniques to remove seasonality from its estimates of GDP, but some research has indicated that seasonality remains. As a result, the BEA began a three-phase plan in 2015 to improve its seasonal-adjustment techniques, and in July 2018, it completed phase 3. Our analysis indicates that even after these latest improvements by the BEA, residual seasonality in GDP growth remains. On average, this residual seasonality makes GDP growth appear to be slower in the first quarter of the year and more rapid in the second quarter of the year. Rapid second-quarter growth is particularly noticeable in recent years. As a result, business economists and policymakers may want to take seasonality into account when using GDP to assess the health of the economy. Read More

  • Custom Comparison Groups in the Integrated Postsecondary Education Data System


    Peter L. Hinrichs

    Abstract

    This Economic Commentary studies the behavior of colleges when they are asked to list a set of comparison group colleges in annual data reporting for the US Department of Education but are given little direction on how to do so. I find that, relative to themselves, colleges tend to list for comparison colleges that are more selective, are larger, and have better resources. One possible interpretation of these findings is that colleges overestimate where they stand relative to others, although an alternative interpretation is that colleges have accurate views but list comparison institutions based on aspirations. Read More

  • What Is Behind the Persistence of the Racial Wealth Gap?


    Dionissi Aliprantis Daniel R. Carroll

    Abstract

    Most studies of the persistent gap in wealth between whites and blacks have investigated the large gap in income earned by the two groups. Those studies generally concluded that the wealth gap was “too big” to be explained by differences in income. We study the issue using a different approach, capturing the dynamics of wealth accumulation over time. We find that the income gap is the primary driver behind the wealth gap and that it is large enough to explain the persistent difference in wealth accumulation. The key policy implication of our work is that policies designed to speed the closing of the racial wealth gap would do well to focus on closing the racial income gap. Read More

  • Do Longer Expansions Lead to More Severe Recessions?


    Murat Tasci Nicholas Zevanove

    Abstract

    We are now in one of the longest expansions on record. The recession that preceded that expansion was one of the worst in history. Are those two facts related? Some economists suggest they are, while others suggest it’s the other way around: Longer expansions lead to more severe recessions. We assess the evidence for these two hypotheses. We find clear evidence for the former and little for the latter. Deeper recessions are often followed by stronger recoveries, while longer and stronger expansions are not followed by deeper recessions. Read More

  • Asset Commonality in US Banks and Financial Stability*


    Jan-Peter Siedlarek Nicholas Fritsch

    Abstract

    One potential threat to a stable financial system is the phenomenon of contagion, where a risk that is ordinarily small becomes a problem because of the way it spreads to other institutions. Researchers have investigated multiple channels through which contagion might occur. We look at two--banks borrowing from each other and banks holding similar types of assets--and argue that the latter is a potential source of systemic risk. We review recent data on asset concentrations and capitalization levels of the largest US banks and conclude that the overall risk from this particular contagion channel is at present likely limited. Read More