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Mortgage Rates, Household Balance Sheets, and the Real Economy

October 13, 2014 Comments off

Mortgage Rates, Household Balance Sheets, and the Real Economy
Source: Social Science Research Network

This paper investigates the impact of lower mortgage rates on household balance sheets and other economic outcomes during the housing crisis. We use proprietary loan-level panel data matched to consumer credit records using borrowers’ Social Security numbers, which allows for accurate measurement of the effects. Our main focus is on borrowers with agency loans, which constitute the vast majority of U.S. mortgage borrowers. Relying on variation in the timing of resets of adjustable rate mortgages, we find that a sizable decline in mortgage payments ($150 per month on average) induces a significant drop in mortgage defaults, an increase in new financing of durable consumption (auto purchases) of more than 10% in relative terms, and an overall improvement in household credit standing. New financing of durable consumption by borrowers with lower housing wealth responds more to mortgage payment reduction relative to wealthier households. Credit-constrained households initially use more than 70% of the extra liquidity generated by mortgage rate reductions to repay credit card debt— a deleveraging response that can significantly restrict the ability of monetary policy to stimulate these households’ consumption. These findings also qualitatively hold in a sample of less-prevalent borrowers with private non-agency loans. We then use regional variation in mortgage contract types to explore the impact of lower mortgage rates on broader economic outcomes. Regions more exposed to mortgage rate declines saw a relatively faster recovery in house prices, increased durable (auto) consumption, and increased employment growth, with responses concentrated in the non-tradable sector. Our findings have implications for the pass-through of monetary policy to the real economy through mortgage contracts and household balance sheets.

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The Price of Silence: When No One Asks Questions During Conference Calls

October 6, 2014 Comments off

The Price of Silence: When No One Asks Questions During Conference Calls
Source: Social Science Research Network

We document economically significant indirect costs of providing conference calls — increase in information asymmetry and more negative immediate market reaction — when managers fail to elicit questions during the calls’ question-and-answer (Q&A) session. We establish this result by focusing on earnings calls where managers fetch either zero questions or “too few” questions when they open the floor for questions. We extend the literature on conference calls as an important corporate communication medium by examining hereto unexamined costs, and propose remedies for firms to avoid such indirect costs of corporate communication.

Hat tip: PW

Testing Rebalancing Strategies for Stock-Bond Portfolios Across Different Asset Allocations

October 1, 2014 Comments off

Testing Rebalancing Strategies for Stock-Bond Portfolios Across Different Asset Allocations
Source: Social Science Research Network

We compare the risk-adjusted performance of stock-bond portfolios between rebalancing and buy-and-hold across different asset allocations by reporting statistical significance levels. Our investigation is based on a 30-year dataset and in-corporates the financial markets of the United States, the United Kingdom, and Germany. To draw reasonable recommendations to investment management, we implement a history-based simulation approach which enables us to mimic realistic market conditions. If the portfolio weight of stocks exceeds 30%, our empirical results show that a frequent rebalancing significantly enhances risk-adjusted portfolio performance for all analyzed countries and all risk-adjusted performance measures.

See also: Rebalancing Risk

The Business of American Democracy: Citizens United, Independent Spending, and Elections

September 25, 2014 Comments off

The Business of American Democracy: Citizens United, Independent Spending, and Elections
Source: Social Science Research Network

In Citizens United v. FEC (2010), the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that restrictions on independent political expenditures by corporations and labor unions are unconstitutional. We analyze the effects of Citizens United on state election outcomes. We find that Citizens United is associated with an increase in Republican election probabilities in state House races of approximately four percentage points overall and ten or more percentage points in several states. We link these estimates to “on the ground” evidence of significant spending by corporations through channels enabled by Citizens United. We also explore the effects of Citizens United on reelection rates, candidate entry, and direct contributions. Implications for national elections and economic policy are discussed.

Codes in Context: How States, Markets, and Civil Society Shape Adherence to Global Labor Standards

September 24, 2014 Comments off

Codes in Context: How States, Markets, and Civil Society Shape Adherence to Global Labor Standards
Source: Social Science Research Network

Transnational business regulation is increasingly implemented through private voluntary programs — like certification regimes and codes of conduct — that diffuse global standards. But little is known about the conditions under which companies adhere to these standards. We conduct one of the first large-scale comparative studies to determine which international, domestic, civil society, and market institutions promote supply chain factories’ adherence to the global labor standards embodied in codes of conduct imposed by multinational buyers. We find that suppliers are more likely to adhere when they are embedded in states that participate actively in the ILO treaty regime and that have stringent domestic labor law and high levels of press freedom. We further demonstrate that suppliers perform better when they serve buyers located in countries where consumers are wealthy and socially conscious. Taken together, these findings suggest the importance of overlapping state, civil society, and market governance regimes to meaningful transnational regulation.

‘Competitiveness’ Has Nothing to Do with it

September 9, 2014 Comments off

‘Competitiveness’ Has Nothing to Do with it
Source: Social Science Research Network

The recent wave of corporate tax inversions has triggered interest in what motivates these tax-driven transactions now. Corporate executives have argued that inversions are explained by an “anti-competitive” U.S. tax environment, as evidenced by the federal corporate tax statutory rate, which is high by international standards, and by its “worldwide” tax base. This paper explains why this competitiveness narrative is largely fact-free, in part by using one recent articulation of that narrative (by Emerson Electric Co.’s former vice-chairman) as a case study.

The recent surge in interest in inversion transactions is explained primarily by U.S. based multinational firms’ increasingly desperate efforts to find a use for their stockpiles of offshore cash (now totaling around $1 trillion), and by a desire to “strip” income from the U.S. domestic tax base through intragroup interest payments to a new parent company located in a lower-taxed foreign jurisdiction. These motives play out against a backdrop of corporate existential despair over the political prospects for tax reform, or for a second “repatriation tax holiday” of the sort offered by Congress in 2004.

The Trouble with Amicus Facts

September 5, 2014 Comments off

The Trouble with Amicus Facts
Source: Social Science Research Network

The number of amicus curiae briefs filed at the Supreme Court is at an all-time high. Most observers, and even some of the Justices, believe that the best of these briefs are filed to supplement the Court’s understanding of facts. Supreme Court decisions quite often turn on generalized facts about the way the world works (Do violent video games harm children? Is a partial birth abortion ever medically necessary?) and to answer these questions the Justices are hungry for more information than the parties and the record can provide. The consensus is that amicus briefs helpfully add factual expertise to the Court’s decision-making.

The goal of this article is to chip away at that conventional wisdom. The trouble with amicus facts, I argue, is that today anyone can claim to be a factual expert. With the Internet, factual information is easily found and cheaply manufactured. Moreover, the amicus curiae has evolved significantly from its origin as an impartial “friend of the court.” Facts submitted by amici are now funneled through the screen of advocacy. The result is that the Court is inundated with eleventh-hour, untested, advocacy-motivated claims of factual expertise. And the Justices are listening. This article looks at the instances in recent years when a Supreme Court Justice cites an amicus for a statement of fact. It describes the way the brief, rather than the underlying factual source, is cited as authority and the failure of the parties to act as an adequate check. I challenge this process as potentially infecting the Supreme Court’s decisions with unreliable evidence, and I make suggestions for ways to reform it. It is time to rethink the expertise-providing role of the Supreme Court amicus and to refashion this old tool for the new purpose to which it is currently being used.

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