Bruno Biais, Jean-Charles Rochet, Paul Woolley21 August 2014
The Global Crisis has intensified debates over the merits of financial innovation and the optimal size of the financial sector. This column presents a model in which the growth of finance is driven by the development of a financial innovation. The model can help explain the securitised mortgage debacle that triggered the latest crisis, the tech bubble in the late 1990s, and junk bonds in the 1980s. A striking implication of the model is that regulation should be toughest when finance seems most robust and when innovations are waxing strongly.
One of the curiosities of the modern economy is why the finance sector is so large. Economists have only recently sought to document and ponder this phenomenon. Empirically, Greenwood and Scharfstein (2013) find that, in the US, financial services, which accounted for 2.8% of GDP in 1950, made up 8.3% of GDP in 2006.
There is a widespread view among macroeconomists that fluctuations in collateral are an important driver of credit booms and busts. This column distinguishes between ‘fundamental’ collateral – backed by expectations of future profits – and ‘bubbly’ collateral – backed by expectations of future credit. Markets are generically unable to provide the optimal amount of bubbly collateral, which creates a natural role for stabilisation policies. A lender of last resort with the ability to tax and subsidise credit can design a ‘leaning against the wind’ policy that replicates the ‘optimal’ bubble allocation.
Credit markets play an increasingly central role in modern economies. Within the OECD, for instance, domestic credit has risen from 100% of GDP in 1970 to approximately 160% of GDP in 2012 (as measured by the Bank for International Settlements). To be sure, this growth masks large variations across countries and over time, but there is a common feature to all these different country experiences that stands out. Credit has often alternated between ‘booms’ – periods of rapid growth – and ‘busts’ – periods of stagnation or significant decline.
Capital inflows and booms in asset prices: Going beyond the current account
Eduardo Olaberría07 December 2013
Policymakers have long been concerned that large capital inflows are associated with asset-price booms. This column presents recent research showing that the composition of capital inflows also matters. The association between capital inflows and asset-price booms is about twice as strong for debt-related than for equity-related investment. Policymakers should therefore pay attention to the composition of capital inflows, since debt-related inflows may still undermine financial stability even if they do not result in an overall current-account deficit.
For decades, policymakers’ perception has been that large capital inflows can fuel booms in asset prices. If this were true, bonanzas in capital inflows would imply an important risk to financial stability, since booms in asset prices are leading indicators of financial crises. However, as noted by Reinhart and Reinhart (2008: 50), despite being widespread among policymakers, until recently this perception was based mainly on anecdotal evidence.
This paper studies the mechanisms through which the adoption of the euro delayed, rather than advanced, economic reforms in the Eurozone periphery and led to the deterioration of important institutions in these countries. The authors show that the abandonment of the reform process and the institutional deterioration, in turn, not only reduced their growth prospects but also fed back into financial conditions, prolonging the credit boom and delaying the response to the bubble when the speculative nature of the cycle was already evident.
Jaume Ventura, Vasco M. Carvalho, Alberto Martin09 September 2012
Over the last two decades, US aggregate wealth has fluctuated substantially. This column presents research that takes a first step towards measuring the reasons why. It finds that most recent fluctuations are driven by bubbles and argues that models of rational bubbles with financial frictions can improve our understanding of recent macroeconomic history.
Wealth has fluctuated substantially in recent US macroeconomic history. Figure 1 below documents this by plotting the evolution of real net worth of US households and non-profit organisations between 1950 and 2010. Up until the early 1990s the evolution of wealth seems relatively stable, displaying only mild and short-lived fluctuations around its trend. Since then, however, this behaviour has changed dramatically. From 1995 to 1999, and again from 2002 to 2006, wealth grew at a staggering 9% per year only to contract violently in subsequent years.
Market psychology, high unemployment and rational bubbles
Roger E. A. Farmer 18 August 2011
One explanation for the 2007-09 global crisis is that consumers, markets, and politicians were gripped by “irrational exuberance” that led them to believe the record-high house prices and stock prices were sustainable. This column proposes a new explanation based on rational behaviour and microeconomic theory. It argues that however high stock prices rise, there is always an equilibrium in which they can rise further.
According to a popular narrative (e.g. Shiller 2008), the Great Recession was caused by a bubble in the housing market. When the bubble burst, households were left with mortgages that exceeded the values of their houses. When they stopped spending, the resulting fall in consumer demand triggered an increase in unemployment. The drop in housing wealth was accompanied by a stock market crash, precipitated by the failure of Lehman Brothers in the fall of 2007.
Although this narrative fits the facts, it poses two major difficulties for conventional microeconomic theory.
Simple explanations for global financial instability and the cure: Keep it simple
Daniel Gros, Stefano Micossi, Jacopo Carmassi13 August 2009
Why is there so much disagreement about the causes of the crisis? This column says that lax monetary policy and excessive leverage are to blame. It argues that many alleged causes are simply symptoms of these policy errors. If that is correct, then the recommended corrective is remarkably simple – there is no need for intrusive regulatory measures constraining non-bank intermediaries and innovative financial instruments.
A remarkable feature of the burgeoning literature on the global financial crisis is vast disagreement about its main causes. Symptoms are often treated as autonomous developments requiring separate correction. There is thus a high risk that the legitimate pursuit of a more stable financial system will lead to a potpourri of excessive and damaging regulatory restrictions. In hope of reducing that risk, we offer a simplified reading of the factors leading to the financial crisis and accordingly simple policy recommendations (Carmassi, Gros, and Micossi 2010).