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.
Many drugs sold in poor countries are counterfeit or substandard, endangering patients’ health and fostering drug resistance. Since drug quality is difficult to observe, pharmacies in weakly regulated markets may have little incentive to improve quality. However, larger markets allow firms to reorganise production and invest in technologies that reduce the marginal cost of quality. This column discusses how the entry of a new pharmacy chain in India led incumbents to both cut prices and raise drug quality.
Millions of people die each year from infectious diseases like malaria, TB, HIV, and diarrhoea, many of which have drug therapies. We need effective medicine to confront the alarming burden of infectious disease in the developing world. However, many of the drugs for sale in developing countries are of poor quality. Counterfeiters sell ineffective products that imitate the appearance of established brands, while small manufacturers make and distribute substandard versions of common generics.
All firms need capital. Much research addresses the choice between issuing various types of securities – for example, between issuing debt and equity. However, another method of financing has received relatively little attention – selling non-core assets, such as property, divisions, or financial investments. This article explains the conditions under which an asset sale is the preferred means of raising capital, and highlights how a manager should go about deciding between selling assets and issuing securities.
The impact of asymmetric information about collateral values in mortgage lending
Johannes Stroebel13 December 2012
Mortgage markets arguably spawned the post-Lehman crises – think subprime, Ireland, and Spain. This column argues that asymmetric information between competing lenders is an important feature in the financing of newly developed homes. Interestingly, lenders differ significantly in their information about true underlying housing collateral values. It is the identification of asymmetric information that allows policymakers to develop proposals that would improve how the market works and, with the right policies, how governments can limit the negative impact of asymmetry.
The mortgage market was the starting point for several of the post-Lehman crises: the subprime crisis, the Irish crisis, the Spanish crisis, and many more. It is a market typified by massive information asymmetries, and it has been argued that a market based on highly asymmetric information contributed to the buildup of bad mortgage debt during the first half of the last decade.
With governments strapped for cash, charities are stepping up to provide public goods. But how can charities mobilise support from small donors to fund their work? CEPR DP8922 investigates whether altruists would donate more if they knew more about a charity’s quality. In the authors’ experiment, Bill and Melinda Gates matched donations to a particular charity. Small donors saw this as a signal of the charity’s quality – and donations soared.
Bruno Biais, Jean-Charles Rochet, Paul Woolley25 March 2010
How does economic theory need to adjust in light of the global financial crisis? This column presents a new insight on how innovation leads to rent capture, which in turn is a sign of a potential crisis. This stems from asymmetric information in the financial sector. To avoid a repeat of the crisis, policymakers need to increase transparency.
Financial institutions can create frictions. Until recently, economic theory had paid relatively little attention to this possibility. For example, asset pricing theory often assumes that prices are set directly by the "representative household", treating the finance sector as an efficient pass-through. As a result of the global financial crisis, economists are thankfully becoming more aware of the need to account for the real world complication of delegation to agents (Buiter 2009, Kirman 2009, and Kobayashi 2009).
This column studies the online (illegal) market for male sex work. It shows that participants find ways to get the prices right, even in the absence of formal enforcement mechanisms, using technology to share and disseminate information. The risk of fraud is disciplined by client reviews and demand for photos in escorts’ advertisements.
Economists have coalesced around the view that institutional design can help overcome problems of asymmetric information. While George Akerlof (1970) is credited with bringing this insight into the mainstream of the profession, his work can also be viewed as part of the earlier institutional analysis by Thomas Schelling (1960), Douglass North (1981), Ronald Coase (1937, 1960), and Oliver Williamson (1975) that fuelled developments in contract theory, game theory, and industrial organisation, producing notions such as incomplete contracts, signalling, and screening.
The labour market suffers from asymmetric information, coordination, and collective action failures. This column explains how labour market intermediaries, such as online job boards and centralised job-matching institutions, work to improve labour market outcomes. These intermediaries will perform important coordinating functions even as information costs fall.
The labour market depicted by undergraduate textbooks (e.g. Mankiw 2006) is a pure spot market with complete information and atomistic price-taking. Labour economists have long understood that this model is highly incomplete. Search is costly, information is typically imperfect and often asymmetric, firms are not always price takers, and atomistic actors are typically unable to resolve coordination and collective action failures.
Bagehot, central banking, and the financial crisis
Xavier Vives31 March 2008
The current crisis is a modern form of a traditional banking crisis. The 125-year-old Bagehot's doctrine tells us how governments should react – lend to solvent but illiquid financial institutions. While easy to state, the doctrine is hard to apply. The key question to assess the future consequences of current central bank policy is whether the subprime mortgage crisis arises in the context of a moderate or a severe underlying moral hazard problem.