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Business Review

Fourth Quarter 2010

Some companies export their products abroad, while others choose to sell only in their home market. Similarly, over time, some nonexporters become exporters and some exporters stop exporting. The decision to export is a big, important decision for an organization, one that takes time and resources but one that can lead to an expansion of sales and profits. Policymakers recognize that although exporting isn’t easy, it can boost sales and create jobs when successful. To help in this process, many states devote substantial resources to encouraging exports, including loans, trade missions, and trade fairs. Even the federal government has policies that encourage exporting, providing special tax treatment of profits on export sales and low-interest loans. In “Understanding Exports from the Plant Up,” PDF (445 KB, 11 pages) George Alessandria and Horag Choi discuss some key factors that affect companies’ decisions to export by describing some salient characteristics of establishments that export and then building a simple model of the decision to export that captures these features.

By the end of 2009, one out of every 11 mortgages was seriously delinquent or in foreclosure. Economists have devoted considerable energy over the past several years to understanding the underlying causes of this increase in defaults. One goal is to provide a guide to dealing with the existing problems. In addition, a better understanding may help avoid future problems. In “What Have We Learned About Mortgage Default?” PDF (472 KB, 8 pages) Ronel Elul reviews recent research that has shed light on two areas: the extent to which securitization is responsible for the increase in default rates; and the relative contributions of negative equity, compared with “liquidity shocks,” in explaining mortgage default.

The U.S. labor market has remained weak in recent years, even though the overall economy itself has started to grow again after the deep recession. In response to the weak labor market conditions, the U.S. government has greatly expanded the entitlement period of unemployment insurance (UI) benefits. In “Economic Effects of the Unemployment Insurance Benefit,” PDF (363 KB, 8 pages) Shigeru Fujita reviews some of the academic literature on the economic effects of UI benefits. On the one hand, UI can improve people’s well being because it helps them avoid a large drop in consumption in the face of job losses when job losers do not have enough savings. On the other hand, there is a concern that it might produce an adverse effect on the incentive to look for a job. The author covers leading theoretical as well as empirical studies, which are useful in evaluating the recent expansion of unemployment insurance benefits.

See also the latest issue of Research Rap. PDF (289 KB, 5 pages)

Third Quarter 2010

For almost 20 years, the Federal Reserve Bank of Philadelphia has conducted both the Survey of Professional Forecasters and the Livingston Survey. Both surveys of private-sector forecasters provide researchers, central bankers, news media, and the public with detailed forecasts of major macroeconomic variables. The surveys have proved helpful for people who are planning for the future, and they have also provided useful input into the decisions of policymakers at the Federal Reserve and elsewhere. In “Philadelphia Fed Forecasting Surveys: Their Value for Research,” PDF (364 KB, 11 pages) Dean Croushore provides an overview of the survey and discusses the ways in which researchers have used the survey.

Recently, there has been strong public outrage against current pay practices for corporate CEOs. To deal with this issue, the Dodd-Frank Wall Street Reform and Consumer Protection Act signed into law by President Obama on July 21, 2010 will allow shareholders to vote on executive pay packages and federal regulators to oversee executive compensation at financial firms. Are there problems with CEO pay? According to a recent survey, 98 percent of respondents from major financial institutions “believe that compensation structures were a factor underlying the crisis.” In “Because I’m Worth It? CEO Pay and Corporate Governance,” PDF (338 KB, 8 pages) Rocco Huang outlines what we know about how CEOs are paid, how the pay is set, how CEO compensation affects CEOs’ incentives and actions and their firms’ performance, and how government regulations affect CEO pay.

Homeownership, like baseball and hotdogs, is an integral part of the American culture. Over the past 70 years, the U.S. government has devoted significant public resources to encouraging and promoting homeownership. The recent financial crisis has prompted the government to spend even more on preserving homeownership, despite the fact that the financial crisis itself was led by the meltdown of the U.S. housing market. Now, an increasing number of academicians and media reporters are questioning the previously unquestionable: Has the American dream turned into an American obsession? In “American Dream or American Obsession? The Economic Benefits and Costs of Homeownership,” PDF (387 KB, 11 pages) Wenli Li and Fang Yang analyze the economic benefits and costs associated with owning one’s residence. They re-examine a variety of rationales that have been put forward in support of homeownership and examine the evidence for an economic cost associated with homeownership.

See also the latest issue of Research Rap. PDF (223 KB, 2 pages)

Second Quarter 2010

The severity of the recent economic downturn raises questions about the role of financial markets in modern market economies. Why did rising defaults in a relatively small portion of the U.S. housing market cause a financial crisis? Why do financial crises have outsized adverse effects on the rest of the economy? As a general rule, a decline in economic activity in the nonfinancial sector, such as occurs during a typical recession, induces greater restraint on the part of the financial sector and that restraint — manifested usually in a pullback of credit and funding — in turn causes further setbacks to the nonfinancial sector. In the academic literature, this feedback effect is called the financial accelerator. In "De-Leveraging and the Financial Accelerator: How Wall Street Can Shock Main Street," PDF (304 KB, 8 pages) Satyajit Chatterjee looks at what underlay the financial shock that emanated from Wall Street in the fall of 2007. Then he focuses on the channels through which the financial accelerator works and how the accelerator can turn a financial market disruption into a deep recession.

In the United States, the Federal Reserve sets monetary policy by targeting the federal funds rate. This process usually involves lowering short-term interest rates when economic growth is weak and raising them when economic growth is strong. A wide class of economic models has shown that, in theory, conducting policy in this way allows the economy to employ resources efficiently. In addition, many empirical studies have shown that most central banks actually behave in this manner. In normal times, it is fairly easy for the central bank to conduct policy in this fashion. But there is one instance when conducting policy in this manner becomes problematic: when the economy finds itself in a "liquidity trap," a situation in which the short-term nominal interest rate is zero or very close to zero. In "Monetary Policy in a Liquidity Trap," PDF (325 KB, 7 pages) Mike Dotsey analyzes the difficulties a central bank faces in such circumstances and discusses the tools available to monetary policymakers. Policy as usual is not an option, and the central bank's framework for conducting policy must change.

The hiring and firing decisions of individual businesses are one of the drivers behind movements in the unemployment rate during expansions and recessions. Whether a recession is driven by large job losses or weak hiring will greatly affect the composition and consequences of the unemployed and can have important policy implications. The extent to which recessions are times of weak hiring or high job loss depends in large part on the severity of the downturn. A recession is a time when the fraction of businesses that are expanding goes down and the fraction of businesses that are contracting goes up. A severe recession is one in which the shift in this distribution is more dramatic. In "Hiring, Job Loss, and the Severity of Recessions," PDF (360 KB, 9 pages) Jason Faberman discusses how the severity of a recession determines whether high job loss or weak hiring will be the more important source of declining employment and rising unemployment through disproportionate changes in the distribution of business-level employment growth.

See also the latest issue of Research Rap. PDF (261 KB, 4 pages)

First Quarter 2010

The bankruptcy of Lehman Brothers in 2008 will certainly be featured in history books as one of the greatest financial failures so far, but it will also be recorded as yet another episode of the historically successful performance of clearing arrangements in ensuring the resiliency of markets. Recognizing the usefulness of safe and sound clearing and settlement procedures, the Federal Reserve has recently supported the attempt to shift the clearing of some contracts to a central counterparty. In "Let's Make It Clear: How Central Counterparties Save(d) the Day," PDF (273 KB, 10 pages) Cyril Monnet outlines the arguments in favor of central counterparty clearing, the economic rationale for trade clearing through a central counterparty, and some possible limits to the advantages of clearing trades through a central counterparty.

With house prices often below the face value of mortgages these days, the expected return on many mortgages has tumbled, since one of the major forces supporting mortgages, the collateral, has weakened. One source of these mortgage problems has been the validity of the home appraisal, which is supposed to be an objective and expert dollar valuation of the house that should help make a mortgage less risky. Unfortunately, the appraisal process can go awry and often has. As Leonard Nakamura shows in "How Much Is That Home Really Worth? Appraisal Bias and House-Price Uncertainty," PDF (315 KB, 12 pages) appraisals have been biased upward, making mortgages riskier. Now a reverse risk is at work: The bias is going the other way, causing home valuations to be underestimated, possibly making new mortgages harder to obtain. In addition to problems of bias, Nakamura discusses the appraisal process, how it's supposed to work, and how it can go awry.

The fall in state tax revenue during the current recession and the one in 2001 highlights an increase in the variability of this source of revenue that has been observed over the past two decades or so. But states have sources of revenue other than taxes. However, while providing a relatively constant portion of total revenue over the past several years, these sources have generally not damped variability in state revenue arising from variability in taxes. Consequently, variation in state tax revenue remains an important issue for state government finances. In "Riding the Revenue Roller Coaster: Recent Trends in State Government Finance," PDF (266 KB, 8 pages) Tim Schiller looks at the causes of the increased variation in state tax revenue during recent business cycles compared with earlier ones. He also reviews strategies for coping with fluctuations in state tax collections.

See also a summary of the workshop on Recent Developments in Consumer Credit and Payments, PDF (254 KB, 8 pages) co-sponsored by the Bank's Research Department and Payment Cards Center, and the latest issue of Research Rap. PDF (152 KB, 2 pages)

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