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Article

David Kohn, Fernando Leibovici, and Michal Szkup

This article reviews recent studies on the impact of financial frictions on international trade. We first present evidence on the relation between measures of access to external finance and export decisions. We then present an analytical framework to analyze the impact of financial frictions on firms’ export decisions. Finally, we review recent applications of this framework to investigate the impact of financial frictions on international trade dynamics across firms, across industries, and in the aggregate. We discuss related empirical, theoretical, and quantitative studies throughout.

Article

Alessandra Bonfiglioli, Rosario Crinò, and Gino Gancia

International trade is dominated by a small number of very large firms. Models of trade with heterogeneous firms have been developed to study the causes and consequences of this observation. The canonical model of trade with heterogeneous firms shows that trade leads to between-firm reallocations and selection: It shifts employment toward firms with the best attributes and forces marginal firms to exit. The model also illustrates the role of heterogeneity, and its various sources, in explaining the volume of trade and the firm-level margins of adjustment. Consistent with the model, the empirical literature has documented that exporting is a rare activity, that exporting firms are larger and more productive than other firms, and that trade liberalization reallocates market shares toward the best-performing firms in various countries. Studies using transaction-level data have unveiled additional salient features of trade flows. First, sales by foreign firms are very heterogeneous and highly concentrated. Second, both the extensive margin (number of exporting firms) and the intensive margin (average export per firm) are important in explaining the level of exports and its changes over time. More heterogeneity in sales across firms is associated with a higher volume of trade along both margins. Third, increased foreign competition reallocates market shares toward top firms and hence can increase concentration from any country of origin. Numerous extensions of the benchmark model have been proposed to study other important aspects, such as the relevance of multi-product and multinational firms, the import behavior of firms, and the extent to which heterogeneity is endogenous to firms’ choices, but some open challenges still remain.

Article

This article explores knowledge spillovers, positive externalities that augment the information set of an economic agent, and reviews the evidence on such spillovers in the context of international economic transactions. The entry discusses trade channels of knowledge transfer associated with purchases from abroad (imports) and sales to abroad (exports). Another focus is on the foreign direct investment (FDI) channel through purchases from abroad (inward FDI) and sales to abroad (outward FDI). The entry also distinguishes knowledge flows from foreign to domestic agents and from domestic to foreign agents. The entry underlines the importance of empirical methodology and data characteristics that determine the quality of econometric identification. Even though spillovers are by their very nature—as externalities—difficult to identify, over recent decades a number of advances have produced robust evidence that both trade and foreign direct investment lead to sizable knowledge spillovers. These advances have been both conceptual as well as in the areas of empirical methodology and new data.

Article

Models of comparative advantage in international trade explain specialization using differences in autarky relative prices. This literature has traditionally focused on the Heckscher–Ohlin and Ricardian models. The former emphasizes differences in factor abundance across countries and in factor intensity across goods; the latter focuses on relative productivity differences across countries and goods. However, unrealistic assumptions and stark assumptions have hindered empirical assessment of these models. Contemporary models now allow researchers to overcome these hurdles. New models of Ricardian comparative advantage incorporate realistic geography and multiple countries. Similar advances have freed the Heckscher–Ohlin model from some of its theoretical straightjackets. In addition, researchers have started to provide microfoundations for the Ricardian model and to formalize how institutions and factor market distortions might generate patterns of comparative advantage. Trade economists have also started to think about magnitudes in a different way; that is, through general equilibrium counterfactual experiments.

Article

While the role of lobbying in trade policy determination has been studied in a formal way since the early 1980s, it was the pathbreaking 1994 work by Grossman and Helpman in the following decade that led many scholars, using that framework (often with some modifications), to study many interesting political economy issues in the trade policy arena. Importantly, Grossman and Helpman were also the first to provide microfoundations to lobbying within a multisectoral, specific-factors framework. Moreover, the industry-level protection they derive is an empirically estimable function of measurable industry characteristics and other political and economic factors. With everything else held constant, organized sectors are able to obtain higher protection than unorganized sectors, with organized-sector protection inversely related to import penetration and import demand elasticity. Grossman and Helpman’s work gave an impetus to theory-driven empirical work in the political economy of trade policy, including the empirical investigation of the Grossman–Helpman model itself and its many extensions. There is now also a fairly large literature trying to explain the unrealistically high empirical estimates of the model’s parameters (representing the proportion of population politically organized and the weight the government attaches to aggregate welfare relative to political contributions). Extensions for empirical investigation that include bringing in competition between upstream and downstream lobbies, imperfect capturing of nontariff barrier (NTB) rents by the government, foreign lobbies, the possibility of misclassfication of sectors into organized and unorganized, and so forth partially correct the unrealistic parameter estimates. In addition, there are extensions that have been applied toward explaining policy changes and puzzles. Those extensions deal with lobby formation, trade agreements, unilateralism versus reciprocity in trade policy, lobbying for protection in declining industries, firm-level lobbying, the choice of policy instruments, and so forth. Despite so much work already done on lobbying and trade policy, the existing literature is deficient in the study of the choice of instruments, the antitrade bias in trade policy, and informational lobbying.

Article

International transactions are riskier than domestic transactions for several reasons, including, but not limited to, geographical distance, longer shipping times, greater informational frictions, contract enforcement, and dispute resolution problems. Such risks stem, fundamentally, from a timing mismatch between payment and delivery in business transactions. Trade finance plays a critical role in bridging the gap, thereby overcoming greater risks inherent in international trade. It is thus even described as the lifeline of international trade, because more than 90% of international transactions involve some form of credit, insurance, or guarantee. Despite its importance in international trade, however, it was not until the great trade collapse in 2008–2009 that trade finance came to the attention of academic researchers. An emerging literature on trade finance has contributed to providing answers to questions such as: Who is responsible for financing transactions, and, hence, who would need liquidity support most to sustain international trade? This is particularly relevant in developing countries, where the lack of trade finance is often identified as the main hindrance to trade, and in times of financial crisis, when the overall drying up of trade finance could lead to a global collapse in trade.

Article

The political economy of protection is a field within economics, but it has significant overlap with its sister discipline, political science. For a political economy of protection, one needs at a minimum two types of economic agents: political decision makers who provide protection, and economic agents who are protected or even actively seek protection. The typical political economy scenario leads to an economic outcome that is not Pareto-optimal: From a general welfare perspective, the political interaction is not desirable. An important task of political economy research is to explain why and how political interaction takes place. For the first part of the question, it appears clear that if protection is actively sought, the protection seeker intends to benefit from his activities. However, if the policymakers were truly interested in Pareto optimality and welfare maximization, they would refuse to protect. Hence a crucial assumption in the political economy literature is that the politicians’ objective function differs from the general welfare function. For the second part of the question, theoretical political economy models consider either the election campaign phase when politicians are eager to win a majority of votes (preelection models) or the phase when the politicians have been elected and may benefit from the spoils associated with holding office (postelection models). Whereas in the election phase, politicians have an incentive to cater to the interests of that part of the electorate that is considered pivotal for the election outcome, in the postelection phase they may be open to, for example, special interest group (SIG) influences from which they derive utility. A first wave of theoretical political economy models originates from the 1980s. Building on these early advances, more elaborate models have been proposed. The most prominent one is the Grossman–Helpman protection for sale (PfS) model. It delivers a postelection general equilibrium framework of trade policy determination. In this common agency model, industry interest groups act as principals and offer the government a menu of contracts of campaign contributions in exchange for trade policy. The PfS model predicts that industries that lobby for protection will obtain trade protection in equilibrium, whereas nonlobbying industries will face import subsidies. Numerous papers have evaluated the PfS model empirically and found that the implied weight on contributions in the governmental welfare function and the implied share of the population represented by lobbies are both very high. Remedies for this surprising result exist, but it has also been argued that the found empirical regularities may be spurious. At the beginning of the 21st century, the majority of political economy literature is still theoretical, but better data availability increasingly offers the opportunity to empirically test theoretical results. A number of challenges remain for the political economy literature, however. In particular, more work is required to better understand policymaker interests. Moreover, an incorporation of political economy aspects into the new trade theory models that allow for intra-industry trade and firm diversity appears to be a promising avenue for future research.

Article

Facundo Abraham, Juan J. Cortina, and Sergio L. Schmukler

There has been substantial debate about the expansion of global non-financial corporate debt after the global financial crisis (GFC) of 2008–2009. But the main facts and policy challenges discussed in the literature are yet to be uncovered and summarized. Understanding the trends and issues can help readers gauge how large the growth of this type of financing has been, as well as the risks that more non-financial corporate debt might entail. Non-financial corporate debt steadily increased after the GFC, especially in emerging economies. Between 2008 and 2018, corporate debt rose from 56 to 96% of gross domestic product (GDP) in emerging economies whereas it grew at the same rate as GDP in developed economies. Non-financial corporate debt after the crisis was mainly issued through bond markets, and its growth can be largely attributed to accommodative monetary policies in developed economies. Although the growth in debt financing has some positive aspects for emerging market firms in terms of expanding financing and diversifying financing sources, it also amplified solvency risks and firms’ exposure to changes in market conditions. Slower global economic growth worldwide as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic could impose significant costs to emerging market firms that increased reliance on debt financing. Policy makers in emerging economies face challenges to mitigate overall risks and to contain corporate vulnerability in the non-financial sector. Because capital markets have an important role in the expansion of financial activity and are not as regulated as banks, policy makers have limited tools to alleviate the risks of growing non-financial corporate debt.

Article

Yanshuo Chen and Galina Hale

International capital flows have challenged economists’ models for decades. They exhibit a number of patterns that standard economic theories have struggled to explain. Over time, global capital flows go through boom and bust cycles, sudden stops, and unprecedented bonanzas. Determinants of capital flows include “pull factors,” recipient countries’ economic and structural characteristics, and “push factors” or “global factors,” which mostly depend on the global financial cycle and U.S. monetary policy. The relative importance of global factors has increased since the early 2000s. The rise in international capital flows that has accompanied the wave of globalization in the early 21st century has helped to deliver crucial capital resources that facilitated development of many economies and helped transmit technologies across borders. On the flip side, international capital flows also increased transmission of financial shocks and policy changes across countries, most prominently experienced during the global financial crisis of 2008–2009. On balance, is it beneficial for small open economies to allow for free capital flows? Mainstream economists’ and policymakers’ answer to this question has evolved from an unequivocal “yes” to a much more nuanced view.

Article

Daniel Greene, Omesh Kini, Mo Shen, and Jaideep Shenoy

A large body of work has examined the impact of corporate takeovers on the financial stakeholders (shareholders and bondholders) of the merging firms. Since the late 2000s, empirical research has increasingly highlighted the crucial role played by the non-financial stakeholders (labor, suppliers, customers, government, and communities) in these transactions. It is, therefore, important to understand the interplay between corporate takeovers and the non-financial stakeholders of the firm. Financial economists have long viewed the firm as a nexus of contracts between various stakeholders connected to the firm. Corporate takeovers not only play an important role in redefining the broad boundaries of the firm but also result in major changes to corporate ownership and structure. In the process, takeovers can significantly alter the contractual relationships with non-financial stakeholders. Because the firm’s relationships with these stakeholders are governed by implicit and explicit contracts, circumstances can arise that allow acquiring firms to fully or partially abrogate these contracts and extract rents from non-financial stakeholders after deal completion. In contrast, non-financial stakeholders can also potentially benefit from a takeover if they get to share in any efficiency gains that are generated in the deal. Given this framework, the ex-ante importance of these contractual relationships can have a bearing on the efficacy of takeovers. The ability to alter contractual relationships ex post can affect the propensity of a takeover and merging firms’ shareholders and, in turn, impact non-financial stakeholders. Non-financial stakeholders will be more vested in post-takeover success if they can trust the acquiring firm to not take actions that are detrimental to them. The big picture that emerges from the surveyed literature is that non-financial stakeholder considerations affect takeover decisions and post-takeover outcomes. Moreover, takeovers also have an impact on non-financial stakeholders. The directions of all these effects, however, depend on the economic environment in which the merging firms operate.