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Article

Chao Gu, Han Han, and Randall Wright

This article provides an introduction to New Monetarist Economics. This branch of macro and monetary theory emphasizes imperfect commitment, information problems, and sometimes spatial (endogenously) separation as key frictions in the economy to derive endogenously institutions like monetary exchange or financial intermediation. We present three generations of models in development of New Monetarism. The first model studies an environment in which agents meet bilaterally and lack commitment, which allows money to be valued endogenously as means of payment. In this setup both goods and money are indivisible to keep things tractable. Second-generation models relax the assumption of indivisible goods and use bargaining theory (or related mechanisms) to endogenize prices. Variations of these models are applied to financial asset markets and intermediation. Assets and goods are both divisible in third-generation models, which makes them better suited to policy analysis and empirical work. This framework can also be used to help understand financial markets and liquidity.

Article

The uncovered interest parity (UIP) condition states that the interest rate differential between two currencies is the expected rate of change of their exchange rate. Empirically, however, in the 1976–2018 period, exchange rate changes were approximately unpredictable over short horizons, with a slight tendency for currencies with higher interest rates to appreciate against currencies with lower interest rates. If the UIP condition held exactly, carry trades, in which investors borrow low interest rate currencies and lend high interest rate currencies, would earn zero average profits. The fact that UIP is violated, therefore, is a necessary condition to explain the fact that carry trades earned significantly positive profits in the 1976–2018 period. A large literature has documented the failure of UIP, as well as the profitability of carry trades, and is surveyed here. Additionally, summary evidence is provided here for the G10 currencies. This evidence shows that carry trades have been significantly less profitable since 2007–2008, and that there was an apparent structural break in exchange rate predictability around the same time. A large theoretical literature explores economic explanations of this phenomenon and is briefly surveyed here. Prominent among the theoretical models are ones based on risk aversion, peso problems, rare disasters, biases in investor expectations, information frictions, incomplete financial markets, and financial market segmentation.

Article

Chao Gu, Han Han, and Randall Wright

The effects of news (i.e., information innovations) are studied in dynamic general equilibrium models where liquidity matters. As a leading example, news can be announcements about monetary policy directions. In three standard theoretical environments—an overlapping generations model of fiat currency, a new monetarist model accommodating multiple payment methods, and a model of unsecured credit—transition paths are constructed between an announcement and the date at which events are realized. Although the economics is different, in each case, news about monetary policy can induce volatility in financial and other markets, with transitions displaying booms, crashes, and cycles in prices, quantities, and welfare. This is not the same as volatility based on self-fulfilling prophecies (e.g., cyclic or sunspot equilibria) studied elsewhere. Instead, the focus is on the unique equilibrium that is stationary when parameters are constant but still delivers complicated dynamics in simple environments due to information and liquidity effects. This is true even for classically-neutral policy changes. The induced volatility can be bad or good for welfare, but using policy to exploit this in practice seems difficult because outcomes are very sensitive to timing and parameters. The approach can be extended to include news of real factors, as seen in examples.

Article

The idea that prices and exchange rates adjust so as to equalize the common-currency price of identical bundles of goods—purchasing power parity (PPP)—is a topic of central importance in international finance. If PPP holds continuously, then nominal exchange rate changes do not influence trade flows. If PPP does not hold in the short run, but does in the long run, then monetary factors can affect the real exchange rate only temporarily. Substantial evidence has accumulated—with the advent of new statistical tests, alternative data sets, and longer spans of data—that purchasing power parity does not typically hold in the short run. One reason why PPP doesn’t hold in the short run might be due to sticky prices, in combination with other factors, such as trade barriers. The evidence is mixed for the longer run. Variations in the real exchange rate in the longer run can also be driven by shocks to demand, arising from changes in government spending, the terms of trade, as well as wealth and debt stocks. At time horizon of decades, trend movements in the real exchange rate—that is, systematically trending deviations in PPP—could be due to the presence of nontraded goods, combined with real factors such as differentials in productivity growth. The well-known positive association between the price level and income levels—also known as the “Penn Effect”—is consistent with this channel. Whether PPP holds then depends on the time period, the time horizon, and the currencies examined.

Article

Florian Exler and Michèle Tertilt

Consumer debt is an important means for consumption smoothing. In the United States, 70% of households own a credit card, and 40% borrow on it. When borrowers cannot (or do not want to) repay their debts, they can declare bankruptcy, which provides additional insurance in tough times. Since the 2000s, up to 1.5% of households declared bankruptcy per year. Clearly, the option to default affects borrowing interest rates in equilibrium. Consequently, when assessing (welfare) consequences of different bankruptcy regimes or providing policy recommendations, structural models with equilibrium default and endogenous interest rates are needed. At the same time, many questions are quantitative in nature: the benefits of a certain bankruptcy regime critically depend on the nature and amount of risk that households bear. Hence, models for normative or positive analysis should quantitatively match some important data moments. Four important empirical patterns are identified: First, since 1950, consumer debt has risen constantly, and it amounted to 25% of disposable income by 2016. Defaults have risen since the 1980s. Interestingly, interest rates remained roughly constant over the same time period. Second, borrowing and default clearly depend on age: both measures exhibit a distinct hump, peaking around 50 years of age. Third, ownership of credit cards and borrowing clearly depend on income: high-income households are more likely to own a credit card and to use it for borrowing. However, this pattern was stronger in the 1980s than in the 2010s. Finally, interest rates became more dispersed over time: the number of observed interest rates more than quadrupled between 1983 and 2016. These data have clear implications for theory: First, considering the importance of age, life cycle models seem most appropriate when modeling consumer debt and default. Second, bankruptcy must be costly to support any debt in equilibrium. While many types of costs are theoretically possible, only partial repayment requirements are able to quantitatively match the data on filings, debt levels, and interest rates simultaneously. Third, to account for the long-run trends in debts, defaults, and interest rates, several quantitative theory models identify a credit expansion along the intensive and extensive margin as the most likely source. This expansion is a consequence of technological advancements. Many of the quantitative macroeconomic models in this literature assess welfare effects of proposed reforms or of granting bankruptcy at all. These welfare consequences critically hinge on the types of risk that households face—because households incur unforeseen expenditures, not-too-stringent bankruptcy laws are typically found to be welfare superior to banning bankruptcy (or making it extremely costly) but also to extremely lax bankruptcy rules. There are very promising opportunities for future research related to consumer debt and default. Newly available data in the United States and internationally, more powerful computational resources allowing for more complex modeling of household balance sheets, and new loan products are just some of many promising avenues.