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Article

Sumit Agarwal, Jian Zhang, and Xin Zou

Households are one of the key participants in the economy. Households provide land, labor, and capital to the external economy, in exchange for incomes including rents, wages, interests, and profits; the incomes are then utilized to buy goods and services from the external economy again, rendering an income flow circular. This suggests that households make complicated decisions in almost all areas of economics and finance, which constitute the scope of household finance studies. Specifically, household finance encompasses the following three topics: (a) how households make financial decisions regarding saving, consumption, investment, housing, and borrowing; (b) how organizations provide goods and services to satisfy these financial functions; and (c) how external interventions (from firms, governments, or other parties) such as financial technology (FinTech) affect these financial activities. Despite the important stake in the financial system, it was not until recent decades that household finance became a prosperous research field. For many years, financial studies mostly focused on financial markets, nonfinancial corporations, and financial institutions and intermediaries, with households being delivered as a simplified representative agent. Classical economic models do consider households in the economic system, but mainly focus on their functions in the income flow circular (i.e., the saving or demand for products). Recently, the household finance field received more attention and has produced a large strand of theoretical and empirical studies due to the incremental participation of households in financial markets, the observed consequences of events such as financial crises, the availability of more detailed high-quality granular data, and the regulations and interventions induced by technology innovation.

Article

The house price boom that has been present in most Chinese cities since the early 2000s has triggered substantial interest in the role that China’s housing policy plays in its housing market and macroeconomy, with an extensive literature employing both empirical and theoretical perspectives developed over the past decade. This research finds that the privatization of China’s housing market, which encouraged households living in state-owned housing to purchase their homes at prices far below their market value, contributed to a rapid increase in homeownership beginning in the mid-1990s. Housing market privatization also has led to a significant increase in both housing and nonhousing consumption, but these benefits are unevenly distributed across households. With the policy goal of making homeownership affordable for the average household, the Housing Provident Fund contributes positively to homeownership rates. By contrast, the effectiveness of housing policies to make housing affordable for low-income households has been weaker in recent years. Moreover, a large body of empirical research shows that the unintended consequences of housing market privatization have been a persistent increase in housing prices since the early 2000s, which has been accompanied by soaring land prices, high vacancy rates, and high price-to-income and price-to-rent ratios. The literature has differing views regarding the sustainability of China’s housing boom. On a theoretical front, economists find that rising housing demand, due to both consumption and investment purposes, is important to understanding China’s prolonged housing boom, and that land-use policy, which influences the supply side of the housing market, lies at the center of China’s housing boom. However, regulatory policies, such as housing purchase restrictions and property taxes, have had mixed effects on the housing market in different cities. In addition to China’s housing policy and its direct effects on the nation’s housing market, research finds that China’s housing policy impacts its macroeconomy via the transmission of house price dynamics into the household and corporate sectors. High housing prices have a heterogenous impact on the consumption and savings of different types of households but tend to discourage household labor supply. Meanwhile, rising house prices encourage housing investment by non–real-estate firms, which crowds out nonhousing investment, lowers the availability of noncollateralized business loans, and reduces productive efficiency via the misallocation of capital and managerial talent.

Article

The interrelationships between upstream supplier firms and downstream customer firms—popularly referred to as supply-chain relationships—constitute one of the most important linkages in the economy. Suppliers not only provide production inputs for their customers but, increasingly, also engage in R&D and innovation activity that is beneficial to the customers. Yet, the high degree of relationship specificity that such activities involve, and the difficulty of writing complete contracts, expose suppliers to potential hold-up problems. Mechanisms that mitigate opportunism have implications for the origins of such relationships, firm boundary, and organizational structure. Smaller supplier firms benefit from relationships with large customer firms in many ways, such as knowledge sharing, operational efficiency, insulation from competition, and reputation in capital markets. However, customer bargaining power, undiversified customer base, and innovation strategy also expose suppliers to disruption risk. Relationship specificity of investment, customer bargaining power, and customer concentration associated with a less diversified customer base have important consequences for financing decisions of suppliers and customers, such as capital structure choice and the provision and role of trade credit. Changes in the risk of disruption (e.g., bankruptcy filings, takeover activity, and credit market shocks) have spillover effects along the supply chain. The correlation of economic fundamentals of suppliers and customers and the co-attention that they receive from market participants translate to return predictability (with implications for trading strategies), information diffusion along the supply chain, and stock-price informativeness of supply-chain partners.

Article

Foreign direct investment (FDI) plays an important role in facilitating the process of international technology diffusion. While FDI among industrialized countries primarily occurs via international mergers and acquisitions (M&As), investment headed to developing countries is more likely to be greenfield in nature; that is, it involves the establishment or expansion of new foreign affiliates by multinational firms. M&As have the potential to yield productivity improvements via changes in management and organization structure of target firms, whereas greenfield FDI leads to transfer of novel technical know-how by initiating the production of new products in host countries as well as by introducing improvements in existing production processes. Given the prominent role that multinational firms play in global research and development (R&D), there is much interest in whether and how technologies transferred by them to their foreign subsidiaries later diffuse more broadly in host economies, thereby potentially generating broad-based productivity gains. Empirical evidence shows that whereas spillovers from FDI to competing local firms are elusive, such is not the case for spillovers to local suppliers and other agents involved in vertical relationships with multinationals. Multinationals have substantially increased their investments in research facilities in various parts of the world and in R&D collaboration with local firms in developing countries, most notably China and India. Such international collaboration in R&D spearheaded by multinational firms has the potential to accelerate global productivity growth.

Article

Marius Guenzel and Ulrike Malmendier

One of the fastest-growing areas of finance research is the study of managerial biases and their implications for firm outcomes. Since the mid-2000s, this strand of behavioral corporate finance has provided theoretical and empirical evidence on the influence of biases in the corporate realm, such as overconfidence, experience effects, and the sunk-cost fallacy. The field has been a leading force in dismantling the argument that traditional economic mechanisms—selection, learning, and market discipline—would suffice to uphold the rational-manager paradigm. Instead, the evidence reveals that behavioral forces exert a significant influence at every stage of a chief executive officer’s (CEO’s) career. First, at the appointment stage, selection does not impede the promotion of behavioral managers. Instead, competitive environments oftentimes promote their advancement, even under value-maximizing selection mechanisms. Second, while at the helm of the company, learning opportunities are limited, since many managerial decisions occur at low frequency, and their causal effects are clouded by self-attribution bias and difficult to disentangle from those of concurrent events. Third, at the dismissal stage, market discipline does not ensure the firing of biased decision-makers as board members themselves are subject to biases in their evaluation of CEOs. By documenting how biases affect even the most educated and influential decision-makers, such as CEOs, the field has generated important insights into the hard-wiring of biases. Biases do not simply stem from a lack of education, nor are they restricted to low-ability agents. Instead, biases are significant elements of human decision-making at the highest levels of organizations. An important question for future research is how to limit, in each CEO career phase, the adverse effects of managerial biases. Potential approaches include refining selection mechanisms, designing and implementing corporate repairs, and reshaping corporate governance to account not only for incentive misalignments, but also for biased decision-making.

Article

Audrey Laporte and Brian S. Ferguson

One of the implications of the human capital literature of the 1960s was that a great many decisions individuals make that have consequences not just for the point in time when the decision is being made but also for the future can be thought of as involving investments in certain types of capital. In health economics, this led Michael Grossman to propose the concept of health capital, which refers not just to the individual’s illness status at any point in time, but to the more fundamental factors that affect the likelihood that she will be ill at any point in her life and also affect her life expectancy at each age. In Grossman’s model, an individual purchased health-related commodities that act through a health production function to improve her health. These commodities could be medical care, which could be seen as repair expenditures, or factors such as diet and exercise, which could be seen as ongoing additions to her health—the counterparts of adding savings to her financial capital on a regular basis. The individual was assumed to make decisions about her level of consumption of these commodities as part of an intertemporal utility-maximizing process that incorporated, through a budget constraint, the need to make tradeoffs between health-related goods and goods that had no health consequences. Pauline Ippolito showed that the same analytical techniques could be used to consider goods that were bad for health in the long run—bad diet and smoking, for example—still within the context of lifetime utility maximization. This raised the possibility that an individual might rationally take actions that were bad for her health in the long run. The logical extension of considering smoking as bad was adding recognition that smoking and other bad health habits were addictive. The notion of addictive commodities was already present in the literature on consumer behavior, but the consensus in that literature was that it was extremely difficult, if not impossible, to distinguish between a rational addict and a completely myopic consumer of addictive goods. Gary Becker and Kevin Murphy proposed an alternative approach to modeling a forward-looking, utility-maximizing consumer’s consumption of addictive commodities, based on the argument that an individual’s degree of addiction could be modeled as addiction capital, and which could be used to tackle the empirical problems that the consumer expenditure literature had experienced. That model has become the most widely used framework for empirical research by economists into the consumption of addictive goods, and, while the concept of rationality in addiction remains controversial, the Becker-Murphy framework also provides a basis for testing various alternative models of the consumption of addictive commodities, most notably those based on versions of time-inconsistent intertemporal decision making.

Article

William Megginson, Herber Farnsworth, and Bing (Violet) Xu

Defined as a single industrial sector, the global production, distribution, and consumption of energy is the world’s largest in terms of annual capital investment (US$1.83 trillion in 2019, the last prepandemic year for which full data are available) and the second largest nonfinancial industry in terms of sales revenue (US$4.51 trillion). Production and consumption of more than 100 million barrels of oil occurs each day—with 70% being traded across borders. Each of the world’s 7.5 billion citizens consumes an average of 3,181 kilowatt-hours per year, although per capita energy consumption varies enormously and is much higher in rich than in poor countries. Properly analyzing the financial economics of the global energy industry requires focusing on both the physical aspects of production and distribution—how, where, and with what type of fuel energy is produced and consumed—and the capital investment required to support each energy segment. The global energy “industry” can be broadly categorized into two main segments: (a) provision of fuels for transportation and production and (b) distribution of electricity for residential and industrial consumption. The fuels sector encompasses the production; processing; and distribution of crude oil and its refined products, mostly gasoline, kerosene (which becomes jet fuel), diesel, gas oil, and residual fuel oil. The electric power sector includes four related businesses: generation, transmission, distribution, and supply. Two imperatives drive the ongoing transformation of the global energy industry. These are (a) meeting rising demand due to population growth and rising wealth and (b) addressing climate change through greener energy policies and massive capital investments by corporations and governments. The pathway to decarbonizing electricity production and distribution by 2050 is fairly straightforward technologically; however, doing so will require both scientific innovations (particularly regarding scalable battery storage) and sustained multitrillion dollar annual investments for the next three decades. Decarbonizing transportation is a far more difficult and expensive proposition, which will require fundamental breakthroughs in multiple technologies, coupled with unusually farsighted policy action. Extant academic research already provides useful guidance for policymakers in many areas, but far more is required to help shape the future policy agenda.

Article

Corporate social responsibility (CSR) refers to the incorporation of environmental, social, and governance (ESG) considerations into corporate management, financial decision-making, and investors’ portfolio decisions. Socially responsible firms are expected to internalize the externalities they create (e.g., pollution) and be accountable to shareholders and other stakeholders (employees, customers, suppliers, local communities, etc.). Rating agencies have developed firm-level measures of ESG performance that are widely used in the literature. However, these ratings show inconsistencies that result from the rating agencies’ preferences, weights of the constituting factors, and rating methodology. CSR also deals with sustainable, responsible, and impact investing. The return implications of investing in the stocks of socially responsible firms include the search for an EGS factor and the performance of SRI funds. SRI funds apply negative screening (exclusion of “sin” industries), positive screening, and activism through engagement or proxy voting. In this context, one wonders whether responsible investors are willing to trade off financial returns with a “moral” dividend (the return given up in exchange for an increase in utility driven by the knowledge that an investment is ethical). Related to the analysis of externalities and the ethical dimension of corporate decisions is the literature on green financing (the financing of environmentally friendly investment projects by means of green bonds) and on how to foster economic decarbonization as climate change affects financial markets and investor behavior.

Article

The Hou–Xue–Zhang q-factor model says that the expected return of an asset in excess of the risk-free rate is described by its sensitivities to the market factor, a size factor, an investment factor, and a return on equity (ROE) factor. Empirically, the q-factor model shows strong explanatory power and largely summarizes the cross-section of average stock returns. Most important, it fully subsumes the Fama–French 6-factor model in head-to-head spanning tests. The q-factor model is an empirical implementation of the investment-based capital asset pricing model (the Investment CAPM). The basic philosophy is to price risky assets from the perspective of their suppliers (firms), as opposed to their buyers (investors). Mathematically, the investment CAPM is a restatement of the net present value (NPV) rule in corporate finance. Intuitively, high investment relative to low expected profitability must imply low costs of capital, and low investment relative to high expected profitability must imply high costs of capital. In a multiperiod framework, if investment is high next period, the present value of cash flows from next period onward must be high. Consisting mostly of this next period present value, the benefits to investment this period must also be high. As such, high investment next period relative to current investment (high expected investment growth) must imply high costs of capital (to keep current investment low). As a disruptive innovation, the investment CAPM has broad-ranging implications for academic finance and asset management practice. First, the consumption CAPM, of which the classic Sharpe–Lintner CAPM is a special case, is conceptually incomplete. The crux is that it blindly focuses on the demand of risky assets, while abstracting from the supply altogether. Alas, anomalies are primarily relations between firm characteristics and expected returns. By focusing on the supply, the investment CAPM is the missing piece of equilibrium asset pricing. Second, the investment CAPM retains efficient markets, with cross-sectionally varying expected returns, depending on firms’ investment, profitability, and expected growth. As such, capital markets follow standard economic principles, in sharp contrast to the teachings of behavioral finance. Finally, the investment CAPM validates Graham and Dodd’s security analysis on equilibrium grounds, within efficient markets.

Article

Sheilagh Ogilvie

Guilds ruled many European crafts and trades from the Middle Ages to the Industrial Revolution. Each guild regulated entry to its occupation, requiring any practitioner to become a guild member and then limiting admission to the guild. Guilds intervened in the markets for their members’ products, striving to keep prices high, limit output, suppress competition, and block innovations that might disrupt the status quo. Guilds also acted in input markets, seeking to control access to raw materials, keep wages low, hinder employers from competing for workers, and prevent workers from agitating for better conditions. Guilds treated women particularly severely, usually excluding them from apprenticeship and forbidding any female other than a guild member’s widow from running a workshop. Guilds invested large sums in lobbying governments and political elites to grant, maintain, and extend these privileges. Guilds had the potential to compensate for their cartelistic activities by creating countervailing benefits. Guild quality certification was one possible solution to information asymmetries between producers and consumers, which could have made markets work better. Guild apprenticeship had the potential to solve imperfections in markets for skilled training, and thus to encourage human capital investment. The cartel profits generated by guilds could in theory have encouraged technological innovation by enabling guild masters to appropriate more of the social benefits of their innovations, while guild journeymanship and spatial clustering could diffuse new technical knowledge. A rich scholarship on European guilds makes it possible to assess the degree to which guilds created such benefits, outweighing the harm they caused. After about 1500, guild strength diverged across Europe, declining gradually in Flanders, the Netherlands, and England, surviving in France and Italy, and intensifying across large tracts of Iberia, Scandinavia, and the German-speaking lands. The activities of guilds contributed to variations across Europe in economic performance, urban growth, and inequality. Guilds interacted significantly with both markets and states, which helps explain why European economies diverged in the crucial centuries before industrialization.