The Atlanta Fed's macroblog provides commentary and analysis on economic topics including monetary policy, macroeconomic developments, inflation, labor economics, and financial issues.

Authors for macroblog are Dave Altig, John Robertson, and other Atlanta Fed economists and researchers.

June 28, 2012

Young versus mature small firms seeking credit

The ongoing tug of war between credit supply and demand issues facing small businesses is captured in this piece in the American Prospect by Merrill Goozner. Goozner asks whether small businesses are facing a tougher borrowing environment than is warranted by current economic conditions. One of the potential factors identified in the article is the relative decline in the number of community banks—down some 1,124 (or 13 percent of all banks from 2007). Community banks have traditionally been viewed as an important source of local financing for businesses and are often thought to be better able to serve the needs of small businesses than large national banks because of their more intimate knowledge of the business and the local community.

The Atlanta Fed's poll of small business can shed some light on this issue. In April we reached out to small businesses across the Sixth Federal Reserve District to ask about financing applications, how satisfied firms were that their financing needs were being met, and general business conditions. About one third of the 419 survey participants applied for credit in the first quarter of 2012, submitting between two and three applications for credit on average. As we've seen in past surveys (the last survey was in October 2011), the most common place to apply for credit was at a bank.

For the April 2012 survey, the table below shows the average success of firms applying to various financing sources (on a scale of 1 to 4, with 1 meaning none of the amount requested in the application was obtained, and 4 meaning that the firm received the full amount applied for). The table also shows the median age of businesses applying for each type of financing.


The results in the table show that for credit applications, Small Business Administration loan requests and applications for loans/lines of credit from large national banks tended to be the least successful, whereas applications for vendor trade credit and commercial loans/line-of-credit from community banks had the highest average success rating.

Notably, firms applying for credit at large national banks were typically much younger than firms applying at regional or community banks. If younger firms generally have more difficulty in getting credit regardless of where they apply, it could explain why we saw less success, on average, among firms applying at larger banks.

To investigate this issue, we compared the average application success among young firms (less than six years old) that applied at both regional or community banks and at large national banks, pooling the responses from the last few years of our survey. The credit quality of borrowers is controlled for by looking only at firms that applied at both types of institutions. What we found was no significant difference in the average borrowing success of young firms applying for credit across bank type—it just does seem to be tougher to get your credit needs met at a bank if you're running a young business. Interestingly, we also found that more mature firms were significantly more successful when applying at regional or community banks than at large national banks—it seems to be relatively easier for an established small business to obtain requested credit from a small bank.

While this analysis did not control for other factors that could also affect the likelihood of borrowing success, the results do suggest that Goozner's question about the impact of declining community bank numbers on small business lending is relevant. If small businesses are generally more successful when seeking credit from a small bank, will an ongoing reduction in the number of community banks substantially affect the ability of (mature) small businesses to get credit? More detailed insights from the April 2012 Small Business Credit Survey will be available soon on our Small Business Focus website, and we will provide an update when they are posted.

Photo of John RobertsonBy John Robertson, vice president and senior economist,



Photo of Ellyn TerryEllyn Terry, senior economic research analyst, both of the Atlanta Fed's research department

June 28, 2012 in Banking, Economic Growth and Development, Saving, Capital, and Investment | Permalink


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The table also reveals the average age of companies implementing for each kind of funding.

Posted by: factoring company | August 29, 2012 at 03:03 AM

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May 17, 2012

Is inflation targeting really dead?

Harvard's Jeffrey Frankel (hat tip, Mark Thoma) is the latest econ-blogger to cast an admiring gaze in the direction of nominal gross domestic product (GDP) targeting. Frankel's post is titled "The Death of Inflation Targeting," and the demise apparently includes the notion of "flexible targeting." The obituary is somewhat ironic in that at least some of us believe that the U.S. central bank has recently taken a big step in the direction of institutionalizing flexible inflation targeting. Frankel, nonetheless, makes a case for nominal GDP targeting:

"One candidate to succeed IT [inflation targeting] as the preferred nominal monetary-policy anchor has lately received some enthusiastic support in the economic blogosphere: nominal GDP targeting. The idea is not new. It had been a candidate to succeed money-supply targeting in the 1980's, since it did not share the latter's vulnerability to so-called velocity shocks.

"Nominal GDP targeting was not adopted then, but now it is back. Its fans point out that, unlike IT, it would not cause excessive tightening in response to adverse supply shocks. Nominal GDP targeting stabilizes demand—the most that can be asked of monetary policy. An adverse supply shock is automatically divided equally between inflation and real GDP, which is pretty much what a central bank with discretion would do anyway."

That's certainly true, but a nominal GDP target is consistent with a stable inflation or price-level objective only if potential GDP growth is itself stable. Perhaps the argument is that plausible variations in potential GDP are not large enough or persistent enough to be of much concern. But that notion just begs the core question of whether the current output gap is big or small. At least for me, uncertainty about where GDP is relative to its potential remains the key to whether policy should be more or less aggressive.

In another recent blog item (also with a pointer from Mark Thoma), Simon Wren-Lewis offers the opinion that acknowledging uncertainty about size of the output gap actually argues in favor of being "less cautious" about taking an aggressive policy course. The basic idea is familiar. It is a simple matter to raise rates should the Fed overestimate the magnitude of the output gap. But with the short-term policy rates already at zero, it is not so easy to go in the opposite direction should we underestimate the gap.

No argument there. As I pointed out in a May 3 macroblog item, Atlanta Fed President Dennis Lockhart has said the same thing. But, as I argued in that post, this point of view is only half the story. Though I agree that the costs are asymmetric to the downside with respect to the FOMC's employment and growth mandate, they look to me to be asymmetric to the upside with respect to the price stability mandate. And I view with some suspicion the claim that we know how to easily manage policy that turns out to be too aggressive after the fact.

My issues are not merely academic. In an important paper published a decade ago, Anasthsios Orphanides made this assertion:

"Despite the best of intentions, the activist management of the economy during the 1960s and 1970s did not deliver the desired macroeconomic outcomes. Following a brief period of success in achieving reasonable price stability with full employment, starting with the end of 1965 and continuing through the 1970s, the small upward drift in prices that so concerned Burns several years earlier gave way to the Great Inflation. Amazingly, during much of this period, specifically from February 1970 to January 1977, Arthur Burns, who so opposed policies fostering inflation, served as Chairman of the Federal Reserve. How then is this macroeconomic policy failure to be explained? And how can such failures be avoided in the future?...

"The likely policy lapse leading to the Great Inflation …can be simply identified. It was due to the overconfidence with which policymakers believed they could ascertain in real-time the current state of the economy relative to its potential. The willingness to recognize the limitations of our knowledge and lower our stabilization objectives accordingly would be essential if we are to avert such policy disasters in the future."

With this historical observation in hand, it seems a short leap to turn Wren-Lewis's thought experiment on its head. Arguably, the last several years have demonstrated that nonconventional policy actions have been quite successful at short-circuiting the disinflationary spirals that pose the central downside risk when interest rates are near zero. (If you can tolerate a little math, a good exposition of both theory and evidence is provided by Roger Farmer.)

On the opposite side of the ledger, we know little about the conditions that would cause the Fed to lose credibility with respect to its commitment to its inflation goals, and very little about the triggers that would cause inflation expectations to become unanchored. Thus, I think it not difficult to construct a plausible argument about the risks of being wrong about the output gap that is exact opposite of the Wren-Lewis conclusion.

I end up about where I did in my previous post. Flexible inflation targeting, implemented in such a way that the 2 percent long-run inflation target rate exerts an observable gravitational pull over the medium term, feels about right to me. Despite what Frankel seems to believe, I think that idea is far from dead.

David AltigBy Dave Altig, executive vice president and research director at the Atlanta Fed

May 17, 2012 in Deflation, Economic Growth and Development, Federal Reserve and Monetary Policy, Inflation, Monetary Policy | Permalink


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"The obituary is somewhat ironic in that at least some of us believe that the U.S. central bank has recently taken a big step in the direction of institutionalizing flexible inflation targeting."

Well, sort of. First of all, the Fed's forecasts certainly look like 2% PCE is an upper limit not an average, most commentators rightly called foul after the last quarterly set of forecasts. There is no de-facto difference right now between strict inflation targeting with a 2% ceiling and what the fed is doing. ther is no "flexible" in the target, and the range of full employment forecasts is 5-7%, we are still well above that yet there is no tolerance for higher inflation. So no I would not say "we took a big step forward."

In fact, nominal expectations have collapsed (see beckworth and the Evans new paper) so i would say the Fed has zero credibility on the unemployment side of the mandate. unsurprisingly, confidence and planned expenditures have collapsed. Its not a structural thing.

TIPS markets are screaming: epic fail.

Second, the fed cannot promise to control import prices (and indeed, tightening in response to a supply shock is textbook bad macro). The Fed should only focus on the price of domestically produced goods (gdp deflator). The Fed should have payed more attention to the gdp deflator and less to the PCE during the 2003-2008 period. Cheap imports depressed the PCE early, then expensive oil pushed it up in 2008. Policy would have been tighter, earlier.

At Sept 16th 2008 meeting, despite declining employment, tight credit, high mortgage delinquencies, housing market is recession since 2006, and declining GDP deflator, the Fed was concerned about inflation - not the clearly weakening economy (because oil and commodities prices were high). 3 days later Lehman collapsed and 3 weeks later they eased.

If you think the Fed follows a "balanced Taylor Rule" using output and inflation (use the GDP deflator as i said above) thats just ngdp targeting, except that the Fed promises to correct its own errors over a 5 year period so that the average works out.

Also, another aspect of ngdp targeting is that it prevents a debt-deflation spiral that happened in 2008 (and i think this is what prevented the 1990 real estate bubble from becoming worse in 1990s).

So, yes, IT is dead. RIP and good riddance.

Posted by: dwb | May 17, 2012 at 11:34 PM

thanks for reading comments, this is an interesting debate. Just a couple points as I forced myself to go back and reread Orphanides paper.

1) He used the GDP deflator. I view the conclusions as applied to the Fed framework with suspicion there since the Fed targets PCE and we know they sent very different signals during 2008;

2)The Taylor rule performs worse under imperfect information about the output gap (see figure 9); in fact ngdp targeting still is better under perfect information than strict inflation targeting. This is consistent with McCallum's 1998 results as well as i recall.

3)His ngdp rule is a *growth rule* not a path rule; Sumner and Beckworth propose a path rule (i.e. the Fed promises to correct errors so that the 5 year average (say) is on a target path. Important difference.

4)The chief criticism is that we do not know what potential output is, therefore do not know what to set the path to. But we can observe the trend GDP deflator and adjust the path as needed to be consistent.

I think that if you were to compare Sumner/Beckworth ngdp path level targeting to gdp deflator path level targeting, or inflation targeting using the GDP deflator, then there would only be a very mild difference.

The crucial differences are: the response to supply shocks (the Fed can only control domestic goods prices); and all the theory and evidence that ngdp targeting avoids debt-deflationary spirals like we saw in 2008. Again, compare the response to the housing real estate in the early 90s (yes, we had a housing crisis then too!).

Posted by: dwb | May 19, 2012 at 02:31 PM

Another reason NGDP level targeting trumps inflation targeting: it would not allow expectations of nominal income growth to collapse.

Posted by: Anon1 | May 19, 2012 at 10:00 PM

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February 10, 2012

Reading the bump in inventories

Yesterday's wholesale trade report, with its positive surprise in December inventory accumulation, has estimates of fourth quarter gross domestic product (GDP) on the rise again. For the advance GDP release, the U.S. Bureau of Economic Analysis assumed that the book value of merchant wholesale inventories rose by $17 billion (at a seasonally adjusted annual rate, or SAAR) in December. The wholesale trade report suggests the book value instead may have risen by $56 billion SAAR. Our own calculations suggest fourth quarter GDP may be revised up from 2.8 percent to around 3.1 percent. A piece of that revision comes from positive sales activity, which would appear to be an unambiguous plus.

The inventory piece is trickier. Forecasters have a tendency—because the statistics have a tendency—to take a larger-than-expected inventory buildup in one quarter out of growth estimates for the next quarter. The implication in present tense is, of course, that 2012 may start out on the slow side as the fourth quarter inventory swell is run off.

That's not how we see it. Our current read is that it is better to think of the fourth quarter inventory buildup as a payback from a decumulation in the third quarter. Here's a look at overall inventory changes over the recent past, broken down into their various industrial components:

If you look hard, you will see that, though the fourth quarter inventory rise was broad-based, the third to fourth quarter change in wholesale inventories was particularly notable. In fact, the wholesale inventory picture in the back half of 2011 was dominated by a fairly large decumulation of nondurable goods inventories in the third quarter, a decline that was reversed in the last three months of the year:

In the background of those details are some pretty nonthreatening-looking inventory-sales ratios:

So, consider two stories that might frame thinking about the role of inventories in GDP growth in the first quarter or first half of this year. One story is inventory-inflated growth in the fourth quarter of 2011, to be followed by payback in the form of a drag on production in the first quarter (or so) of 2012. Another story is that the drag actually emerged in the third quarter of last year, providing a little extra juice in the fourth quarter, with no particular consequences for the current-year growth trajectory.

Right now, it looks to us like the latter story might be the right one. Of course, that doesn't mean there aren't significant risks to the outlook for domestic production, and hence inventories. For instance, although today's report on international trade in December was relatively benign in terms of fourth quarter GDP revisions, it did show a substantial further weakening in exports to the euro zone. Weaker demand from Europe will weigh on U.S. export growth. The big unknown is how weak that demand will get.

David AltigBy Dave Altig, senior vice president and research director at the Atlanta Fed


February 10, 2012 in Data Releases, Economic Growth and Development, Forecasts | Permalink


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February 06, 2012

Employment: Some good news, some bad news

Comparisons can be useful in determining where the economy is at any given point in time, and today's Employment Situation report from the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics provides another opportunity to do just that. According to that report, the U.S. economy added 243,000 nonfarm payroll jobs in January 2012. But total nonfarm employment is still 5.6 million lower than at the start of the last recession (December 2007).

For additional comparisons, more than 1 million fewer people filed initial unemployment insurance claims during the last week of January 2012 than during the last week of January 2009 (at the height of the recession). However, 55,000 more people filed initial claims during the last week of January 2012 than during the last week of January 2007 (before the recession started).

When examining layoffs, more than 400,000 fewer workers were laid off or discharged during November 2011 (according to the most recent data) than during the height of the recession in November 2008. Nonetheless, there were roughly a million fewer job openings and hires than during November 2007 (before the recession started).

Nominal average hourly earnings of wage and salary workers were about two dollars (9.6 percent) higher in January 2012 than around the start of the recession (January 2008). Nonetheless, real average hourly earnings (controlling for inflation) were only eight cents (0.8 percent) higher over the same time period.

Considering everything, there is both good news and bad news in the labor market today.

The median three-digit NAICS (North American Industry Classification System) industry lost 7 percent of its jobs during the most recent recession. In other words, half of the industries lost less than 7 percent of their jobs and half of the industries lost more than 7 percent of their jobs. Industries faring the worst (those in the 75th percentile of job losses) shed 13 percent of their jobs. And what might be considered "fortunate" industries (those in the 25th percentile of job losses) saw only 3 percent of their jobs disappear over this time period.

Chart 1 compares the year-over-year employment growth among industries that experienced below-median and above-median job loss, as well as those industries in the 75th and 25th percentiles of job loss. That chart also shows another potential bit of good news—that is, in spite of the dramatic differences in job losses, all four categories of industries are currently adding jobs at about the same rate. And that overall job growth, at about 0.24 percent per month, is roughly the same as the average monthly job growth seen between 1993 and 2000 and exceeds the average monthly growth before the recession, from 2004 through 2007.

Still, there is more bad news. At the current rate of growth, those industries that experienced above-median job loss during the recession will not regain prerecession employment levels until the end of 2015.

Chart 2 illustrates the employment level for those industries with above median job losses along with projections of employment based on three assumptions of monthly employment growth. To even recover before the end of 2013 the jobs that they lost during the recession, these industries as a group would need to experience extraordinary employment growth.

Does the projected labored employment recovery among these particularly hard-hit industries suggest there are more serious structural impediments to the efficient operation of the labor market today than there were after the previous two recessions? Several posts on this blog (here and here, for example) have addressed this question of structural change without coming to a definitive answer. Returning to chart 1 gives us yet another opportunity to speculate on this point.

Note that the category in chart 1 into which each three-digit industry is placed (above-median or below-median job loss, etc.) is based on job losses between January 2008 and June 2009. Plotting the annual growth rates back to 1990 illustrates that the industries that were hardest hit during the most recent recession were also those with the greatest job losses during the previous two recessions. So there appears to be nothing special about these industries that led to their suffering during the most recent recession.

Additionally, the pattern of recovery of these hardest-hit industries is similar to that experienced after the previous two recessions. Like before, the worst performing industries (those with job losses in the 75th percentile) are adding jobs at a faster rate than industries that did not suffer as much. Industries in the 75th percentile of job losses added jobs in 2011 at an average monthly rate of 0.22 percent; industries with below-median losses added jobs at an average monthly rate of 0.12 percent. This analysis does not suggest to me that unique structural features of this recession or recovery are holding employment growth back—it appears that the culprit is simply the extraordinarily deep hole the economy, and thus the job market, fell into this time around. The bad news, then, is that time may be the only answer for those industries to fully recover.

Julie Hotchkiss By Julie Hotchkiss, a research economist and policy adviser in the Atlanta Fed's research department


February 6, 2012 in Data Releases, Economic Growth and Development, Employment, Labor Markets | Permalink


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what do you make of the spin on the numbers. some are saying that the labor participation rate is understated, and with a traditional number we would be looking at close to 11% unemployment.

Posted by: Jeff Carter | February 05, 2012 at 02:26 PM

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December 21, 2011

In search of an agenda for job creation

In a macroblog post yesterday, Dave Altig, research director at the Atlanta Fed, discussed some recent research from the Federal Reserve Bank of Cleveland focused on the relationship between uncertainty and job creation by small businesses. That research, which is based on survey responses from members of the National Federation of Independent Businesses (NFIB), found that a high degree of uncertainty was correlated with a scaling back in hiring plans.

Yesterday's macroblog post also delved into the connection between small business hiring plans and actual job creation, pointing out that this connection requires further examination because job creation has not, contrary to popular conversation, been a broad characteristic of the population of small businesses. Instead, it has tended to be young businesses (and especially businesses less than seven years old) that account for most of the job creation. Most young businesses are small, but relatively few small businesses are young.

I believe that understanding the job creation challenges we currently confront may require that we increasingly turn our attention to the factors restraining the high growth sectors of the economy. Some evidence from this segment of the business universe came from a recent poll of fast-growing firms that the Kauffman Foundation conducted at the Inc. 500/5000 conference in September. This table summarizes the results of that poll, which are juxtaposed with roughly comparable responses from the NFIB survey.

The interesting thing about the Kauffman survey is that the overwhelming problem reported by those companies that are in growth mode is the inability to find qualified workers. That observation is important because it bears on such questions as: To what degree is our elevated unemployment rate structural? How do we explain the observation that the number of unemployed workers appears to be elevated relative to the number of reported job vacancies? and so on.

It is obviously not appropriate to extrapolate from a single snapshot of a sample of fast-growing firms to the U.S. economy as a whole—and that is not the message here. But it is increasingly clear that the search for a single smoking gun that will clarify what is happening in labor markets is likely to be a hopeless quest. The answer to the question asking what a jobs agenda would look like is like your Christmas wish list: one size probably does not fit all.

Note: Today's macroblog post is the last for 2011. Look for macroblog's return in early January.

John RobertsonJohn Robertson, vice president and senior economist in the Atlanta Fed's research department


December 21, 2011 in Data Releases, Economic Growth and Development, Employment, Labor Markets | Permalink


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This is why Alex Tabarrok's assertions about immigration reform are so important right now and why we need to pair that with some serious job training programs for the unemployed and ultimately reform our education system.

Posted by: Daniel | December 21, 2011 at 04:14 PM

About a year before the firm I used to work for outsourced several hundred IT jobs to India they fired all their internal IT trainers and cancelled their decades-long IT talent development program.

Why train US workers when you can simply import the workers you need. It's only a little harder now when the "real unemployment rate" (the U6 rate) is at 20%.

To bring in more cheap labor today you also need to hire a PR firm to plant stories about "Structural Unemployment" and phony schemes like these;

As Dean Baker is fond of saying, when firms complain of not being able to "find qualified employees" they leave off the "who are willing to work for the wage we are offering."

There is no STEM worker shortage in the US. The salaries of US-based STEM workers have been stagnant for the past 12 years.

Posted by: The OutSourced One | December 23, 2011 at 02:59 AM

Presumably small businesses that are not well known and have small HR departments find it difficult to find qualified people all the time. The question at issue is: what is different about the present situation, as against before the financial crisis or during previous recoveries?

The best piece of analysis I have seen on this (I forget where) simply charted the NFIB survey responses through time. The response that jumps sharply after 2007 is the state of the economy. That supports the idea that what is unusual about the present situation is the sluggish economy.

It would be interesting to see some analysis on the components of the index in the previous post. It appears to be highly correlated with recessions.

Posted by: John Butters | December 28, 2011 at 09:30 AM

Was being rather lazy -- I had a look at the components. It strikes me that the "policy uncertainty" that the index captures likely arises from events that have a negative or uncertain impact on the economy -- hence the spikes during wars and the upward trend during recessions. If this is the case, then it is not possible to infer that the situation would be better if Republicans and Democrats would just get along.

On the same topic, you reminded me of a piece I wrote a while ago:

I have been thinking a bit more about "confidence," which I talked about yesterday. In the 1980's TV series "The A Team," when a member of the team or the team as a whole was in the mood for intelligent risk-taking it was said that they were "on the jazz." Why is it "confidence" that is lacking in the economy, and not "the jazz?" When one is on the jazz, one enjoys taking calculated risks in the pursuit of an objective, and it strikes me that this is just the kind of attitude that the economy needs -- a bit of entrepreneurial spirit. What is more, unlike the "confidence" analysis, there is empirical support for my jazz theory, inasmuch as growth in the US was stronger in the three decades of macroeconomic volatility before 1980 than in the three decades of stability that followed that year. The jazz, you see, requires real danger, and less danger means less jazz. As B.A. Baracus says to John "Hannibal" Smith on one occasion: "Hannibal, when you're on the jazz, you're dangerous". In the present environment the problem is that, to be on the jazz, one needs to see a reasonable prospect of success in a dangerous situation. Deleveraging, austerity and weak economy have robbed people of this prospect. Thus the prescriptions of the jazz analysis are just those policies that will create enough macroeconomic volatility to bring some success to people (and thus to give everyone the prospect of success and promote a general restoration of the jazz). This means debt- or money-financed fiscal stimulus and further unconventional monetary easing measures.

Of course, neither the "jazz" analysis nor the "confidence" analysis is a good one. My point is that the former is just as compelling as, and has more empirical support than, the latter. But neither is a proper model of how the economy works. I think that the popularity highlights the fact that the most common mode of human reasoning is not deduction or induction, but analogy. The "confidence" theory is appealing because, when a person loses his confidence, he looks depressed -- and the economy looks depressed. What this means is that we have to be careful with the analogies we use. There are reasons to think that we cannot understand the economy intuitively like we understand a person: empirically, this method does not seem to allow people to make good predictions, and other successful theories about the world (such as quantum physics) are not intuitive; and theoretically, mathematicians have given us the theory of complex systems that tells us that the outputs of such systems can be highly counterintuitive. 

Posted by: John Butters | December 28, 2011 at 09:44 AM

It really strikes me that the kind of business matters a good deal more than the age of the business for the macroeconomic growth, though I understand that the age of businesses makes for easy-to-come-by data. Jobs programs ought to be aimed at the best growth-contributing businesses.

For example, the age of a dentist's office doesn't matter too much, as there should be a more or less slowly increasing number of offices with the increasing number of teeth, and not a big net growth contributor. Drywall contractors would seem to cycle up and down with booms, but employment-wise not contribute a great deal on average, with productivity possibly even balancing population gains.

My own high-tech widget and gadget firm, on the other hand, ought to be able to grow not only the number of number of our own employees, but the qualitatively new products should help grow other new businesses that otherwise cannot be built without our devices.

The small business innovative research program (SBIR/STTR, supports exactly this sort of business development, currently employing about 25k people in small firms on 1-to-3 person development projects. Ramp this up by a factor of 100 for 2 to 4 years, which would prime the macroeconomic demand pump while also developing new services and products and while investing in the broader human technical and business capital needed for such efforts. The federal infrastructure to ramp these programs essentially overnight and supervise them already exists.

(And, FWIW, Alex Tabarrok's immigration assertions are nuts. Pay a little more, and I have found you can hardly swing a stick without knocking over a couple of domestic Ph.D. engineers and skilled technical staff.)

Posted by: MSM | December 29, 2011 at 07:39 PM

i think is also good to know that what makes a business to stand the test of time is not its level of age or size but the good and grounded knowledge of the business, the market field and analsyis of final consumers. Then the sustainability of the business through several means

Posted by: binary options brokers | January 07, 2012 at 08:15 PM

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December 20, 2011

Uncertainty about uncertainty

One of the hotly debated issues among those debating policy in the pages of various Fed publications (virtual and otherwise) is why job creation in the United States cannot seem to break out of its sluggish mode. One potential source is an elevated level of uncertainty about the political and economic future that is damping business enthusiasm for risk and, consequently, holding back the expansion.

Heightened uncertainty as an impediment to growth has intuitive appeal to many and, in our Reserve Bank's experience, considerable anecdotal support from business contacts. Unfortunately, intuition and anecdote don't quite rise to the level of evidence. Fortunately, the work of uncovering the evidence (one way or the other) is under way. One example is a recent entry by Mark Schweitzer and Scott Shane in the Federal Reserve Bank of Cleveland's Economic Commentary series:

"In this Commentary, we empirically examine the hypothesis that 'policy uncertainty' adversely impacts small business owners' expansion plans. To do this, we looked at the statistical association between data on small business plans to hire and make capital expenditures and a measure of 'policy uncertainty.' The data on small business plans cover January 1986 through July 2011 and were collected by the National Federation of Independent Business (NFIB)."

The picture relating the claims of respondents to the NFIB survey and the uncertainty measure employed by the authors is pretty compelling:

The correlation that can clearly be seen in this chart survives more formal statistical analysis:

"We find statistically significant negative effects of policy uncertainty on small business owners' plans to hire and make capital expenditures over the 1986 to 2011 period. We also find a large effect of the economic downturn on small business plans, but the two effects do appear to be independent. The negative effects of policy uncertainty show up even when we weight the components of policy uncertainty in several different ways. The results also stand up when consumer confidence is controlled for, suggesting that the effects are distinct from consumer sentiment."

The authors note the appropriate caveats but are pretty clear about how they read the results of the analysis:

"While this statistical analysis is informative about the relationship between policy uncertainty and small business expansion plans, we cannot say that 'policy uncertainty' causes small business hiring and capital expenditure plans to decline. That is because a purely statistical model cannot identify fundamental causes. But whatever the fundamental cause, our analysis indicates that adding information about policy uncertainty improves our ability to explain the survey responses provided by the NFIB's survey respondents.

"In that sense, we can say that the correlations between the two are strong enough to reject the argument that policy uncertainty is irrelevant for currently weak small business expansion plans. In our view, policymakers should take seriously the widespread anecdotal reports that policy uncertainty is adversely affecting small business owners' expansion plans."

I think this study is really intriguing, but I would add another caveat to the results, emphasized not too many posts back here at macroblog:

"Talking about the role of the average or typical small business in job creation is problematic. Discussing it is challenging because job creation is highly skewed along the age dimension of small firms."

Smallness per se is not the defining characteristic of the businesses that are responsible for driving job creation. In fact, research shows that once firm age is controlled for, no systematic relationship exists between net growth and firm size. The distinction between young and mature firms—which our own regular poll of small businesses verifies is important—is absent in the NFIB data that Schweitzer and Shane exploit.

Although the Schweitzer-Shane study is a good start to turning anecdotal reports into evidence, the results would be more compelling if they pertained to the actual universe of companies that we would expect to be creating jobs—that is, firms that are young, not just small.

David AltigBy Dave Altig, senior vice president and research director at the Atlanta Fed


December 20, 2011 in Data Releases, Economic Growth and Development, Employment, Labor Markets | Permalink


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In a historical study like this, why are we calculating a correlation with "planning to hire"? Who cares whether a someone told a pollster 2 years ago that they were planning to hire someone? Why not look at whether they actually did hire or not? Similarly, why are we counting number of business owners rather than number of jobs?

Posted by: DirkKS | December 20, 2011 at 05:29 PM

I am of the opinion that the number of small business owners is significant, because they represent the largest number and basic core of our economy.
Unfortunately, the sector is being ignored. Any significant recovery must begin from modest growth of business in this area, that will lead to new hirings.

Posted by: Hugo A. Castro | December 27, 2011 at 02:39 PM

I believe the focus should be on hoe to provide sufficient jobs and not just count the number of successful businesses.

Posted by: ultrasonic cleaner | January 03, 2012 at 08:33 AM

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November 10, 2011

Bank lending to finance a business start-up

On Wednesday and Thursday of this week I attended a conference titled "Small Business and Entrepreneurship during an Economic Recovery," presented by the Federal Reserve Board of Governors, the Federal Reserve Bank of Atlanta, and the Kauffman Foundation.

The conference agenda and papers are available here. Atlanta Fed President Dennis Lockhart gave one of the keynote addresses. His topic was business start-ups, job creation, and the role of banks.

Echoing the findings of research conducted by the Kauffman Foundation and others (for example, here and here), President Lockhart highlighted the vitally important role that business start-ups have played as job creators in the U.S. economy. He also made a distinction between true small business start-ups—those that intend to be small-scale operations (usually with single location and no more than a handful of employees), and growth-oriented start-ups. Both types of start-ups play a role in job creation, but the biggest impact over time comes from successful high-growth start-ups.

"Whether they're so-called 'mom-and-pops' or 'gazelles,' they create some jobs at inception. Inherently small enterprises either fail or sustain operations, but tend to level off in terms of employment. The growth businesses ramp up creating initial employment. They may fail in time, or they may grow to what is still small scale and level off, or they may break out and grow to large scale.

"A 2010 Kauffman Foundation study shows that just 1 percent of employer businesses—those growing the fastest—generate roughly 40 percent of new jobs in a given year. Three-quarters of those businesses are less than five years old."

So, if having a sufficient pipeline of new businesses is important to overall job creation, and especially enough start-ups with high growth potential, what is the role of banks as providers of financial capital to new business ventures? Because a new business is an inherently risky proposition, banks tend to provide a start-up loan only when it can be sufficiently collateralized. That collateralization often means using nonbusiness-related assets such as personal real estate. As President Lockhart's notes:

"The most prevalent form of hard collateral is real property. Start-up entrepreneurs often hear, 'If you'll put up your house, we'll lend to your new business.' Real estate related to the business—to the extent the entrepreneur needs such and actually owns it—can be problematic as collateral because its value may be a function of the business cash flow it helps generate."

The results of Atlanta Fed's most recent poll of small business credit conditions in the Southeast are consistent with the view that the combination of weak economic conditions and lower real estate values since 2006 has significantly reduced access to bank loans as a source of start-up capital. One of the questions in the poll asks: "When you started the business, what sources of financing did you use?" We are able to separate the answers from owners of mature businesses (those starting more than five years ago) and younger businesses (those starting in the last five years). The findings are summarized in the following chart.

Although the sample size is pretty small, I found the results to be quite striking. The younger businesses we talked to were much less likely to have used a business loan or line of credit from a bank when they started than their more mature counterparts. Instead, these younger businesses were more likely to have used personal savings or some other source. Almost certainly, these differences between older and younger firms are not simply because young entrepreneurs suddenly didn't want to get start-up financing from a bank.

There's obviously still a lot to learn about the business creation process, including the financing of new business ventures in today's economic and financial environment. I believe it's important that these topics are moving up in the list of national priorities and that the body of research dedicated to them, as evidenced at this conference, is growing.

John Robertson John Robertson, vice president and senior economist in the Atlanta Fed's research department


November 10, 2011 in Economic Growth and Development, Employment, Labor Markets, Small Business | Permalink


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>what is the role of banks as providers of financial capital to new business ventures?

The answer is 'none'. That's risk capital's job. Banks have no business taking deposits for safe-keeping and leveraging it to buy debt or other instruments backed by dubious or zero collateral.

Sorry, I forgot--post-Glass-Stegall, that's exactly what happened. I guess you're right, if JPMorgan can put up its $900B in retail accounts as collateral to support its $99T derivatives positions, why can't they make uncollateralized loans to new businesses backed by "good ideas"?

Posted by: Dan Nile | November 19, 2011 at 09:03 AM

Banks have no business taking deposits for safe-keeping and leveraging it to buy debt or other instruments backed by dubious or zero collateral.

Posted by: Franchising Advice | December 28, 2011 at 02:23 PM

Banks are always accessible since they are used regularly for depositing savings or withdrawing them. After being bank customers for years, the bank becomes convenient and familiar, and personalized service makes it the first place to consider for a loan.

Posted by: Bank Lending Criteria | May 03, 2012 at 07:51 AM

Banks could be the back up of a business if they suffer from a financial issue for their business especially in business funding.

Posted by: Confidential Invoice Factoring | May 08, 2012 at 11:40 PM

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October 21, 2011

Is the growth tide turning?

It has been a tough year for forecasters, as the Atlanta Fed's President Dennis Lockhart explained in a speech delivered Tuesday evening:

"The basic story of the first half of this year was one of disappointment versus expectations. At the beginning of the year, the consensus forecast had gross domestic product (GDP) growth for 2011 in the range of 3 to 4 percent. Though the Atlanta Fed's forecast was at the lower end of that range, we generally shared the view that the recovery was firmly established…

"A pretty clear picture of just how bad the first quarter was became apparent toward the end of the second quarter, when the FOMC met in late June. At that point, notwithstanding weakness in the early months of the year, the widely held outlook was that growth would rebound in the second half. Many anticipated that the effects of the price and disaster shocks would quickly dissipate…

"As the summer progressed, the data surprises were unrelenting and on the negative side of expectations.

By the time of the early August FOMC meeting it was clear to my Atlanta Fed colleagues and me that we had to rethink our position. The momentum of the economy looked a lot weaker than was our assessment earlier in the summer."

That story is well-captured by a picture of the evolution of Blue Chip consensus forecasts over the course of the year:

As President Lockhart explains, what has been most worrisome is the cumulative nature of the forecast errors implied in the above chart:

"Let me mention parenthetically that, given the complexity and dynamism of the economy, forecasting is fraught with errors and misses. One of my colleagues says the only thing he can forecast with certainty is that his forecast will be wrong. It's when forecasts are persistently wrong in the same direction, and by a substantial measure, that you worry you've missed the real story."

That reality can, of course, work in a positive direction as well as a negative direction. The encouraging news is that the forecasting mistakes have been accumulating in the direction of excess pessimism:

"We at the Atlanta Fed regularly monitor the data series that directly enter into the GDP calculation, along with important other series, including employment… In the months leading up to July, the downside surprises in the data dominated. In August and September, upside and downside surprises were roughly equal. But in October, the surprises have generally been to the upside."

One aspect of this analysis is called a "nowcasting" exercise that generates quarterly GDP estimates in real time. The technical details of this exercise are described here, but the idea is fairly simple. We use incoming data on 100-plus economic series to forecast 17 components of GDP for the current quarter. Those forecasts of GDP components are then aggregated to get a current-quarter estimate of overall GDP growth.

The outcomes of this exercise have been as positive in the third quarter as they were negative for the first two quarters of the year:

At this point, we'll interrupt this blog post to offer a few disclaimers. First, we wouldn't want to put too much weight on the specific number cranked out by this exercise. Also, beyond the usual warnings about the imprecision of statistical estimates, we'll add that much of the data being used in the estimates are subject to revision—and we don't yet have very much information on activity in October. Finally, even with the improvements in performance versus expectations, the view of the moment is still centered on near-term growth that is less than stellar, as President Lockhart described in his remarks:

"[M]ost private sector forecasters envision growth in 2012 approaching 2.5 percent. In the opinion of many economists, that 2.5 percent approximates the steady-state growth rate of the economy's potential. This rate would certainly be an improvement over 2011 as a whole. The problem is without growth measurably better than 2.5 percent, little progress will be made in absorbing slack in the economy—above all, labor market slack."

But after the long run of negative news that has characterized most of this year, we are for now at least moving in the right direction.

David AltigBy Dave Altig, senior vice president and research director at the Atlanta Fed



Patrick HigginsPatrick Higgins, economist at the Atlanta Fed



October 21, 2011 in Data Releases, Economic Growth and Development | Permalink


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Whether you’re in the ‘”ore optimistic” or the “less optimistic” camp, the latest improvements in the various forecasts reflect an assumption that there will be no major negative surprises this year. I’m not at all sure that such an assumption is a safe bet this year. There are still plenty of things that can go wrong in this delicate economy and slowly thawing credit environment.

Posted by: Stop Foreclosure | October 23, 2011 at 09:38 AM

I suspect there's been some inventory clearing that has pushed GDP up temporarily.

I also suspect that many people are like me and suffering from Thrift Fatigue. I've been splurging a bit on resaurants and also splurged on a excercise machine (which was marked down 60%) to get me through the winter without having to go to the gym. I also bought a plane ticket to visit family over christmas.

This is cutting into my saving, which are already inadequate, and I will need to really buckle-down this winter.

Posted by: aaron | October 24, 2011 at 07:18 AM

My clothes are also getting threadbare and will need to be replaced.

Posted by: aaron | October 24, 2011 at 07:19 AM

In a word, no. Consumption rose by 2.4% in Q3, hooray! The savings rate in September was 3.6%, compared to 5.3% in June. Sound sustainable to you? Friday's payroll number looks like another whopping 100K. Of course, we need to be vigilant about inflation, right? Let's see the employment cost index in q3 rose at a 2-year low of +0.3%. Core PCE "the Fed's preferred inflation measure" in September came in, uh, negative. Of course it could get better next year except unemployment benefit extensions will expire along with payroll tax breaks.

Dave, are you deliberately trying to foment social unrest and stoke the "occupy wall street" crowd with comments like this?

Posted by: Rich888 | October 29, 2011 at 12:19 PM

I really enjoyed reading this post, I always appreciate topics like this being discussed to us. Thanks for sharing.

Posted by: stenen tafelblad | April 10, 2015 at 10:44 AM

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October 17, 2011

State and local fiscal fortunes: Follow the money (collected)

Last week, we found ourselves in conversation with some colleagues discussing the issue of state and local fiscal conditions, which by pure coincidence coincided with the announcement that the city of Harrisburg, Pa., filed for bankruptcy. In the course of conversation, our attention was drawn to an interesting fact. Prior to 2000, according to U.S. Census Bureau data through 2008, annual growth of total revenues at the state and local level was closely aligned with direct expenditures at the same level. Since 2000, however, this pattern has decidedly changed. The main reason is the dramatic volatility of total revenue:

Revenues at the state and local level come from many sources. Taxes from income, sales, and property, of course, but also from various fees and charges associated from education, utilities, ports and airports, and so on. In addition, revenues come from transfers from the federal government and, importantly, asset income from trust fund portfolios.

In fact, the primary source of the increased volatility in state and local government revenues since 2000 is large swings in revenue going into insurance trust funds to finance compulsory or voluntary social insurance programs operated by the public sector.

Insurance trust revenue is derived from contributions, assessments, premiums, or payroll "taxes" required of employers and employees. It also includes any earnings on assets held or invested by such funds. Not surprisingly then, the volatility of insurance trust revenue is partly tied to volatility in financial markets, as the chart below clearly illustrates.

Though fluctuations in insurance fund revenues have been the largest source of fluctuations in overall state and local revenues over the past decade or so, volatility in general revenue is still an issue. Ups and downs in income tax revenues have been particularly sharp since 2000.

Interestingly, Census Bureau data for state government finances show tax revenue growth turned negative in 2009.

In research that focuses specifically on revenue variability at the state level, UCLA law professor Kirk Stark notes the possibility that state revenues have too much reliance on the same income-centric tax base that characterizes the federal revenue code:

"Perhaps the most obvious (yet little discussed) federal inducement for the design of state and local tax systems is the fact that Congress has established an elaborate and detailed legal framework for certain taxes—including, most notably, the individual and corporate income taxes—but not for others. The very existence of the Code, Treasury Regulations, IRS administrative guidance, and federal judicial case law creates an almost irresistible incentive for the states to adopt individual and corporate income taxes. The availability of the federal income tax base as a starting point in calculating state tax liability is an unqualified benefit. …

"At the same time, however, there are potentially significant costs associated with having states piggyback on the federal income tax. Taxes that might be suitable for use by a central level of government are not necessarily appropriate for use by state or local governments. Some of the most volatile state revenue sources are those upon which states rely by virtue of piggybacking on the federal income tax."

The theme of Professor Stark's article is the role that federal policy might play in generating revenue volatility at the state level:

"Through various inducements and limitations embedded in federal law, the federal government has stacked the deck in favor of state revenue volatility, unwittingly exacerbating the subnational fiscal crises that it is then called upon to mitigate through bailouts and general fiscal relief."

Some other examples of how federal tax policy can have an impact on state and local policy according to Stark include "differential treatment of alternative tax sources within the federal income tax deduction for state and local taxes" and "various specific provisions in federal law that limit state taxing authority."
Professor Stark is clear on the point that the research in this area has defied simple generic conclusions about how state and local tax codes can be constructed to minimize revenue volatility. And the work is largely silent on how the volatility question fits into the broader question of optimal tax-system design. But it is hard to argue with this conclusion:

"If the federal government is interested in reducing the likelihood and severity of future state fiscal crises, it should consider changes to federal law that would eliminate the current bias in favor of volatile state tax systems."

David Altig By Dave Altig, senior vice president and research director at the Atlanta Fed


John Robertson John Robertson, vice president and senior economist in the Atlanta Fed's research department

October 17, 2011 in Economic Growth and Development, Fiscal Policy, Taxes | Permalink


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Very good blog! Always an interesting read!

This article as well. It's title might be somewhat misleading, however.

To assess the fortunes of States and Cities, spending, or more precisely, what they *should* be spending, appears more relevant than the variance of income.

It is hard to make the numbers work when future pension obligations are included in the liabilities, volatility of earnings notwithstanding (e.g. Illinois).

Again, keep up with the good work!

Posted by: SamK | October 19, 2011 at 10:01 AM

But volatility of some of local revenues seems to me a good idea because it is anti-cyclical, just like for the Union budget: taxes go down when incomes go down. Since the USA includes a fiscal Union supposedly if a locality has a sudden drop in revenues the Union budget should support distressed localities (with safeguards).

The alternative would be for local taxes to rise sharply as a percentage of income when local economic activity is depressed, which sounds mad to me.

Unless the idea is to shift most of the local taxation burden to low income residents, via taxes on transactions that are largely independent of income and on expenditures that have very little elasticity to price; for example by replacing local taxes on income with local taxes on food sales, or rents, and with masses increases in fees on services like water supply and garbage collection and public transport.

Also, the "insurance fund" story is simply the old accounting strategy: to book "estimated" gigantic expected capital gains and impossibly high returns on the insurance fund, and cut income taxes on wealthy residents with the resulting "savings", and then when the insurance fund investments as expected fail to deliver during a recession, recommend a massive cut in services or a switch from income related to consumption related taxes to cover the shortfall.

Both strategies are not mad, just politics of a very specific sort.

Posted by: Blissex | October 20, 2011 at 05:45 PM

«Not surprisingly then, the volatility of insurance trust revenue is partly tied to volatility in financial markets, as the chart below clearly illustrates.»

There is another note as to this: why ever is there *any* volatility in these insurance funds? USA treasuries have not been that volatile.

Comparing insurance fund assets with stock market valuations seems crazy to me, as it seems to imply that local government insurance funds are invested speculatively instead of prudently, and from the graph it seems that they volatility is even greater than that of the S&P500, which means that they haven't even been invested in index funds, but in stock-picking speculative strategies.

The graph actually seems to suggest a massive breakdown in the fiduciary duties of local government investment managers, as if their goal was not just to book massive gains to justify cutting local taxes, but also to push up stock market prices via extremely leveraged speculation to pursue a further set of political goals. That would be madness.

Posted by: Blissex | October 20, 2011 at 05:57 PM

That the volatility of investment funds is much higher than that of the S&P seems to imply that the funds contain a significant amount of highly speculative leveraged instruments, for example stock derivatives.

I personally think that there is no reason whatever to invest local government funds in anything other than treasuries (like OASDI does) on both prudential and return grounds.

But it seems that politicians of many local governments instead thought that Orange County was a laudable model and Mr. Citron a hero prophet.

Posted by: Blissex | October 21, 2011 at 05:50 AM

I think the biggest inducement to states having income taxes is the federal deduction for state income taxes paid. The deduction causes part of the state's tax burden to be shifted to the federal government. If a small state like Hawaii can impose and administer a highly successful broad-based gross receipts tax, I don't think the mere existence of tax code is enough by itself to attract a state to the net income tax. After all, one state could also copy another's code. Just keeping up with changes in the federal income tax imposes a burden on tax administrators.

Posted by: don | October 27, 2011 at 06:30 PM

The U.S. Census Bureau released 2009 state and local government data on October 31:

Posted by: Jeff | November 01, 2011 at 10:34 AM

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September 01, 2011

The pull between spending and saving

In a speech on Wednesday, Atlanta Fed President Dennis Lockhart talked about how the economic outlook is being shaped by the process of deleveraging (reducing debt and increasing saving) that is occurring in the economy.

By way of background, President Lockhart emphasized the important role that some amount of debt plays in economic growth: while difficult to measure precisely, research suggests that debt levels that get high enough are associated with extended periods of subpar economic growth.

"Debt is not in and of itself a bad thing. Debt supports economic growth by allowing households, businesses, and governments to smooth their spending and investment over time. Borrowing and lending can help facilitate the allocation of capital to productive uses in the economy. But high debt levels can also result in lower economic growth, a point that Stephen Cecchetti, of the Bank for International Settlements, made in a paper presented at the Kansas City Fed's symposium in Jackson Hole, Wyo., last week."

Relative to the 1990s, the last decade witnessed a surge in borrowing by the nonfinancial sector (comprising households, nonfinancial businesses and governments). Indeed, as President Lockhart noted:

"Relative to the size of the U.S. economy measured in terms of GDP, the total domestic debt of nonfinancial sectors of the economy reached 248 percent in 2009, increasing by almost 75 percentage points over the previous decade alone."

While no longer growing, the overall debt position of the nonfinancial sector has barely declined since peaking in 2009.

How did we get to this point? Much of the increase in total debt during the 2000s was in the form of real estate debt, and most of that was by households and unincorporated businesses (mostly sole proprietorships and partnerships). During the 1990s the mortgage debt of households was relatively stable at around 45 percent of GDP, but it increased to a peak of 76 percent of GDP in 2009. Over the same period, mortgage debt for unincorporated businesses increased from around 12 percent of GDP to almost 20 percent.

Because real estate is relatively expensive, it is not surprising that mortgage debt heavily influences the overall debt burden of individuals. Rapidly rising home values from the late 1990s to 2006 supported the notion that housing was a good asset to purchase…until it wasn't. According to the S&P Case-Shiller national home price index, home values have declined by more than 30 percent from their peak in 2006, after having increased by more than 150 percent compared with the previous decade.

From their peak in 2009, debt levels for households and unincorporated businesses have declined relative to GDP notably by a combined 15 percentage points. Reduced mortgage debt accounted for three quarters of that decline. As President Lockhart notes, repairing the balance sheet of the household sector, just as it does for businesses, can occur through some combination of debt reduction and increased savings.

"Household deleveraging has occurred mostly through a combination of increased savings, debt repayment, and also debt forgiveness. At the same time, there has generally been less access to credit for households as a result of stricter underwriting standards. The inability to qualify for home equity loans and other forms of credit has slowed the pace at which new debt is taken on by households replacing paid-down debt. The effect is to reduce their debt burden over time."

In contrast to households and unincorporated businesses, the amount of debt owed by the nonfinancial corporate sector has not declined very much since 2009. Nonfinancial corporations increased borrowing during the second half of the 2000s. But most of the debt growth was from increased issuance of corporate bonds. Since its historical peak in 2009, the total debt of the nonfinancial corporate sector has remained at around 50 percent of GDP, as continued bond issuance has largely offset declines in other types of corporate borrowing.

If individuals are aggressively reducing their debt burden, and corporations haven't increased their overall borrowing, why hasn't the overall debt burden of the nonfinancial sector of the economy declined since 2009? The primary reason is that the amount of federal government debt has increased sharply in recent years—from 35 percent of GDP in 2007 to about 65 percent of GDP in early 2011.

As President Lockhart observes:

"While the private sector—households and businesses—has made notable progress in lowering its debt burden, discussions of how to reduce public debt have only just begun. The government still needs to introduce major policy changes to put public debt on a sustainable path. Demographic trends, which I referenced earlier, will make public debt reduction even more challenging."

How long will the deleveraging process take to play out? I'm pretty confident that nobody really knows precisely, but President Lockhart suggests that we may be closer to the beginning of the process than the end:

"Rebalancing simply takes time. A 2010 report by McKinsey surveyed 32 international periods of deleveraging following financial crises and found that, on average, the duration of these episodes was about six and a half years. U.S. debt to GDP peaked in the first quarter of 2009. So, by that standard we are much closer to the beginning than the end of our deleveraging process."

Lockhart also makes the point that this necessary structural adjustment has consequences for the medium-term outlook:

"When economies are deleveraging they cannot grow as rapidly as they might otherwise. It is obvious as consumers reduce spending they divert more of their incomes to paying off debt. This shift in consumer behavior increases the amount of capital available for financing investment. But higher rates of business investment are not likely to fully offset weakness in consumer spending for some time, as businesses continue to grapple with uncertainties about the future."

From a monetary policy perspective, slower growth as a result of deleveraging raises important challenges:

"To my mind, it's becoming increasingly clear the challenge we policymakers face is balancing appropriate policy responses for the near to medium term with what's needed for the longer term. In other words, we must continue to help the economy achieve a healthy enough cyclical recovery, especially with unemployment high and consumer spending lackluster. At the same time, we must recognize the longer-term need for directionally opposite structural adjustments, including deleveraging."

How does President Lockhart size up the role of monetary policy in this context?

"Given the weak data we've seen recently and considering the rising concern about chronic slow growth or worse, I don't think any policy option can be ruled out at the moment. However, it is important that monetary policy not be seen as a panacea. The kinds of structural adjustments I've been discussing today take time, and I am acutely aware that pushing beyond what monetary policy can plausibly deliver runs the risk of creating new distortions and imbalances.

"We may find, as economic circumstances evolve, that policy adjustments are required. In more adverse scenarios, further policy accommodation might be called for. But as of today, I am comfortable with the current stance of policy, especially considering the tensions policy must navigate between the short and long term and between recovery and the need for longer-term structural adjustments."

John Robertson By John Robertson, vice president and senior economist in the Atlanta Fed's research department


September 1, 2011 in Economic Growth and Development, Federal Debt and Deficits, Monetary Policy, Real Estate | Permalink


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This post clearly shows that movements in household leverage (a rise in the last expansion and a fall that began in the recession) are a signature of the latest economic cycle. However, there are a number of important 'why' questions that the aggregate time series cannot answer. It is unlikely that a change in the 'taste for debt' alone can explain the changes in leverage. Moreover, different explanations for the levering up have very different policy prescriptions and forecasts for deleveraging going forward. Just to name two examples, Atif Mian and Amir Sufi have several papers that suggest the loosening of the supply of credit led to the levering up. In contrast, Tyler Cowen in the The Great Stagnation points to the over-confidence of households and other agents about income prospects. There are other possible explanations and the truth may be a combination. So while the post raises some interesting questions with aggregate time series, there is a lot of empirical work that can and should be done with micro data, like the Survey of Consumer Finances and the American Life Panel.

Posted by: Claudia Sahm | September 01, 2011 at 07:10 PM

Sumner writes a lot of crap, but let's face it, he's right on at least two counts:

1. There's no such thing as neutral monetary policy. Before 'waiting to act' for fear of causing "new distortions", consider the distortions you may presently be causing.

2. Monetary policy should target the forecast. Why, for example, are you doing this to inflation expectations
with one-off programs of limited duration announced in advance?! I could come up with a better monetary policy in my basement.

Once you stabilize inflation expectations, consider raising them to 4% for a while, to ease the burden of the above household debt, help correct our foreign trade imbalances (Sumner is also right that international trade is not a zero-sum game), and spur corporate investment.

Then tell Barney Frank to cut the crap and stop letting people like me buy houses at 30:1 margin, as I just did in June. The greater the portion of a loan that is secured by the asset it purchases, the stronger the feedback loop between willingness to lend and prices (about the only thing Soros gets right), which is the only way you got those curves above.

Sure, there are political problems around creating inflation. That's where Bernanke needs to start eating his oysters and stop standing around blinking his eyes like a toad lickin' lightning. I'll tell you a secret: Bernanke is smarter than Rick Perry. Why let such facts go unnoticed? But as is obvious from the above speech, he can't even defeat his critics in his own organization (not that Lockhart is one, but it seems to me he's addressing some of them).

Posted by: Carl Lumma | September 01, 2011 at 10:33 PM

I think the problem with society today is the inability to defer gratifcation that is until recently. Get a collage degree borrow to pay for it' buy a new car borrow to pay for it' need a bigger house borrow to pay for it' why save to pay when you can play now would be a good way to decribe things up until about five years ago.

Posted by: dennis the menace | September 06, 2011 at 02:48 PM

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