NBER News and Research Archive

17 January 2013

Incentives, Commitments, and Habit Formation in Exercise

Heather Royer, Mark Stehr, and Justin Sydnor report on an experiment conducted with 1,000 employees at the headquarters of a Fortune 500 company. These employees were randomly selected to receive a one-month financial incentive to attend the company’s onsite exercise facility ($10 per visit for up to 3 visits each week). After the initial incentive period, half the group was randomly selected for the opportunity to create a self-funded “commitment contract” -- they could pledge to continue to use the gym over the next 2 months, put as much of their money at stake as they wished, and the money was refunded if they kept the commitment, otherwise it was donated to the United Way. The researchers found that the workers doubled their rate of use of the company gym during the incentive period. The availability of a commitment contract substantially improved the long-run effects of the incentive program, both during the commitment period and beyond.

16 January 2013

Output Spillovers from Fiscal Policy

Alan Auerbach and Yuriy Gorodnichenko document that for a large number of OECD countries, fiscal spillovers -- the effect of one country's fiscal policy on output in another -- are significant in both statistical and economic terms. However, their effect varies tremendously over the business cycle: the spillovers are particularly high in recessions and quite modest in expansions. Fiscal spillovers are increased further when both the recipient and source countries are in recession.

15 January 2013

Gender, Competitiveness, and Career Choices

At the age of 15, secondary school students in the Netherlands must choose one of four study profiles, which vary in how prestigious they are, for their remaining school years. Thomas Buser, Muriel Niederle, and Hessel Oosterbeek find that although boys and girls have similar levels of academic ability, the boys are substantially more likely than girls to choose more prestigious profiles. Competitiveness is as important a predictor of profile choice as gender: up to 23 percent of the gender difference in profile choice can be attributed to gender differences in competitiveness, they find.

14 January 2013

What Makes Annuitization More Appealing?

John Beshears, James Choi, David Laibson, Brigitte Madrian, and Stephen Zeldes analyzed the results of surveys of individuals aged 50 to 75 regarding their views on receiving retirement payouts as annuities versus a lump sum. They found that individuals were more willing to annuitize a fraction of their wealth if they did not have to make an “all or nothing” decision. Given the choice of an annuity, most people chose flat or increasing real payout streams. When the survey highlighted the effects of inflation, the demand for cost-of-living adjustments increased. When questions focused on flexibility, control, and investment risk, the choice of an annuity declined significantly.

11 January 2013

Macroeconomic Performance During Commodity Price Booms and Busts

Luis Felipe Céspedes and Andrés Velasco investigate how major commodity price shocks affect the economies of a large group of commodity-producing nations. They show that commodity price shocks have a significant impact on both output and investment. There is less of an effect on output in economies with more flexible exchange rate regimes. There is more of an impact on investment in economies with less developed financial markets. International reserve accumulation, more stable political systems, and less open capital accounts tend to reduce real exchange rate appreciation in periods of commodity price booms.

10 January 2013

The "Law of One Price" and Currency Unions

Alberto Cavallo, Brent Neiman, and Roberto Rigobon study the daily online prices for all products sold by Apple, IKEA, H&M, and Zara in 83 countries between December 2008 and July 2012. They find that the "law of one price" holds within the euro zone, but that there are large deviations from it outside of currency unions, even with pegged currencies. For example, although the Danish krone is pegged to the euro, Danish prices differ markedly from those in the euro zone countries for the same product.

9 January 2013

Firms and Credit Constraints along the Value-Added Chain: Processing Trade in China

Kalina Manova and Zhihong Yu analyze customs and balance sheet data on Chinese firms that are involved in "import and assembly" processing trade -- in which the processing firm pays for imported inputs -- and "pure assembly trade" in which the processing firm receives imported inputs for free. They find that profits, profitability, and value-added all decline when exporters orient their sales away from import-and-assembly and towards pure assembly. They also find that limited access to capital restricts firms to low value-added stages of the supply chain and keeps them from pursuing more profitable opportunities.

8 January 2013

The Asset Price Meltdown and the Wealth of the Middle Class

Edward Wolff finds that between 2007 and 2010, median household wealth in the United States plummeted to its lowest level since 1969 and that household net worth became more unequal. He suggests that those declines can be traced to the high leverage of middle class families in 2007 and to the high share of homes in their portfolio. He also finds that Hispanics were particularly hurt by the Great Recession, in terms of net worth and net equity in their homes. Households under age 45 also experienced sharp declines in their relative and absolute wealth from 2007 to 2010.

7 January 2013

Embedded Leverage

Embedded leverage is the amount of market exposure per unit of committed capital associated with a security. Many financial instruments, including options and leveraged exchange traded funds, are designed with embedded leverage. Andrea Frazzini and Lasse Pedersen find that asset classes with embedded leverage offer low risk-adjusted returns. They conclude that a portfolio long in low-embedded-leverage securities and short in high-embedded-leverage securities earns large abnormal returns.

4 January 2013

The Federal Reserve, Emerging Markets, and Capital Controls

Sebastian Edwards analyzes weekly data from seven emerging nations -- Brazil, Chile, Colombia, Mexico, Indonesia, Korea, and the Philippines -- all of which had flexible exchange rates and followed some kind of inflation targeting during the period he examines. He confirms that there is interest-rate “pass through” from the U.S. Federal Reserve System to these emerging markets during the 2000s. However, the transmission of interest rate shocks differs -- in terms of impact, steady state effect, and dynamics -- in Latin America and Asia. He also finds little evidence that capital controls can isolate emerging countries from global interest rate disturbances.

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