Do Banks Pass Through Credit Expansions to Consumers Who Want to Borrow?

Sumit Agarwal, Souphala Chomsisengphet, Neale Mahoney, Johannes Stroebel

NBER Working Paper No. 21567
Issued in September 2015, Revised in April 2017
NBER Program(s):Asset Pricing, Corporate Finance, Economic Fluctuations and Growth, International Finance and Macroeconomics, Industrial Organization, Monetary Economics, Public Economics

We propose a new approach to studying the pass-through of credit expansion policies that focuses on frictions, such as asymmetric information, that arise in the interaction between banks and borrowers. We decompose the effect of changes in banks’ cost of funds on aggregate borrowing into the product of banks’ marginal propensity to lend (MPL) to borrowers and those borrowers’ marginal propensity to borrow (MPB), aggregated over all borrowers in the economy. We apply our framework by estimating heterogeneous MPBs and MPLs in the U.S. credit card market. Using panel data on 8.5 million credit cards and 743 credit limit regression discontinuities, we find that the MPB is declining in credit score, falling from 59% for consumers with FICO scores below 660 to essentially zero for consumers with FICO scores above 740. We use a simple model of optimal credit limits to show that a bank’s MPL depends on a small number of "sufficient statistics" that capture forces such as asymmetric information, and that can be estimated using our credit limit discontinuities. For the lowest FICO score consumers, higher credit limits sharply reduce profits from lending, limiting banks’ optimal MPL to these consumers. The negative correlation between MPB and MPL reduces the impact of changes in banks’ cost of funds on aggregate household borrowing, and highlights the importance of frictions in bank-borrower interactions for understanding the pass-through of credit expansions.

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Document Object Identifier (DOI): 10.3386/w21567

Published: Sumit Agarwal & Souphala Chomsisengphet & Neale Mahoney & Johannes Stroebel, 2018. "Do Banks Pass through Credit Expansions to Consumers Who want to Borrow?*," The Quarterly Journal of Economics, vol 133(1), pages 129-190.

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