Archive for November, 2009

Financing Constraints and Entrepreneurship

| Peter Klein |

Speaking of banks, here’s a very good survey of the entrepreneurship literature on financing constraints by William Kerr and  Ramana Nanda, just out from NBER. From the introduction:

The first research stream considers the impact of financial market development on entrepreneurship. These papers usually employ variations across regions to examine how differences in observable characteristics of financial sectors (e.g., the level of competition among banks, the depth of credit markets) relate to entrepreneurs’ access to finance and realized rates of firm formation. The second stream employs variations across individuals to examine how propensities to start new businesses relate to personal wealth or recent changes therein. The notion behind this second line of research is that an association of individual wealth and propensity for self-employment or firm creation should be observed only if financial constraints for entrepreneurship exist.

These two streams of research have remained mostly separate literatures within economics, driven in large part by the different levels of analysis. Historically their general results have been mostly complementary. More recently, however, empirical research using individual-level variation has questioned the extent to which financing constraints are important for entrepreneurship in advanced economies. This new work argues that the strong associations between the financial resources of individuals and entrepreneurship observed in previous studies are driven to large extents by unobserved heterogeneity rather than substantive financing constraints. These contrarian studies have led to renewed interest and debate in how financing environments impact entrepreneurship in product markets.

23 November 2009 at 9:48 am 5 comments

Further My Last

| Craig Pirrong |

My previous post on the Acharya et al (AEFLS) assertion of the purported externality in bilateral OTC markets focused on whether there was actually an unpriced “bad.” I judged otherwise based on the fact that credit and counterparty risks are repriced repeatedly (and ruthlessly).

There is another reason to reject their analysis. It should be incumbent on one who justifies the existence of an externality to justify a particular policy to (a) identify the transactions costs that preclude internalization of this externality, and (b) demonstrate that their policy would create a net benefit, by, for instance, reducing transactions costs. AEFLS don’t even try to do this (another symptom of the Nirvana fallacy). And when one examines the particulars, it is highly doubtful that the costs of the purported externality are as large as AEFLS insinuate that they are.

The AEFLS story is that contracts between two counterparties to an OTC derivatives deal impose costs on other market participants, notably, the firms’ other counterparties to earlier derivatives deals, and the counterparties’ counterparties, and on and on. OTC market participants don’t take these costs into account, trade too much, and create too much risk.

Which raises the Coase Question: if these costs are so large, why don’t the affected parties craft a solution that mitigates them? If, as AEFLS argue, a central counterparty would reduce these costs, why don’t the affected parties create one to internalize the externality and enhance their welfare? (more…)

22 November 2009 at 10:25 am Leave a comment

Nirvana Is Just a Band

| Craig Pirrong |

Last week I wrote about one justification for exchange trading and clearing mandates in derivatives markets — the market power argument. This week I’ll examine another argument, and render a similarly skeptical verdict.

In a chapter of Restoring Financial Stability, Viral Acharya, Rob Engle, Steve Figlewski, Anthony Lynch and Marti Subrahmanyam argue that bilateral transactions in OTC derivatives markets involve an externality. Their argument is not stated that clearly, but FWIW here it is verbatim:

[A]ll OTC contracts . . . feature collateral or margin requirements, wherein counterparties post a deposit whose aim is to minimize counterparty risk. The deposit is marked to market daily, based on fluctuations in the value of the underlying contract and the creditworthiness of the counterparties . . . . The difficulty, however, is that such collateral arrangements are negotiated on a bilateral basis. Parties in each contract do not take full account of the fact that counterparty risk they are prepared to undertake in a contract also affects other players; indeed, they often cannot take account of this counterparty risk externality in an OTC setting, due to inadequate transparency about the counterparty’s positions and its interconnections with the rest of the market. While bilateral collateral arrangements do respond to worsening credit risk of a counterparty, such response is often tied to agency ratings, which are sluggish in capturing credit risk information and potentially inaccurate.

An externality means that some cost or benefit is not priced.  By invoking the concept of externality Acharya et al (“AEFLS”) are asserting that something — a bad in this instance — isn’t priced. They are a very vague on just what this is, but here’s my interpretation of what they mean.

A firm that has already entered into financial contracts affects the risk exposure of its existing counterparties when it enters into new deals. A firm that has a large number of commitments outstanding can enter into additional contracts that substantially increase its riskiness, thereby harming the incumbent counterparties. The cost imposed on these incumbent counterparties isn’t, in this telling, priced. (more…)

20 November 2009 at 9:11 pm 2 comments

The Igon Value of Cognitive Dissonance

| Dick Langlois |

Some of you may have seen Steven Pinker’s review of Malcolm Gladwell’s latest book in the New York Times this weekend. Pinker praises Gladwell’s writing and his instinct for interesting topics, but skewers him for his bad grasp of the underlying science of what he writes about, especially statistics. In Pinker’s view, Gladwell is in the end a character from one of his own essays, “a minor genius who unwittingly demonstrates the hazards of statistical reasoning and who occasionally blunders into spectacular failures.” One blunder seems to epitomize Pinker’s assessment: Gladwell’s report on an expert who talks of “igon values” instead of eigenvalues. Pinker call this the igon value effect.

As I read this, I thought back to a department seminar I had attended a couple of days earlier. Keith Chen from Yale gave one of the most dazzling presentations I’ve heard in a long time. He basically demolished 45 years of experimental results in social psychology that claim to have discovered cognitive dissonance in choices. According to this literature, it is among the best-documented results in psychology that people change their preferences after making a choice so as to rationalize the choice and make themselves feel better about their decision. Chen argues — persuasively — that essentially all these results are statistical artifacts. At a much more sophisticated level, social psychologists have fallen victim to the igon value effect. Here is the abstract of a working paper, though it gives only a hint of how clever this research is.

Cognitive dissonance is one of the most influential theories in social psychology, and its oldest experiential realization is choice-induced dissonance. Since 1956, dissonance theorists have claimed that people rationalize past choices by devaluing rejected alternatives and upgrading chosen ones, an effect known as the spreading of preferences. Here, I show that every study which has tested this suffers from a fundamental methodological flaw. Specifically, these studies (and the free-choice methodology they employ) implicitly assume that before choices are made, a subject’s preferences can be measured perfectly, i.e. with infinite precision, and under-appreciate that a subject’s choices reflect their preferences. Because of this, existing methods will mistakenly identify cognitive dissonance when there is none. This problem survives all controls present in the literature, including control groups, high and low dissonance conditions, and comparisons of dissonance across cultures or affirmation levels. The bias this problem produces can be fixed, and correctly interpreted several prominent studies actually reject the presence of choice-induced dissonance in their subjects. This suggests that mere choice may not be enough to induce rationalization, a reversal that may significantly change the way we think about cognitive dissonance as a whole.

Chen was also written up in the New York Times last year.

Oh, and by the way, that was our second seminar of the day. Earlier we listened to Bob Lucas, whom the grad students brought in to give a major lecture. (First time I had met him.) He talked about his paper in the inaugural issue of the new AEA macro journal: “Trade and the Diffusion of the Industrial Revolution.” (There wasn’t actually much trade in it.) Lucas and I had a nice conversation at lunch about Jane Jacobs, who we agreed was fantastic. “She was a theorist!” was Lucas’s assessment. High praise.

19 November 2009 at 2:28 pm 7 comments

Selection à la Banks

| Lasse Lien |

Ideally, the competitive process would select for productivity. It doesn’t actually do that. Presumably it selects for expected profitability, which is close enough — assuming market power isn’t too common. What has the economy been selecting for in the past year or so? The state of low demand means that it’s harder for firms to finance operations and investment, and firms depend more than ever on external capital. For most firms this means the bank. So banks’ credit decisions will to an unusual degree decide who gets to grow and who has to shut down. Simultaneously, banks are cutting back on credit — so which firms will the banks select? Since banks have no upside, they will ration credit on the probability of losses. This is clearly a worse criterion than expected profitability because it involves a degree of risk aversion that cannot be healthy. Presumably new firms, high-debt firms, small firms, and firms with mainly intangible assets can all be selected out (or unduly constrained in their growth), not because they have low productivity or low expected profitability, but because large, established, low-productivity, low-debt, tangible-capital firms represent a somewhat lower credit risk.

Hopefully, the period of bank-driven selection will be short and expected profitability will be restored. The only thing worse, I guess, is selection by lobbying productivity (or scale).

19 November 2009 at 8:39 am 2 comments

Things Professors Don’t Know

| Peter Klein |

Useful information for undergraduate instructors, provided by students, from the Chronicle (via Ross Emmett). Sample:

There is no need to put those “just for fun” optional readings on the syllabus. We will never read them. If I even see the word “optional” my eyes glaze over and I will go back to thinking of something pointless, like how many grapes I can possibly stick in my mouth without suffocating. There’s a better chance of me shimmying into class followed by a conga line of maroon pandas than actually reading your optional paper.

And this: “seeing you in a place outside of the academic setting is one of the most awkward moments ever. When you’re done with class everyday we like to think that you disappear, surfacing at random moments to check your email, and then slinking back into oblivion.” When you live in a small college town, as I do, and occasionally do crazy stuff like go out to eat or go to the movies, this can be a problem.

18 November 2009 at 12:29 pm 11 comments

Peter Bernstein Interview

| Peter Klein |

Speaking of Peters, the McKinsey Quarterly site has a video interview with the late Peter Bernstein on risk. Bernstein was a deep thinker and an excellent writer. I once found myself on a plane next to an investment banker who was reading Bernstein’s Against the Gods. I mentioned that I too was a fan, and he told me he re-read the book at least once each year, out of professional obligation.

18 November 2009 at 12:23 pm 1 comment

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