Economics-Watching: Fed Transparency and Policy Expectation Errors: A Text Analysis Approach

[from the Federal Reserve Bank of New York, written by Eric Fischer, Rebecca McCaughrin, Saketh Prazad, and Mark Vandergon]

This paper seeks to estimate the extent to which market-implied policy expectations could be improved with further information disclosure from the FOMC. Using text analysis methods based on large language models, we show that if FOMC meeting materials with five-year lagged release dates—like meeting transcripts and Tealbooks—were accessible to the public in real-time, market policy expectations could substantially improve forecasting accuracy. Most of this improvement occurs during easing cycles. For instance, at the six-month forecasting horizon, the market could have predicted as much as 125 basis points of additional easing during the 2001 and 2008 recessions, equivalent to a 40-50 percent reduction in mean squared error. This potential forecasting improvement appears to be related to incomplete information about the Fed’s reaction function, particularly with respect to financial stability concerns in 2008. In contrast, having enhanced access to meeting materials would not have improved the market’s policy rate forecasting during tightening cycles.

Read the full article [archived PDF].

Economics-Watching: Putting Out the NBFIRE: Lessons from the UK’s Liability-Driven Investment (LDI) Crisis

[from the International Monetary Fund Working Paper 2023/210]

by Ruo Chen & Esti Kemp

Liability-Driven Investment (LDI) funds were at the center of the severe stress that emerged in the UK gilt market in the aftermath of the September 2022 UK “mini-budget.” The episode, which came on the heels of the “Dash for Cash” and “Archegos” stress episodes in the previous two years, highlights underlying vulnerabilities in the large and diverse non-bank financial institution (NBFI) sector. This paper seeks a deeper understanding of the factors that amplified the gilt market turmoil which ultimately led the Bank of England (BoE) to undertake temporary gilt purchases on financial stability grounds in late September/early October 2022 to restore orderly market conditions and enable LDI funds to build their capital positions. With the gilt market stress and the BoE’s purchases now fully unwound, this paper identifies the key reasons for the success of the BoE’s intervention. Then, drawing also on findings of the 2022 UK Financial Sector Assessment Program (FSAP), the paper discusses key gaps and policy issues related to the monitoring of financial stability risks in the broader NBFI sector for both individual jurisdictions and international standard-setting bodies.

[read the working paper (archived PDF)]

OFR Working Paper Finds Cash Biases Measurement of the Stock Return Correlations

[from the U.S. Office of Financial Research]

Today, the U.S. Office of Financial Research published a working paper, “Cash-Hedged Stock Returns” [archived PDF], and an accompanying blog (below), regarding firms’ cash holdings and the implications for asset prices and financial stability.

Cash holdings are important for financial stability because of their value in crises.  Corporate cash piles vary across companies and over time. Firms’ cash holdings typically earn low returns, and their cash returns are correlated across firms.  Thus, the asset pricing results are important for investors managing a portfolio’s risk and policymakers concerned about sources of vulnerability.

The working paper [archived PDF] shows how investors can hedge cash on firms’ balance sheets when making portfolio choices.  Cash generates variation in beta estimates, and the working paper decomposes stock betas into components that depend on the firm’s cash holding, return on cash, and cash-hedged return. Common asset pricing premia have large implicit cash positions, and portfolios of cash-hedged premia often have higher Sharpe ratios, used by investors to understand a return on investment, because of the correlation between firms’ cash returns. The paper shows the value of a dollar increased in 2020, and firms hold cash because they are riskier.

Read the working paper [archived PDF].

OFR Finds Large Cash Holdings Can Lead to Mismeasuring Risk

[from the OFR blog, by Sharon Ross]

Cash is necessary for companies’ operations. Firms use cash to make payments, finance investments, and manage risk. But holding cash comes at a cost: its low pecuniary return. Published today by the OFR, the working paper, “Cash-Hedged Stock Returns” [archived PDF], shows that the cash returns of publicly traded, non-financial firms are correlated. Since cash returns are a part of equity returns, investors that are using equity return correlations to measure risk can mismeasure risk.

We show the importance of cash for systemic risk by documenting the value of cash in crises, showing that firms hold cash in part due to risk management and studying how cash biases the measurement of the interconnectedness of stock returns. The consequences of cash are important for policymakers monitoring aggregate risks, and sources of market vulnerability and for investors making portfolio choices.

Cash holdings are important for financial stability because of their value in crises. Several papers document a “dash for cash” during the initial panicked stages of the coronavirus 2019 (COVID-19) pandemic when firms rushed to hold cash in their coffers. The dash for cash was driven by firms drawing down on lines of credit from banks, which in turn affected bank lending. The dash for cash highlighted the critical role of firms’ cash holdings and returns in understanding risk in the financial system.

We show the value of a dollar increased in 2020. Moreover, our results show that firms may hold cash because they are riskier, as opposed to firms with high cash shares being less risky due to their cash holdings. Our results are consistent with a precautionary savings motive for holding cash. In other words, firms hold cash for risk management, in part to weather bad times.

Cash is a growing share of public firmsassets. The value-weighted U.S. stock market held 22% of its assets in cash in December 2020 compared to 8% in the 1980s. An investor buying the market in 2020 ends up with an implicit cash position three times larger than in 1980. Individual firms vary in how much cash they hold. As cash holdings increase, it is important to understand how cash holdings affect returns, which in turn impacts who chooses to invest in the firms.

Cash returns are correlated across firms, and cash biases measurement of the interconnectedness of stock returns, making it a risk for financial stability. As a result, the asset pricing results are important both for investors managing portfolio risk and for policymakers concerned about interconnected returns.

We argue that the value of corporate cash is distinct, and we can separate the value of cash and the value of the firm’s primary business. We show how investors can explicitly account for the effect of corporate cash holdings when forming a portfolio. When an investor owns stock in a company with substantial cash, the investor has an implicit cash position managed by the company—something the investor might not intend. We argue that investors should account for the effect of corporate cash holdings in the portfolio decision to measure a portfolio’s risk. Firms’ cash management is not consistent across firms, and investors may want to manage their cash positions themselves. Policymakers should be aware of investors’ choices in cash because of investorsportfolio risk and the implications for aggregate risk.

We separate a company’s stock return into its cash and non-cash components, and we show that using the non-cash return gives a more informative correlation structure across stocks. In other words, if investors take out the correlated cash returns, the remaining return is less correlated, yielding portfolios that provide better diversification. We show how cash holdings and returns affect the returns of standard asset pricing strategies and asset pricing models like the capital asset pricing model (CAPM).

As cash holdings of public firms increase, it is important that policymakers understand how these increases impact stock returns for both individual firms and the aggregate market. Cash returns are correlated across firms, and cash biases the measurement of the interconnectedness of stock returns. This correlation is important both for investors who are managing a portfolio’s risk and policymakers concerned about sources of vulnerability stemming from interconnected returns.

Credit Conditions in the Pandemic Mortgage Market

[from the Federal Reserve Bank of San Francisco]

by John Mondragon

The recent rapid rise in house prices has raised some questions about the potential risk to broader financial stability. However, credit quality in the mortgage market appears to be very high, and lending standards tightened in early 2020. While low interest rates increased the demand for refinancing, evidence from large nonconforming loans shows that credit supply contracted sharply in March 2020 and remained tight through the early pandemic period. The shift in credit supply suggests that lenders adjusted their standards to mitigate some risk in the housing market.

Read the full article [Archived PDF]

Essay 70: Climate Change and the Fed

Speech by Governor Brainard on why climate change matters for monetary policy and financial stability.

At “The Economics of Climate Change” a research conference sponsored by the Federal Reserve Bank of San Francisco, San Francisco, California.

Released by the Board of Governors of the Federal Reserve System.
Visit them on the web at Federal Reserve Board.