Tag: policy uncertainty

Political Uncertainty and Investment: Empirical Results

An oft heard explanation for some of the weakness facing our economy, particularly investment and hiring, is that firms are concerned about policy uncertainty coming from Washington, be it health care, financial regulation, labor regulation, etc.  For the most part, those arguments have been based upon anecdote or theory (see Bernanke’s 1983 QJE piece), with some difficulty finding strong empirical support either way.  A forthcoming paper in the Journal of Finance helps to shed some light on the question, by providing more generalized estimates of the impact of electoral uncertainty on investment decisions.

The authors examine whether elections, particularly those that are close, have an impact on corporate investment.  The logic behind the research: “if an election can potentially result in a bad outcome from a firm’s perspective, the option value of waiting to invest increases and the firm may rationally delay investment until some or all of the policy uncertainty is resolved.”  Their sample is national elections in 48 countries from 1980 to 2005.  These almost all developed, industrialized economies, as the unit of observation is a publicly traded firm.  US companies constitute a large portion of their sample.

The results:  holding all else equal, in terms of the economy and investment opportunities, elections  “reduce investment expenditures by an average of 4.8%.”  That’s a substantial hit to investment.  The results are even larger when the incumbent is viewed as “market-friendly.”  Of course one needs to be cautious in applying these results to non-election year political uncertainty.  There are also reasons, some of which are touched upon by the authors, that political uncertainty in the US may have either larger or smaller effects.  So while we might not know the exact magnitudes, I think its safe to say that the notion that political uncertainty depresses investment has both empirical and theoretical support (as well as a few anecdotes).

The Fed and Policy Uncertainty

How and when should the Fed unwind the enormous monetary expansion it undertook in response to the financial crisis and recession? The WSJ reports [$]:

As the Federal Reserve’s next meeting approaches in early November, an internal debate is brewing about how and when to signal the possibility of interest-rate increases.

The Fed has said since March that it will keep rates very low for an “extended period.” Long before it raises rates, however, it will need to change that public signal to financial markets.

Because the recovery is so young and is expected to be so weak, many central bank officials are comfortable, for now, keeping rates very low. But they are beginning to strategize about how to walk away from the “extended period” language.

My suggestion is that the Fed announce a path of gradual increases in the federal funds rate, say beginning next year and lasting for two years, until the rate is at some “normal level.”

This approach is different than what the Fed is likely to undertake; it will probably want to maximize “discretion,” the ability to adjust on the fly as conditions unfold.

My approach maximizes predictability and reassurance: it commits the Fed to shrinking the money supply and heading off future inflation. This reassures markets and takes substantial uncertainty out of the picture.

The problem with my approach is the pre-commitment: everyone knows the Fed could abandon a pre-announced path.

But such an announcement might still give markets useful guidance, and the Fed would know that any deviation would itself upset markets, and this might encourage adherence to the pre-commitment.

C/P Libertarianism, from A to Z