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Non-convex costs and capital utilization: a study of production and inventories at automobile assembly plants

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  • George J. Hall

Abstract

This paper studies how managers at automobile assembly plants organize production across time. Detailed data from eleven single-source automobile assembly plants display considerable cross-plant heterogeneity. At plants which make low- and medium-selling vehicles the capital stock often sits idle, production is more variable than sales, and weeklong shutdowns are often used to vary output. In contrast, at plants which make high-selling vehicles, the capital stock rarely sits idle, production is about as variable as sales, and overtime - not weeklong shutdowns - is most frequently used to vary output. To explain this difference in production scheduling, I formulate and solve a dynamic programming model of a plant manager. The solution to the dynamic program predicts that when sales are low, non-convexities at the plant level induce the manager to bunch production at points of low average cost; thus, the manager uses less than full capital utilization on average and makes production more volatile than sales. When sales are high, the plant operates in a convex region of the cost curve. Hence the manager employs high levels of capital utilization and makes production about as volatile than sales.

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Bibliographic Info

Paper provided by Federal Reserve Bank of Chicago in its series Working Paper Series, Macroeconomic Issues with number WP-96-25.

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Date of creation: 1996
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Handle: RePEc:fip:fedhma:wp-96-25

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Keywords: Automobile industry and trade ; Capital ; Inventories ; Production (Economic theory);

References

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  1. Cooper, Russell W. & Haltiwanger, John Jr., 1992. "Macroeconomic implications of production bunching : Factor demand linkages," Journal of Monetary Economics, Elsevier, vol. 30(1), pages 107-127, October.
  2. James A. Kahn & Mark Bils, 2000. "What Inventory Behavior Tells Us about Business Cycles," American Economic Review, American Economic Association, vol. 90(3), pages 458-481, June.
  3. Ray C. Fair, 1990. "The Production Smoothing Model is Alive and Well," NBER Working Papers 2877, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
  4. Alan S. Blinder, 1984. "Can The Production Smoothing Model of Inventory Behavior be Saved?," NBER Working Papers 1257, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
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  7. Craig Burnside & Martin Eichenbaum & Sergio Rebelo, 1990. "Labor Hoarding and the Business Cycle," NBER Working Papers 3556, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
  8. Anil K. Kashyap & David W. Wilcox, 1992. "Production and inventory control at the General Motors Corporation during the 1920s and 1930s," Working Paper Series, Macroeconomic Issues 92-10, Federal Reserve Bank of Chicago.
  9. Alan S. Blinder & Louis J. Maccini, 1991. "Taking Stock: A Critical Assessment of Recent Research on Inventories," Journal of Economic Perspectives, American Economic Association, vol. 5(1), pages 73-96, Winter.
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  14. Blanchard, Olivier J. & Melino, Angelo, 1986. "The cyclical behavior of prices and quantities: The case of the automobile market," Journal of Monetary Economics, Elsevier, vol. 17(3), pages 379-407, May.
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  17. Craig Burnside & Martin Eichenbaum, 1994. "Factor Hoarding and the Propagation of Business Cycles Shocks," NBER Working Papers 4675, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
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  19. Greenwood, Jeremy & Hercowitz, Zvi & Huffman, Gregory W, 1988. "Investment, Capacity Utilization, and the Real Business Cycle," American Economic Review, American Economic Association, vol. 78(3), pages 402-17, June.
  20. Bresnahan, Timothy F., 1981. "Departures from marginal-cost pricing in the American automobile industry : Estimates for 1977-1978," Journal of Econometrics, Elsevier, vol. 17(2), pages 201-227, November.
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  23. Eichenbaum, Martin S., 1984. "Rational expectations and the smoothing properties of inventories of finished goods," Journal of Monetary Economics, Elsevier, vol. 14(1), pages 71-96, July.
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  26. Anderson, Patricia M & Meyer, Bruce D, 1993. "Unemployment Insurance in the United States: Layoff Incentives and Cross Subsidies," Journal of Labor Economics, University of Chicago Press, vol. 11(1), pages S70-95, January.
  27. Ana M. Aizcorbe & Sharon Kozicki, 1995. "The comovement of output and labor productivity in aggregate data for auto assembly plants," Finance and Economics Discussion Series 95-33, Board of Governors of the Federal Reserve System (U.S.).
  28. Martin S. Eichenbaum, 1988. "Some Empirical Evidence on the Production Level and Production Cost Smoothing Models of Inventory Investment," NBER Working Papers 2523, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
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Cited by:
  1. Šustek, Roman, 2011. "Plant-level nonconvex output adjustment and aggregate fluctuations," Journal of Monetary Economics, Elsevier, vol. 58(4), pages 400-414.
  2. Sustek, Roman, 2009. "Nonconvex Margins of Output Adjustment and Aggregate Fluctuations," MPRA Paper 17486, University Library of Munich, Germany.

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