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Using Asset Prices to Measure the Cost of Business Cycles

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  • Fernando Alvarez
  • Urban J. Jermann

Abstract

We propose a method to measure the welfare cost of economic fluctuations that does not require full specification of consumer preferences and instead uses asset prices. The method is based on the marginal cost of consumption fluctuations, the per unit benefit of a marginal reduction in consumption fluctuations expressed as a percentage of consumption. We show that this measure is an upper bound for the benefit of reducing all consumption fluctuations. We also clarify the link between the cost of consumption uncertainty, the equity premium, and the slope of the real term structure. To measure the marginal cost of fluctuations, we fit a variety of pricing kernels that reproduce key asset pricing statistics. We find that consumers would be willing to pay a very high price for a reduction in overall consumption uncertainty. However, for consumption fluctuations corresponding to business cycle frequencies, we estimate the marginal cost to be about 0.55% of lifetime consumption based on the period 1889-1997 and about 0.30% based on 1954-97.

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Bibliographic Info

Paper provided by National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc in its series NBER Working Papers with number 7978.

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Date of creation: Oct 2000
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Handle: RePEc:nbr:nberwo:7978

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  1. Cochrane, John H. & Campbell, John, 1999. "By Force of Habit: A Consumption-Based Explanation of Aggregate Stock Market Behavior," Scholarly Articles 3119444, Harvard University Department of Economics.
  2. Constantinides, George M, 1990. "Habit Formation: A Resolution of the Equity Premium Puzzle," Journal of Political Economy, University of Chicago Press, vol. 98(3), pages 519-43, June.
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  10. Jim Dolmas, 1998. "Risk Preferences and the Welfare Cost of Business Cycles," Review of Economic Dynamics, Elsevier for the Society for Economic Dynamics, vol. 1(3), pages 646-676, July.
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  16. R. Mehra & E. Prescott, 2010. "The equity premium: a puzzle," Levine's Working Paper Archive 1401, David K. Levine.
  17. Andrew Atkeson & Christopher Phelan, 1994. "Reconsidering the Costs of Business Cycles with Incomplete Markets," NBER Working Papers 4719, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
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