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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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Publication status: published as Alvarez, Fernando and Urban J. Jermann. "Using Asset Prices To Measure The Persistence Of The Marginal Utility Of Wealth," Econometrica, 2005, v73(6,Nov), 1977-2016. Also Fernando Alvarez & Urban J. Jermann. "Using Asset Prices to Measure the Cost of Business Cycles," Journal of Political Economy, University of Chicago Press, vol. 112(6), pages 1223-1256, December 2004.
Handle: RePEc:nbr:nberwo:7978

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  1. TallariniJr., Thomas D., 2000. "Risk-sensitive real business cycles," Journal of Monetary Economics, Elsevier, Elsevier, vol. 45(3), pages 507-532, June.
  2. 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.
  3. John Y. Campbell, 1995. "Understanding Risk and Return," Harvard Institute of Economic Research Working Papers, Harvard - Institute of Economic Research 1711, Harvard - Institute of Economic Research.
  4. Arthur F. Burns & Wesley C. Mitchell, 1946. "Measuring Business Cycles," NBER Books, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc, number burn46-1.
  5. Per Krusell & Anthony A. Smith, Jr., 1999. "On the Welfare Effects of Eliminating Business Cycles," Review of Economic Dynamics, Elsevier for the Society for Economic Dynamics, vol. 2(1), pages 245-272, January.
  6. Jermann, Urban J., 1998. "Asset pricing in production economies," Journal of Monetary Economics, Elsevier, Elsevier, vol. 41(2), pages 257-275, April.
  7. 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.
  8. Maurice Obstfeld, 1995. "Evaluating Risky Consumption Paths: The Role of Intertemporal Substitutability," NBER Technical Working Papers 0120, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
  9. Abel, Andrew B., 1999. "Risk premia and term premia in general equilibrium," Journal of Monetary Economics, Elsevier, Elsevier, vol. 43(1), pages 3-33, February.
  10. Christopher Otrok, 2000. "On Measuring the Welfare Cost of Business Cycles," Econometric Society World Congress 2000 Contributed Papers, Econometric Society 1094, Econometric Society.
  11. Campbell, John, 1986. "Bond and Stock Returns in a Simple Exchange Model," Scholarly Articles 3122544, Harvard University Department of Economics.
  12. Eric van Wincoop, 1998. "How big are potential welfare gains from international risksharing?," Staff Reports, Federal Reserve Bank of New York 37, Federal Reserve Bank of New York.
  13. Andrew Atkeson & Christopher Phelan, 1994. "Reconsidering the Costs of Business Cycles with Incomplete Markets," NBER Working Papers 4719, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
  14. Constantinides, George M, 1990. "Habit Formation: A Resolution of the Equity Premium Puzzle," Journal of Political Economy, University of Chicago Press, University of Chicago Press, vol. 98(3), pages 519-43, June.
  15. Mehra, Rajnish & Prescott, Edward C., 1985. "The equity premium: A puzzle," Journal of Monetary Economics, Elsevier, Elsevier, vol. 15(2), pages 145-161, March.
  16. Hansen, Lars Peter & Sargent, Thomas J & Tallarini, Thomas D, Jr, 1999. "Robust Permanent Income and Pricing," Review of Economic Studies, Wiley Blackwell, Wiley Blackwell, vol. 66(4), pages 873-907, October.
  17. Epstein, Larry G & Zin, Stanley E, 1991. "Substitution, Risk Aversion, and the Temporal Behavior of Consumption and Asset Returns: An Empirical Analysis," Journal of Political Economy, University of Chicago Press, University of Chicago Press, vol. 99(2), pages 263-86, April.
  18. Rietz, Thomas A., 1988. "The equity risk premium a solution," Journal of Monetary Economics, Elsevier, Elsevier, vol. 22(1), pages 117-131, July.
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