Foreign Ownership of U.S. Safe Assets: Good or Bad?
AbstractThe last 20 years have been marked by a sharp rise in international demand for U.S. reserve assets, or safe stores-of-value. We argue that these trends in international capital flows are likely to be a boon for some (by a lot) but a bane for others (by less). The young benefit from a capital inflow due to lower interest rates, which reduce the costs of home ownership and of borrowing against higher expected future income. Middle-aged savers are hurt because they are crowded out of the safe bond market and exposed to greater systematic risk in equity and housing markets. Although they are partially compensated for this in equilibrium by higher risk premia, they still suffer from lower expected rates of return on their savings. By contrast, retired individuals, who are drawing down assets and who receive social security income that is least sensitive to the current aggregate state, benefit handsomely from the higher asset values that accompany a capital inflow. In some states, the youngest working-age households and the oldest retired households would be willing to give up 1.5-1.7% of lifetime consumption in order to avoid just one year of a typical annual decline in foreign holdings of the safe asset. Middle-aged households could benefit from an outflow, but they do so by an amount that is typically one-tenth of the magnitude of the losses to the youngest and oldest households. Under the veil of ignorance, a newborn would be willing to give up over 11% of lifetime consumption to avoid a large capital outflow.
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