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In Search of a Theory of Debt Management

  • Elisa Faraglia
  • Albert Marcet
  • Andrew Scott

A growing literature integrates debt management into models of optimal fiscal policy. One promising theory argues the composition of government debt should be chosen so that fluctuations in its market value offsets changes in expected future deficits. This complete market approach to debt management is valid even when governments only issue non-contingent bonds. Because bond returns are highly correlated it is known this approach implies asset positions which are large multiples of GDP. We show, analytically and numerically, across a wide range of model specifications (habits, productivity shocks, capital accumulation, persistent shocks, etc) that this is only one of the weaknesses of this approach. We find evidence of large fluctuations in positions, enormous changes in portfolios for minor changes in maturities issued and no presumption it is always optimal to issue long term debt and invest in short term assets. We show these extreme, volatile and unstable features are undesirable from a practical perspective for two reasons. Firstly the fragility of the optimal portfolio to small changes in model specification means it is frequently better for fear of model misspecification to follow a balanced budget rather than issue the optimal debt structure. Secondly we show for even miniscule levels of transaction costs governments would prefer a balanced budget rather than the large and volatile positions the complete market approach recommends. We conclude it is difficult to insulate fiscal policy from shocks using the complete markets approach. Due to the yield curve's limited variability maturities are a poor way to substitute for state contingent debt. As a result the recommendations of this approach conflict with a number of features we believe are integral to bond market incompleteness e.g. allowing for transaction costs, liquidity effects, robustness etc. Our belief is that market imperfections need to be explicitly introduced into the model and incorporated into the portfolio problem. Failure to do so means that the complete market approach applied in an incomplete market setting can be seriously misleading.

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Paper provided by Centre for Economic Performance, LSE in its series CEP Discussion Papers with number dp1083.

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Date of creation: Oct 2011
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Handle: RePEc:cep:cepdps:dp1083
Contact details of provider: Web page: http://cep.lse.ac.uk/_new/publications/series.asp?prog=CEP

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  1. Robert E. Lucas Jr. & Nancy L. Stokey, 1982. "Optimal Fiscal and Monetary Policy in an Economy Without Capital," Discussion Papers 532, Northwestern University, Center for Mathematical Studies in Economics and Management Science.
  2. Elisa Faraglia & Albert Marcet & Andrew Scott, 2006. "Debt Management Under Complete Markets," 2006 Meeting Papers 540, Society for Economic Dynamics.
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  4. Emmanuel Farhi, 2007. "Capital Taxation and Ownership when Markets are Incomplete," NBER Working Papers 13390, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
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  6. Albert Marcet & Andrew Scott, 2007. "Debt and Deficit Fluctuations and the Structure of Bond Markets," UFAE and IAE Working Papers 728.08, Unitat de Fonaments de l'Anàlisi Econòmica (UAB) and Institut d'Anàlisi Econòmica (CSIC).
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  8. Scott, Andrew, 2007. "Optimal taxation and OECD labor taxes," Journal of Monetary Economics, Elsevier, vol. 54(3), pages 925-944, April.
  9. Robert Barro, 1998. "Optimal Management of Indexed and Nominal Debt," Working Papers Central Bank of Chile 26, Central Bank of Chile.
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  11. den Haan, Wouter J & Marcet, Albert, 1990. "Solving the Stochastic Growth Model by Parameterizing Expectations," Journal of Business & Economic Statistics, American Statistical Association, vol. 8(1), pages 31-34, January.
  12. Elisa Faraglia & Albert Marcet & Andrew Scott, 2007. "Fiscal Insurance and Debt Management in OECD Economies," Working Papers 333, Barcelona Graduate School of Economics.
  13. V. V. Chari & Lawrence J. Christiano & Patrick J. Kehoe, 1993. "Optimal Fiscal Policy in a Business Cycle Model," NBER Working Papers 4490, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
  14. G. Constantinides, 1990. "Habit formation: a resolution of the equity premium puzzle," Levine's Working Paper Archive 1397, David K. Levine.
  15. Chari, V V & Christiano, Lawrence J & Kehoe, Patrick J, 1991. "Optimal Fiscal and Monetary Policy: Some Recent Results," Journal of Money, Credit and Banking, Blackwell Publishing, vol. 23(3), pages 519-39, August.
  16. Missale, Alessandro, 1999. "Public Debt Management," OUP Catalogue, Oxford University Press, number 9780198290858, March.
  17. Bohn, Henning, 1990. "Tax Smoothing with Financial Instruments," American Economic Review, American Economic Association, vol. 80(5), pages 1217-30, December.
  18. Wachter, Jessica A., 2006. "A consumption-based model of the term structure of interest rates," Journal of Financial Economics, Elsevier, vol. 79(2), pages 365-399, February.
  19. Hanno Lustig & Christopher Sleet & Sevin Yeltekin, . "Fiscal Hedging with Nominal Assets," GSIA Working Papers 2006-E35, Carnegie Mellon University, Tepper School of Business.
  20. George-Marios Angeletos, 2002. "Fiscal Policy With Noncontingent Debt And The Optimal Maturity Structure," The Quarterly Journal of Economics, MIT Press, vol. 117(3), pages 1105-1131, August.
  21. Jaime Alonso-Carrera & Jordi Caballe & Xavier Raurich, 2001. "Consumption Externalities, Habit Formation, and Equilibrium Efficiency," UFAE and IAE Working Papers 499.01, Unitat de Fonaments de l'Anàlisi Econòmica (UAB) and Institut d'Anàlisi Econòmica (CSIC).
  22. Francisco Buera & Juan Pablo Nicolini, 2000. "Optimal Maturity of Government Debt with Incomplete Markets," Econometric Society World Congress 2000 Contributed Papers 1769, Econometric Society.
  23. Harald Uhlig & Lars Ljungqvist, 2000. "Tax Policy and Aggregate Demand Management under Catching Up with the Joneses," American Economic Review, American Economic Association, vol. 90(3), pages 356-366, June.
  24. Bernheim, B Douglas, 1991. "Optimal Fiscal and Monetary Policy: Some Recent Results," Journal of Money, Credit and Banking, Blackwell Publishing, vol. 23(3), pages 540-42, August.
  25. Yves Nosbusch, 2008. "Interest Costs and the Optimal Maturity Structure Of Government Debt," Economic Journal, Royal Economic Society, vol. 118(527), pages 477-498, 03.
  26. Robert J. Barro, 1999. "Notes on Optimal Debt Management," Journal of Applied Economics, Universidad del CEMA, vol. 0, pages 281-289, November.
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