IDEAS home Printed from
MyIDEAS: Login to save this paper or follow this series

Understanding the Inventory Cycle

  • Wen, Yi

    (Cornell U)

Registered author(s):

Why is there inventory investment when its expected rate of return is strictly dominated by that of fixed-capital investment? Why is inventory investment procyclical at business-cycle frequencies but countercyclical at the very high frequencies (e.g., 2-3 quarters per cycle)? Why does the variance of production exceed the variance of sales at the business-cycle frequencies but not so at the high frequencies? Why is inventory investment so volatile relative to GDP at the high frequencies but not so at the business cycle frequencies? Explaining these seemingly paradoxical features of inventory behavior is of great importance because for many years economists have speculated that understanding inventory fluctuations may provide the key to understanding the business cycle. This paper provides a general equilibrium analysis on inventory cycles and their relations to the business cycle. I show that in an environment where production and fixed-capital investment cannot adjust instantaneously to respond to consumption demand shocks, firms opt to hold inventories in the short run so as to avoid stockout and to smooth production against demand uncertainty. These incentives for holding inventories in the short run have different effects on inventory cycles across different cyclical frequencies. At the high frequencies inventory fluctuations are dominated by the production-smoothing motive and at the business-cycle frequencies inventory fluctuations are dominated by the stockout-avoidance motive. Consequently, inventory investment appears to be countercyclical and volatile at the high frequencies but procyclical and relatively smooth at the business-cycle frequencies, production appears to be less volatile than sales at the high frequencies but more volatile than sales at the business-cycle frequencies. I also show that the inventory cycle and the business cycle are intimately related by sharing a common source of uncertainty--consumption demand, which leads to the phenomena that consumption Granger causes output and fixed investment, that consumption comoves with output and fixed investment, and that consumption appears to be smooth relative to output and fixed investment.

If you experience problems downloading a file, check if you have the proper application to view it first. In case of further problems read the IDEAS help page. Note that these files are not on the IDEAS site. Please be patient as the files may be large.

File URL:
Download Restriction: no

Paper provided by Cornell University, Center for Analytic Economics in its series Working Papers with number 02-04.

in new window

Date of creation: Aug 2002
Date of revision:
Handle: RePEc:ecl:corcae:02-04
Contact details of provider: Postal: 402 Uris Hall, Ithaca, NY 14853
Phone: (607) 255-9901
Fax: (607) 255-2818
Web page:

More information through EDIRC

References listed on IDEAS
Please report citation or reference errors to , or , if you are the registered author of the cited work, log in to your RePEc Author Service profile, click on "citations" and make appropriate adjustments.:

as in new window
  1. Wen, Yi, 2003. "The Power of Demand: A General Equilibrium Analysis of Multi-Stage-Fabrication Economy with Inventories," Working Papers 03-13r, Cornell University, Center for Analytic Economics.
  2. Ramey, Valerie A, 1991. "Nonconvex Costs and the Behavior of Inventories," Journal of Political Economy, University of Chicago Press, vol. 99(2), pages 306-34, April.
  3. Humphreys, Brad R. & Maccini, Louis J. & Schuh, Scott, 2001. "Input and output inventories," Journal of Monetary Economics, Elsevier, vol. 47(2), pages 347-375, April.
  4. Ricardo J. Caballero & Eduardo M.R.A. Engel, 1996. "Explaining Investment Dynamics in U.S. Manufacturing: A Generalized (S,s) Approach," Documentos de Trabajo 12, Centro de Economía Aplicada, Universidad de Chile.
  5. Wen, Yi, 2002. "Understanding the Inventory Cycle," Working Papers 02-04, Cornell University, Center for Analytic Economics.
  6. Yi Wen, 2005. "Durable good inventories and the volatility of production: explaining the less volatile U.S. economy," Working Papers 2005-047, Federal Reserve Bank of St. Louis.
  7. Martin Feldstein & Alan Auerbach, 1976. "Inventory Behavior in Durable-Goods Manufacturing: The Target-Adjustment Model," Brookings Papers on Economic Activity, Economic Studies Program, The Brookings Institution, vol. 7(2), pages 351-408.
  8. Blinder, Alan S, 1986. "Can the Production Smoothing Model of Inventory Behavior Be Saved?," The Quarterly Journal of Economics, MIT Press, vol. 101(3), pages 431-53, August.
  9. Wen, Yi, 2002. "Fickle Consumers versus Random Technology: Explaining Domestic and International Comovements," Working Papers 02-01, Cornell University, Center for Analytic Economics.
  10. Aubhik Khan & Julia K. Thomas, 2004. "Inventories and the business cycle: an equilibrium analysis of (S,s) policies," Working Papers 04-11, Federal Reserve Bank of Philadelphia.
  11. 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.
  12. Abel, Andrew B, 1985. "Inventories, Stock-Outs and Production Smoothing," Review of Economic Studies, Wiley Blackwell, vol. 52(2), pages 283-93, April.
  13. Olivier J. Blanchard, 1982. "The Production and Inventory Behavior of the American Automobile Industry," NBER Working Papers 0891, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
  14. Mark Bils & James A. Kahn, 1999. "What Inventory Behavior Tells Us About Business Cycles," NBER Working Papers 7310, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
  15. Kahn, James A, 1992. "Why Is Production More Volatile Than Sales? Theory and Evidence on the Stockout-Avoidance Motive for Inventory-Holding," The Quarterly Journal of Economics, MIT Press, vol. 107(2), pages 481-510, May.
  16. Kahn, James A, 1987. "Inventories and the Volatility of Production," American Economic Review, American Economic Association, vol. 77(4), pages 667-79, September.
  17. Maccini, Louis J & Zabel, Edward, 1996. "Serial Correlation in Demand, Backlogging and Production Volatility," International Economic Review, Department of Economics, University of Pennsylvania and Osaka University Institute of Social and Economic Research Association, vol. 37(2), pages 423-52, May.
  18. Wen, Yi, 2002. "What Does It Take to Explain Procyclical Productivity," Working Papers 02-14, Cornell University, Center for Analytic Economics.
  19. Christiano, Lawrence J., 1988. "Why does inventory investment fluctuate so much?," Journal of Monetary Economics, Elsevier, vol. 21(2-3), pages 247-280.
  20. Andreas Hornstein, 1998. "Inventory investment and the business cycle," Economic Quarterly, Federal Reserve Bank of Richmond, issue Spr, pages 49-71.
  21. Alan S. Blinder, 1981. "Retail Inventory Behavior and Business Fluctuations," Brookings Papers on Economic Activity, Economic Studies Program, The Brookings Institution, vol. 12(2), pages 443-520.
  22. Kenneth D. West, 1985. "A Variance Bounds Test of the Linear Quardractic Inventory Model," NBER Working Papers 1581, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
  23. Brown, Ward & Haegler, Urs, 2004. "Financing constraints and inventories," European Economic Review, Elsevier, vol. 48(5), pages 1091-1123, October.
Full references (including those not matched with items on IDEAS)

This item is not listed on Wikipedia, on a reading list or among the top items on IDEAS.

When requesting a correction, please mention this item's handle: RePEc:ecl:corcae:02-04. See general information about how to correct material in RePEc.

For technical questions regarding this item, or to correct its authors, title, abstract, bibliographic or download information, contact: ()

If you have authored this item and are not yet registered with RePEc, we encourage you to do it here. This allows to link your profile to this item. It also allows you to accept potential citations to this item that we are uncertain about.

If references are entirely missing, you can add them using this form.

If the full references list an item that is present in RePEc, but the system did not link to it, you can help with this form.

If you know of missing items citing this one, you can help us creating those links by adding the relevant references in the same way as above, for each refering item. If you are a registered author of this item, you may also want to check the "citations" tab in your profile, as there may be some citations waiting for confirmation.

Please note that corrections may take a couple of weeks to filter through the various RePEc services.

This information is provided to you by IDEAS at the Research Division of the Federal Reserve Bank of St. Louis using RePEc data.