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Tobin's Q and asset returns: implications for business cycle analysis

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  • Lawrence J. Christiano
  • Jonas D.M. Fisher

Abstract

The marginal cost of plant capacity, measured by the price of equity, is significantly procyclical. Yet, the price of a major intermediate input into expanding plant capacity, investment goods, is countercyclical. The ratio of these prices is Tobin's q. Following convention, we interpret the fact that Tobin's q differs from unity at all, as reflecting that there are diminishing returns to expanding plant capacity by installing investment goods ("adjustment costs"). However, the phenomenon that interests us is not just that Tobin's q differs from unity, but also that its numerator and denominator have such different cyclical properties. We interpret the sign switch in their covariation with output as reflecting the interaction of our adjustment cost specification with the operation of two shocks: one which affects the demand for equity and another which shifts the technology for producing investment goods. The adjustment costs cause the two prices to respond differently to these two shocks, and this is why it is possible to choose the shock variances to reproduce the sign switch. These model features are incorporated into a modified version of a model analyzed in Boldrin, Christiano and Fisher (1995). That model incorporates assumptions designed to help account for the observed mean return on risk free and risky assets. We find that the various modifications not only account for the sign switch, but they also continue to account for the salient features of mean asset returns. We turn to the business cycle implications of our model. The model does as well as standard models with respect to conventional business cycle measures of volatility and comovement with output, and on one dimension the model significantly dominates standard models. The factors that help it account for prices and rates of return on assets also help it account for the fact that employment across a broad range of sectors moves together over the cycle.
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Suggested Citation

  • Lawrence J. Christiano & Jonas D.M. Fisher, 1995. "Tobin's Q and asset returns: implications for business cycle analysis," Working Paper Series, Macroeconomic Issues 95-14, Federal Reserve Bank of Chicago.
  • Handle: RePEc:fip:fedhma:95-14
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    References listed on IDEAS

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    Citations

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    Cited by:

    1. Greenwood, Jeremy & Hercowitz, Zvi & Krusell, Per, 2000. "The role of investment-specific technological change in the business cycle," European Economic Review, Elsevier, vol. 44(1), pages 91-115, January.
    2. Boldrin, Michele & Christiano, Lawrence J. & Fisher, Jonas D.M., 1997. "Habit Persistence And Asset Returns In An Exchange Economy," Macroeconomic Dynamics, Cambridge University Press, vol. 1(02), pages 312-332, June.
    3. King, Robert G. & Rebelo, Sergio T., 1999. "Resuscitating real business cycles," Handbook of Macroeconomics,in: J. B. Taylor & M. Woodford (ed.), Handbook of Macroeconomics, edition 1, volume 1, chapter 14, pages 927-1007 Elsevier.
    4. Huffman, Gregory W. & Wynne, Mark A., 1999. "The role of intratemporal adjustment costs in a multisector economy," Journal of Monetary Economics, Elsevier, vol. 43(2), pages 317-350, April.
    5. Miquel Faig, 1997. "INVESTMENT IRREVERSIBILITY IN GENERAL EQUILIBRIUM: Capital Accumulation, Interest Rates, and the Risk Premium," Working Papers faig-97-01, University of Toronto, Department of Economics.
    6. Valerie A. Ramey & Matthew D. Shapiro, 1998. "Displaced Capital," NBER Working Papers 6775, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
    7. Miquel Faig, 1999. "Asset Pricing, Growth, And The Business Cycle With Irreversible Investment," Working Papers faig-98-02, University of Toronto, Department of Economics.
    8. Huang-Meier, Winifred & Freeman, Mark C. & Mazouz, Khelifa, 2015. "Why are aggregate equity payouts pro-cyclical?," Journal of Macroeconomics, Elsevier, vol. 44(C), pages 98-108.
    9. Pancrazi, Roberto & Seoane, HernĂ¡n D. & Vukotic, Marija, 2016. "The price of capital and the financial accelerator," Economics Letters, Elsevier, vol. 149(C), pages 86-89.
    10. Ziv Chinzara & Radhika Lahiri & En Te chen, 2012. "Financial Globalisation and Sectoral Reallocation of Capital in South Africa," School of Economics and Finance Discussion Papers and Working Papers Series 286, School of Economics and Finance, Queensland University of Technology.

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