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Inventories, liquidity, and the macroeconomy

  • Yi Wen
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It is widely believed in the literature that inventory fluctuations are destabilizing to the economy. This paper re-assesses this view by developing an analytically-tractable general-equilibrium model of inventory dynamics based on a precautionary stockout-avoidance motive. The model's predictions are broadly consistent with the U.S. business cycle and key features of inventory behavior, including (i) a large inventory stock-to-sales ratio and a small inventory investment-to-sales ratio in the long run, (ii) excess volatility of production relative to sales, (iii) procyclical inventory investment but countercyclical stock-to-sales ratio over the business cycle, and (iv) more volatile input inventories than output inventories. However, contrary to common beliefs, the model predicts that inventories are stabilizing, rather than destabilizing. The volatility of aggregate output could rise by 30% if inventories were eliminated from the economy. Key to this seemingly counter-intuitive result is that a stockout-avoidance motive leads to procyclical liquidity-value of inventories (hence, procyclical relative prices of final goods), which acts as an automatic stabilizer that discourages final sales in a boom and encourages final sales during a recession, thereby reducing the variability of GDP.

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Paper provided by Federal Reserve Bank of St. Louis in its series Working Papers with number 2008-045.

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Date of creation: 2008
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Handle: RePEc:fip:fedlwp:2008-045
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  1. Abel, Andrew B, 1985. "Inventories, Stock-Outs and Production Smoothing," Review of Economic Studies, Wiley Blackwell, vol. 52(2), pages 283-93, April.
  2. Bils, M. & Kahn, J.A., 1996. "What Inventory Behavior Tells Us About Business Cycles," RCER Working Papers 428, University of Rochester - Center for Economic Research (RCER).
  3. Christiano, Lawrence J., 1988. "Why does inventory investment fluctuate so much?," Journal of Monetary Economics, Elsevier, vol. 21(2-3), pages 247-280.
  4. 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.
  5. Wen, Yi, 2006. "Demand shocks and economic fluctuations," Economics Letters, Elsevier, vol. 90(3), pages 378-383, March.
  6. Jonas D.M. Fisher & Andreas Hornstein, 1996. "(S, s) inventory policies in general equilibrium," Working Paper Series, Macroeconomic Issues WP-96-24, Federal Reserve Bank of Chicago.
  7. Alan S. Blinder & Louis J. Maccini, 1991. "Taking Stock: A Critical Assessment of Recent Research on Inventories," Journal of Economic Perspectives, American Economic Association, vol. 5(1), pages 73-96, Winter.
  8. John Haltiwanger & Louis Maccini, 1984. "A Model of Inventory and Layoff Behavior Under Uncertainty," UCLA Economics Working Papers 321, UCLA Department of Economics.
  9. Matthew D. Shapiro, 1986. "The Dynamic Demand for Capital and Labor," NBER Working Papers 1899, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
  10. Benhabib, Jess & Wen, Yi, 2004. "Indeterminacy, aggregate demand, and the real business cycle," Journal of Monetary Economics, Elsevier, vol. 51(3), pages 503-530, April.
  11. 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.
  12. Brown, Ward & Haegler, Urs, 2004. "Financing constraints and inventories," European Economic Review, Elsevier, vol. 48(5), pages 1091-1123, October.
  13. Blanchard, Olivier J, 1983. "The Production and Inventory Behavior of the American Automobile Industry," Journal of Political Economy, University of Chicago Press, vol. 91(3), pages 365-400, June.
  14. Khan, Aubhik & Thomas, Julia K., 2007. "EXPLAINING INVENTORIES: A BUSINESS CYCLE ASSESSMENT OF THE STOCKOUT AVOIDANCE AND (S,s) MOTIVES," Macroeconomic Dynamics, Cambridge University Press, vol. 11(05), pages 638-664, November.
  15. 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.
  16. West, Kenneth D, 1986. "A Variance Bounds Test of the Linear Quadratic Inventory Model," Journal of Political Economy, University of Chicago Press, vol. 94(2), pages 374-401, April.
  17. Wen, Yi, 2002. "Understanding the Inventory Cycle," Working Papers 02-04, Cornell University, Center for Analytic Economics.
  18. Daniele Coen-Pirani, 2004. "Markups, Aggregation, and Inventory Adjustment," American Economic Review, American Economic Association, vol. 94(5), pages 1328-1353, December.
  19. Aubhik Khan & Julia K. Thomas, 2002. "Inventories and the business cycle: an equilibrium analysis of (S,s) policies," Working Papers 02-20, Federal Reserve Bank of Philadelphia.
  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. Brad R. Humphreys & Louis J. Maccini & Scott Schuh, 1997. "Input and output inventories," Working Papers 97-7, Federal Reserve Bank of Boston.
  23. Kahn, James A, 1987. "Inventories and the Volatility of Production," American Economic Review, American Economic Association, vol. 77(4), pages 667-79, September.
  24. Kydland, Finn E & Prescott, Edward C, 1982. "Time to Build and Aggregate Fluctuations," Econometrica, Econometric Society, vol. 50(6), pages 1345-70, November.
  25. 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.
  26. James A. Kahn & Margaret M. McConnell & Gabriel Perez-Quiros, 2002. "On the causes of the increased stability of the U.S. economy," Economic Policy Review, Federal Reserve Bank of New York, issue May, pages 183-202.
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