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

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

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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Paper provided by Federal Reserve Bank of Minneapolis in its series Staff Report with number 200.

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Date of creation: 1995
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Handle: RePEc:fip:fedmsr:200
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  1. Lawrence J. Christiano & Martin Eichenbaum, 1990. "Current real business cycle theories and aggregate labor market fluctuations," Working Paper Series, Macroeconomic Issues 90, Federal Reserve Bank of Chicago.
  2. Rogerson, Richard, 1988. "Indivisible labor, lotteries and equilibrium," Journal of Monetary Economics, Elsevier, vol. 21(1), pages 3-16, January.
  3. Mehra, Rajnish & Prescott, Edward C., 1985. "The equity premium: A puzzle," Journal of Monetary Economics, Elsevier, vol. 15(2), pages 145-161, March.
  4. Quah, D., 1989. "Permanent And Transitory Movements In Labor Income: An Explanation For "Excess Smoothness" In Consumption," Working papers 535, Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT), Department of Economics.
  5. Kevin M. Murphy & Andrei Shleifer & Robert W. Vishny, 1989. "Building Blocks of Market Clearing Business Cycle Models," NBER Chapters, in: NBER Macroeconomics Annual 1989, Volume 4, pages 247-302 National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
  6. G. Constantinides, 1990. "Habit formation: a resolution of the equity premium puzzle," Levine's Working Paper Archive 1397, David K. Levine.
  7. Fisher, Jonas D. M., 1997. "Relative prices, complementarities and comovement among components of aggregate expenditures," Journal of Monetary Economics, Elsevier, vol. 39(3), pages 449-474, August.
  8. John H. Cochrane & Lars Peter Hansen, 1992. "Asset Pricing Explorations for Macroeconomics," NBER Chapters, in: NBER Macroeconomics Annual 1992, Volume 7, pages 115-182 National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
  9. Hercowitz, Z., 1992. "Macroeconomic Implication of Investment-Specific Technological Change," Papers 13-92, Tel Aviv - the Sackler Institute of Economic Studies.
  10. Benhabib, Jess & Rogerson, Richard & Wright, Randall, 1991. "Homework in Macroeconomics: Household Production and Aggregate Fluctuations," Journal of Political Economy, University of Chicago Press, vol. 99(6), pages 1166-87, December.
  11. Christiano, Lawrence J., 1988. "Why does inventory investment fluctuate so much?," Journal of Monetary Economics, Elsevier, vol. 21(2-3), pages 247-280.
  12. Gibbons, Michael R., 1989. "On the volatility of bond prices," Carnegie-Rochester Conference Series on Public Policy, Elsevier, vol. 31(1), pages 139-175, January.
  13. Eichenbaum, Martin & Hansen, Lars Peter, 1990. "Estimating Models with Intertemporal Substitution Using Aggregate Time Series Data," Journal of Business & Economic Statistics, American Statistical Association, vol. 8(1), pages 53-69, January.
  14. Robert J. Gordon, 1990. "The Measurement of Durable Goods Prices," NBER Books, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc, number gord90-1, September.
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  19. repec:ucp:bknber:9780226304557 is not listed on IDEAS
  20. Hansen, Lars Peter & Singleton, Kenneth J, 1982. "Generalized Instrumental Variables Estimation of Nonlinear Rational Expectations Models," Econometrica, Econometric Society, vol. 50(5), pages 1269-86, September.
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