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Inventories and the Business Cycle: An Equilibrium Analysis of (S,s) Policies

  • Aubhik Khan
  • Julia Thomas

We develop an equilibrium business cycle model where nonconvex delivery costs lead producers of final goods to follow generalized (S,s) inventory policies with respect to intermediate goods. When calibrated to match the average inventory-to-sales ratio in postwar U.S. data, our model reproduces two-thirds of the cyclical variability of inventory investment. Moreover, inventory accumulation is strongly procyclical, and production is more volatile than sales, as in the data. The comovement between inventory investment and final sales is often interpreted as evidence that inventories amplify aggregate fluctuations. Our model contradicts this view. Despite the positive correlation between sales and inventory investment, we find that inventory accumulation has minimal consequence for the cyclical variability of GDP. In equilibrium, procyclical inventory investment diverts resources from the production of final goods; thus, it dampens cyclical changes in final sales, leaving GDP volatility essentially unaltered. Moreover, although business cycles arise solely from shocks to productivity and markets are perfectly competitive in our model, it nonetheless yields a countercyclical inventory-to-sales ratio.

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Paper provided by National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc in its series NBER Working Papers with number 10078.

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Date of creation: Nov 2003
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Publication status: published as Aubhik KhanJulia Thomas. “Inventories and the Business Cycle: An Equilibrium Analysis of (S,s) Policies." American Economic Review 97, 4 (2007): 1165-88.
Handle: RePEc:nbr:nberwo:10078
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  1. Fisher, J.D.M. & Hornstein, A., 1995. "(S,s)Inventory Policies in General Equilibrium," UWO Department of Economics Working Papers 9514, University of Western Ontario, Department of Economics.
  2. Brad R. Humphreys & Louis J. Maccini & Scott Schuh, 1997. "Input and output inventories," Working Papers 97-7, Federal Reserve Bank of Boston.
  3. Krusell, P & Smith Jr, A-A, 1995. "Income and Wealth Heterogeneity in the Macroeconomic," RCER Working Papers 399, University of Rochester - Center for Economic Research (RCER).
  4. Robert G. King & Sergio T. Rebelo, 2000. "Resuscitating Real Business Cycles," RCER Working Papers 467, University of Rochester - Center for Economic Research (RCER).
  5. Ramey, Valerie A, 1989. "Inventories as Factors of Production and Economic Fluctuations," American Economic Review, American Economic Association, vol. 79(3), pages 338-54, June.
  6. Mosser, Patricia C, 1991. "Trade Inventories and (S, s)," The Quarterly Journal of Economics, MIT Press, vol. 106(4), pages 1267-86, November.
  7. Jonathan McCarthy & Egon Zakrajsek, 2000. "Microeconomic inventory adjustment: evidence from U.S. firm-level data," Finance and Economics Discussion Series 2000-24, Board of Governors of the Federal Reserve System (U.S.).
  8. Hall, George & Rust, John, 2000. "An empirical model of inventory investment by durable commodity intermediaries," Carnegie-Rochester Conference Series on Public Policy, Elsevier, vol. 52(1), pages 171-214, June.
  9. Eric J. Bartelsman & Wayne Gray, 1996. "The NBER Manufacturing Productivity Database," NBER Technical Working Papers 0205, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
  10. Aubhik Khan & Julia Thomas, 2002. "Nonconvex factor adjustments in equilibrium business cycle models: Do nonlinearities matter?," Staff Report 306, Federal Reserve Bank of Minneapolis.
  11. Prescott, Edward C., 1986. "Theory ahead of business-cycle measurement," Carnegie-Rochester Conference Series on Public Policy, Elsevier, vol. 25(1), pages 11-44, January.
  12. Eichenbaum, Martin, 1989. "Some Empirical Evidence on the Production Level and Production Cost Smoothing Models of Inventory Investment," American Economic Review, American Economic Association, vol. 79(4), pages 853-64, September.
  13. Caballero, Ricardo J & Engel, Eduardo M R A, 1991. "Dynamic (S, s) Economies," Econometrica, Econometric Society, vol. 59(6), pages 1659-86, November.
  14. Caplin, Andrew S, 1985. "The Variability of Aggregate Demand with (S, s) Inventory Policies," Econometrica, Econometric Society, vol. 53(6), pages 1395-1409, November.
  15. James H. Stock & Mark W. Watson, 2003. "Has the business cycle changed?," Proceedings - Economic Policy Symposium - Jackson Hole, Federal Reserve Bank of Kansas City, pages 9-56.
  16. Valerie A. Ramey & Kenneth D. West, 1997. "Inventories," NBER Working Papers 6315, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
    • Ramey, Valerie A. & West, Kenneth D., 1999. "Inventories," Handbook of Macroeconomics, in: J. B. Taylor & M. Woodford (ed.), Handbook of Macroeconomics, edition 1, volume 1, chapter 13, pages 863-923 Elsevier.
  17. Ricardo J. Caballero & Eduardo M.R.A. Engel, 1994. "Explaining Investment Dynamics in U.S. Manufacturing: A Generalized (S,s) Approach," NBER Working Papers 4887, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
  18. Terry J. Fitzgerald, 1997. "Inventories and the business cycle: an overview," Economic Review, Federal Reserve Bank of Cleveland, issue Q III, pages 11-22.
  19. Mark Bils & James A. Kahn, 1999. "What Inventory Behavior Tells Us About Business Cycles," NBER Working Papers 7310, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
  20. Gary Hansen, 2010. "Indivisible Labor and the Business Cycle," Levine's Working Paper Archive 233, David K. Levine.
  21. Kydland, Finn E & Prescott, Edward C, 1982. "Time to Build and Aggregate Fluctuations," Econometrica, Econometric Society, vol. 50(6), pages 1345-70, November.
  22. Andreas Hornstein, 1998. "Inventory investment and the business cycle," Economic Quarterly, Federal Reserve Bank of Richmond, issue Spr, pages 49-71.
  23. Richard Rogerson, 2010. "Indivisible Labor, Lotteries and Equilibrium," Levine's Working Paper Archive 250, David K. Levine.
  24. Scott Schuh, 1996. "Evidence on the link between firm-level and aggregate inventory behavior," Finance and Economics Discussion Series 96-46, Board of Governors of the Federal Reserve System (U.S.).
  25. Krusell, Per & Smith, Anthony A., 1997. "Income And Wealth Heterogeneity, Portfolio Choice, And Equilibrium Asset Returns," Macroeconomic Dynamics, Cambridge University Press, vol. 1(02), pages 387-422, June.
  26. 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.
  27. 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.
  28. Kahn, James A, 1987. "Inventories and the Volatility of Production," American Economic Review, American Economic Association, vol. 77(4), pages 667-79, September.
  29. Valerie A. Ramey & Daniel J. Vine, 2004. "Tracking the Source of the Decline in GDP Volatility: An Analysis of the Automobile Industry," NBER Working Papers 10384, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
  30. repec:cup:macdyn:v:1:y:1997:i:2:p:387-422 is not listed on IDEAS
  31. Daniele Coen-Pirani, 2003. "Microeconomic Inventory Behavior and Aggregate Inventory Dynamics," GSIA Working Papers 2003-E28, Carnegie Mellon University, Tepper School of Business.
  32. Christiano, Lawrence J., 1988. "Why does inventory investment fluctuate so much?," Journal of Monetary Economics, Elsevier, vol. 21(2-3), pages 247-280.
  33. 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.
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