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Declining Volatility in the U.S. Automobile Industry

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  • Valerie A. Ramey
  • Daniel J. Vine

Abstract

This paper documents the dramatic changes in volatility that occurred in the U.S. auto industry in the early 1980s. Namely, output volatility declined significantly, the covariance of inventory investment and sales became much more negative, and adjustments to output, which in earlier decades stemmed primarily from plants hiring and laying off workers, were more often accomplished with changes in average hours per worker after the mid 1980s. Building on the work of Blanchard (1983), we show how all of these changes could have stemmed from one underlying factor%u2014a decline in the persistence of motor vehicle sales. We use both industry-level data as well as micro data on production schedules from 103 assembly plants in the United States and Canada to document the developments in the early 1980s. We then use the original Holt, Modigliani, Muth and Simon (1960) linear quadratic inventory model to show how a decline in the persistence of sales leads to all of the changes noted above, including the propensity to use intensive margins of adjustment over extensive labor margins, even in the absence of technological change.

Suggested Citation

  • Valerie A. Ramey & Daniel J. Vine, 2005. "Declining Volatility in the U.S. Automobile Industry," NBER Working Papers 11596, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
  • Handle: RePEc:nbr:nberwo:11596
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    References listed on IDEAS

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    1. 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.
    2. 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.
    3. 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.
    4. Margaret M. McConnell & Gabriel Perez-Quiros, 2000. "Output fluctuations in the United States: what has changed since the early 1980s?," Proceedings, Federal Reserve Bank of San Francisco, issue Mar.
    5. 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, vol. 8(May), pages 183-202.
    6. Timothy F. Bresnahan & Valerie A. Ramey, 1994. "Output Fluctuations at the Plant Level," The Quarterly Journal of Economics, Oxford University Press, vol. 109(3), pages 593-624.
    7. Chang-Jin Kim & Charles R. Nelson, 1999. "Has The U.S. Economy Become More Stable? A Bayesian Approach Based On A Markov-Switching Model Of The Business Cycle," The Review of Economics and Statistics, MIT Press, vol. 81(4), pages 608-616, November.
    8. Aizcorbe, Ana M, 1992. "Procyclical Labour Productivity, Increasing Returns to Labour and Labour Hoarding in Car Assembly Plant Employment," Economic Journal, Royal Economic Society, vol. 102(413), pages 860-873, July.
    9. Hall, George J., 2000. "Non-convex costs and capital utilization: A study of production scheduling at automobile assembly plants," Journal of Monetary Economics, Elsevier, vol. 45(3), pages 681-716, June.
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    JEL classification:

    • E2 - Macroeconomics and Monetary Economics - - Consumption, Saving, Production, Employment, and Investment

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