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Investment Dispersion and the Business Cycle


  • Rüdiger Bachmann
  • Christian Bayer


We document a new business cycle fact: the cross-sectional standard deviation of firm-level investment (investment dispersion) is robustly and significantly procyclical. This makes investment dispersion different from the dispersion of productivity and output growth, which is countercyclical. Investment dispersion is more procyclical in the goods-producing sectors, for smaller firms and for structures. We show that a heterogeneous-firm real business cycle model with countercyclical idiosyncratic firm risk and non-convex adjustment costs calibrated to match moments of the long-run investment rate distribution, produces a time series correlation coefficient between investment dispersion and aggregate output of 0.58, close to the 0.45 in the data. We argue, more generally, that cross-sectional business cycle dynamics impose tight empirical restrictions on the physical environments and the structural parameters of heterogeneous-firm models.

Suggested Citation

  • Rüdiger Bachmann & Christian Bayer, 2011. "Investment Dispersion and the Business Cycle," NBER Working Papers 16861, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
  • Handle: RePEc:nbr:nberwo:16861
    Note: EFG

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    References listed on IDEAS

    1. Den Haan, Wouter J., 2010. "Assessing the accuracy of the aggregate law of motion in models with heterogeneous agents," Journal of Economic Dynamics and Control, Elsevier, vol. 34(1), pages 79-99, January.
    2. Steven J. Davis & John Haltiwanger & Ron Jarmin & Javier Miranda, 2007. "Volatility and Dispersion in Business Growth Rates: Publicly Traded versus Privately Held Firms," NBER Chapters,in: NBER Macroeconomics Annual 2006, Volume 21, pages 107-180 National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
    3. Tauchen, George, 1986. "Finite state markov-chain approximations to univariate and vector autoregressions," Economics Letters, Elsevier, vol. 20(2), pages 177-181.
    4. Amit Gandhi & Salvador Navarro & David Rivers, 2011. "On the Identification of Production Functions: How Heterogeneous is Productivity?," University of Western Ontario, Centre for Human Capital and Productivity (CHCP) Working Papers 20119, University of Western Ontario, Centre for Human Capital and Productivity (CHCP).
    5. Ulf von Kalckreuth, 2003. "Exploring the role of uncertainty for corporate investment decisions in Germany," Swiss Journal of Economics and Statistics (SJES), Swiss Society of Economics and Statistics (SSES), vol. 139(II), pages 173-206, June.
    6. Ackerberg, Daniel & Caves, Kevin & Frazer, Garth, 2006. "Structural identification of production functions," MPRA Paper 38349, University Library of Munich, Germany.
    7. Bayer, Christian, 2006. "Investment dynamics with fixed capital adjustment cost and capital market imperfections," Journal of Monetary Economics, Elsevier, vol. 53(8), pages 1909-1947, November.
    8. Per Krusell & Anthony A. Smith & Jr., 1998. "Income and Wealth Heterogeneity in the Macroeconomy," Journal of Political Economy, University of Chicago Press, vol. 106(5), pages 867-896, October.
    9. James Levinsohn & Amil Petrin, 2003. "Estimating Production Functions Using Inputs to Control for Unobservables," Review of Economic Studies, Oxford University Press, vol. 70(2), pages 317-341.
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    Cited by:

    1. Mecikovsky, Ariel Matias & Meier, Matthias, 2014. "Do plants freeze upon uncertainty shocks?," Annual Conference 2014 (Hamburg): Evidence-based Economic Policy 100541, Verein für Socialpolitik / German Economic Association.
    2. Matthias Kehrig & Nicolas Vincent, 2013. "Financial Frictions and Investment Dynamics in Multi-Plant Firms," Working Papers 13-56, Center for Economic Studies, U.S. Census Bureau.
    3. Behn, Markus Wilhelm & Haselmann, Rainer & Vig, Vikrant, 2014. "The limits of model-based regulation," IMFS Working Paper Series 82, Goethe University Frankfurt, Institute for Monetary and Financial Stability (IMFS).
    4. Rui Castro & Gian Luca Clementi & Yoonsoo Lee, 2015. "Cross Sectoral Variation in the Volatility of Plant Level Idiosyncratic Shocks," Journal of Industrial Economics, Wiley Blackwell, vol. 63(1), pages 1-29, March.
    5. Roys, Nicolas, 2014. "Optimal investment policy with fixed adjustment costs and complete irreversibility," Economics Letters, Elsevier, vol. 124(3), pages 416-419.
    6. Joseph Vavra, 2014. "Inflation Dynamics and Time-Varying Volatility: New Evidence and an Ss Interpretation," The Quarterly Journal of Economics, Oxford University Press, vol. 129(1), pages 215-258.
    7. D'Elia, Enrico & Nascia, Leopoldo & Zeli, Alessandro, 2011. "Analisi dei modelli d’impresa: discontinuità e sviluppo
      [Analysing firm's evolution: discontinuity and growth]
      ," MPRA Paper 35926, University Library of Munich, Germany.
    8. repec:eee:moneco:v:92:y:2017:i:c:p:1-15 is not listed on IDEAS
    9. Ruediger Bachmann & Christian Bayer & Christian Merkl & Stefan Seth & Heiko Stüber & Felix Wellschmied, 2017. "Worker Churn and Employment Growth at the Establishment Level," CESifo Working Paper Series 6702, CESifo Group Munich.
    10. Zetlin-Jones, Ariel & Shourideh, Ali, 2017. "External financing and the role of financial frictions over the business cycle: Measurement and theory," Journal of Monetary Economics, Elsevier, vol. 92(C), pages 1-15.
    11. Serdar Ozkan & Jae Song & Fatih Karahan & Fatih Guvenen, 2015. "What Do Data on Millions of U.S. Workers Reveal about Life-Cycle Earnings Risk?," 2015 Meeting Papers 1183, Society for Economic Dynamics.
    12. Cosmin Ilut & Matthias Kehrig & Martin Schneider, 2014. "Slow to Hire, Quick to Fire: Employment Dynamics with Asymmetric Responses to News," Department of Economics Working Papers 150113, The University of Texas at Austin, Department of Economics, revised Dec 2014.
    13. Nowzohour, Laura & Stracca, Livio, 2017. "More than a feeling: confidence, uncertainty and macroeconomic fluctuations," Working Paper Series 2100, European Central Bank.
    14. Tian, Can, 2015. "Riskiness, endogenous productivity dispersion and business cycles," Journal of Economic Dynamics and Control, Elsevier, vol. 57(C), pages 227-249.
    15. Benhabib, Jess & Liu, Xuewen & Wang, Pengfei, 2016. "Endogenous information acquisition and countercyclical uncertainty," Journal of Economic Theory, Elsevier, vol. 165(C), pages 601-642.
    16. repec:eee:dyncon:v:83:y:2017:i:c:p:107-148 is not listed on IDEAS
    17. repec:lrk:eeaart:36_1_16 is not listed on IDEAS
    18. Roberta Distante & Ivan Petrella & Emiliano Santoro, 2013. "Asymmetry Reversals and the Business Cycle," Working Papers 2013.54, Fondazione Eni Enrico Mattei.
    19. Christian Bayer & Volker Tjaden, 2016. "Large Open Economies and Fixed Costs of Capital Adjustment," Review of Economic Dynamics, Elsevier for the Society for Economic Dynamics, vol. 21, pages 125-146, July.
    20. Bachmann, Rüdiger & Elstner, Steffen & Hristov, Atanas, 2017. "Surprise, surprise – Measuring firm-level investment innovations," Journal of Economic Dynamics and Control, Elsevier, vol. 83(C), pages 107-148.
    21. Fatih Guvenen, 2015. "The Research Agenda: Fatih Guvenen on Findings from Big Data on Income Inequality and Income Uncertainty," EconomicDynamics Newsletter, Review of Economic Dynamics, vol. 16(1), April.
    22. D'Elia, Enrico, 2011. "A simple model of discontinuous firm’s growth," MPRA Paper 35925, University Library of Munich, Germany.
    23. Erik Öberg & Karl Harmenberg, 2016. "Durable Expenditure Dynamics under Time-Varying Income Risk," 2016 Meeting Papers 672, Society for Economic Dynamics.

    More about this item

    JEL classification:

    • E2 - Macroeconomics and Monetary Economics - - Consumption, Saving, Production, Employment, and Investment
    • E22 - Macroeconomics and Monetary Economics - - Consumption, Saving, Production, Employment, and Investment - - - Investment; Capital; Intangible Capital; Capacity
    • E3 - Macroeconomics and Monetary Economics - - Prices, Business Fluctuations, and Cycles
    • E32 - Macroeconomics and Monetary Economics - - Prices, Business Fluctuations, and Cycles - - - Business Fluctuations; Cycles


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