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Cyclical Markups: Theories and Evidence

  • Julio J. Rotemberg
  • Michael Woodford

If changes in aggregate demand were an important source of macroeconomic fluctuations, real wages would be countercyclical unless markups of price over marginal cost were themselves countercyclical. We thus examine three theories of markup variation at cyclical frequencies. The first assumes only that the elasticity of demand is a function of the level of output. In the second, firma face a tradeoff between exploiting their existing customers and attracting new customers. Markups then depend also on rates of return and future sales expectations; a high rate of return or expectations of low sales growth lead firms to assign a lower value to future revenues from new customers. Firma thus raise prices and markups. In the third theory, markups are chosen to ensure that no one deviates from an (implicitly) collusive understanding. Increases in rates of return or pessimistic expectations then lead firms to be less concerned with future punishments so that markups fall. Aggregate post-war data from the U.S. are moat consistent with the predictions of the implicit collusion model.

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Paper provided by National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc in its series NBER Working Papers with number 3534.

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Date of creation: Dec 1990
Date of revision:
Publication status: published as Blanchard, O.J. and S. Fischer (eds.) NBER Macroeconomics Annual 1991. Cambridge: MIT Press, 1991.
Handle: RePEc:nbr:nberwo:3534
Note: EFG
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  1. Bruce C. Greenwald & Joseph E. Stiglitz, 1988. "Financial Market Imperfections and Business Cycles," NBER Working Papers 2494, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
  2. Parsons, Donald O, 1973. "Quit Rates Over Time: A Search and Information Approach," American Economic Review, American Economic Association, vol. 63(3), pages 390-401, June.
  3. Gottfries, Nils, 1986. " Price Dynamics of Exporting and Import-Competing Firms," Scandinavian Journal of Economics, Wiley Blackwell, vol. 88(2), pages 417-36.
  4. Ian Domowitz & R. Glenn Hubbard & Bruce C. Petersen, 1986. "Market Structure and Cyclical Fluctuations in U.S. Manufacturing," NBER Working Papers 2115, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
  5. Blanchard, O. & Rhee, C. & Summers, L., 1990. "The Stock Market, Profit And Investment," RCER Working Papers 233, University of Rochester - Center for Economic Research (RCER).
  6. Abreu, Dilip, 1986. "Extremal equilibria of oligopolistic supergames," Journal of Economic Theory, Elsevier, vol. 39(1), pages 191-225, June.
  7. Rotemberg, Julio J & Saloner, Garth, 1986. "A Supergame-Theoretic Model of Price Wars during Booms," American Economic Review, American Economic Association, vol. 76(3), pages 390-407, June.
  8. Joseph Farrell & Carl Shapiro, 1988. "Dynamic Competition with Switching Costs," RAND Journal of Economics, The RAND Corporation, vol. 19(1), pages 123-137, Spring.
  9. Gallant, A. Ronald & Jorgenson, Dale W., 1979. "Statistical inference for a system of simultaneous, non-linear, implicit equations in the context of instrumental variable estimation," Journal of Econometrics, Elsevier, vol. 11(2-3), pages 275-302.
  10. Julio J. Rotemberg & Michael Woodford, 1989. "Oligopolistic Pricing and the Effects of Aggregate Demand on Economic Activity," NBER Working Papers 3206, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
  11. Robert B. Barsky & Gary Solon, 1989. "Real Wages Over The Business Cycle," NBER Working Papers 2888, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
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