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Investment with Uncertain Tax Policy: Does Random Tax Policy Discourage Investment?

  • Kevin Hassett
  • Gilbert E. Metcalf

In models with irreversible investment, increasing uncertainty about prices has been shown to increase the required rate of return (hurdle rate) and delay investment (e.g., Pindyck, 1988). One serious form of uncertainty faced by firms, a form that policy makers could conceivably control, is tax uncertainty. In this paper, we show that it does not follow from past work that tax policy uncertainty increases the expected hurdle price ratio and delays investment. This is because tax uncertainty has an unusual form that distinguishes it from price uncertainty: tax rates tend to remain constant for many years, and then change in large jumps. When tax policy follows a jump process, firms' expectations of the likelihood of the jump occurring have important effects on investment. Indeed, as we show below, while price uncertainty increases the hurdle rate and slows down investment, tax uncertainty has the opposite effect.

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Paper provided by National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc in its series NBER Working Papers with number 4780.

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Date of creation: Jun 1994
Date of revision:
Publication status: published as Economic Journal, Vol. 109, no. 457 (July 1999): 372-393.
Handle: RePEc:nbr:nberwo:4780
Note: PE
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  1. Ricardo J. Caballero, 1997. "Aggregate Investment," NBER Working Papers 6264, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
  2. Auerbach, Alan J & Hines, James R, Jr, 1988. "Investment Tax Incentives and Frequent Tax Reforms," American Economic Review, American Economic Association, vol. 78(2), pages 211-16, May.
  3. Ricardo J. Caballero & Robert S. Pindyck, 1992. "Uncertainty, Investment, and Industry Evolution," NBER Working Papers 4160, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
  4. Pindyck, Robert S., 1986. "Irreversible investment, capacity choice, and the value of the firm," Working papers 1802-86., Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT), Sloan School of Management.
  5. Lucas, Robert Jr, 1976. "Econometric policy evaluation: A critique," Carnegie-Rochester Conference Series on Public Policy, Elsevier, vol. 1(1), pages 19-46, January.
  6. Hartman, Richard, 1972. "The effects of price and cost uncertainty on investment," Journal of Economic Theory, Elsevier, vol. 5(2), pages 258-266, October.
  7. Ricardo J. Caballero & Eduardo M. R. A. Engel & John C. Haltiwanger, 1995. "Plant-Level Adjustment and Aggregate Investment Dynamics," Brookings Papers on Economic Activity, Economic Studies Program, The Brookings Institution, vol. 26(2), pages 1-54.
  8. Dixit, Avinash, 1993. "Choosing among alternative discrete investment projects under uncertainty," Economics Letters, Elsevier, vol. 41(3), pages 265-268.
  9. Abel, Andrew B, 1983. "Optimal Investment under Uncertainty," American Economic Review, American Economic Association, vol. 73(1), pages 228-33, March.
  10. James M. Poterba, 1991. "Dividends, Capital Gains, and the Corporate Veil: Evidence from Britain, Canada, and the United States," NBER Chapters, in: National Saving and Economic Performance, pages 49-74 National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
  11. Metcalf, Gilbert E. & Hassett, Kevin A., 1995. "Investment under alternative return assumptions Comparing random walks and mean reversion," Journal of Economic Dynamics and Control, Elsevier, vol. 19(8), pages 1471-1488, November.
  12. Koenker, Roger & Bassett, Gilbert, Jr, 1982. "Robust Tests for Heteroscedasticity Based on Regression Quantiles," Econometrica, Econometric Society, vol. 50(1), pages 43-61, January.
  13. Jack, William & Viard, Alan D., 1996. "Production efficiency and the design of temporary investment incentives," Journal of Public Economics, Elsevier, vol. 61(1), pages 87-106, July.
  14. Bizer, David S & Judd, Kenneth L, 1989. "Taxation and Uncertainty," American Economic Review, American Economic Association, vol. 79(2), pages 331-36, May.
  15. B. Douglas Bernheim & John B. Shoven, 1991. "National Saving and Economic Performance," NBER Books, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc, number bern91-2, July.
  16. Jason G. Cummins & Kevin A. Hassett & R. Glenn Hubbard, 1994. "A Reconsideration of Investment Behavior Using Tax Reforms as Natural Experiments," Brookings Papers on Economic Activity, Economic Studies Program, The Brookings Institution, vol. 25(2), pages 1-74.
  17. Andrew B. Abel, 1984. "A Stochastic Model of Investment, Marginal q and the Market Value of theFirm," NBER Working Papers 1484, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
  18. Pindyck, Robert S, 1993. "A Note on Competitive Investment under Uncertainty," American Economic Review, American Economic Association, vol. 83(1), pages 273-77, March.
  19. Koenker, Roger W & Bassett, Gilbert, Jr, 1978. "Regression Quantiles," Econometrica, Econometric Society, vol. 46(1), pages 33-50, January.
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