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Indicator Properties of the Paper-Bill Spread: Lessons from Recent Experiences

  • Benjamin M. Friedman
  • Kenneth N. Kuttner

A feature of U.S. post-war business cycle experience that is by now widely documented is the tendency of the spread between the respective interest rates on commercial paper and Treasury bills to widen shortly before the onset of recessions. By contrast, the paper- bill spread did not anticipate the 1990-91 recession. Empirical work presented in this paper supports two (not mutually exclusive) explanations for this departure from past experience. First, at least part of the paper-bill spread's predictive content with respect to business cycle fluctuations stems from its role as an indicator of monetary policy, but the 1990-91 recession was unusual in post-war U.S. experience in not being immediately precipitated by tight monetary policy. Second, movements of the spread during the few years just prior to the 1990-91 recession were strongly influenced by changes in the relative quantities of commercial paper, bank CDs and Treasury bills that occurred for reasons unrelated to the business cycle. This latter finding in particular sheds light on the important role of imperfect substitutability of different short-term debt instruments in investors portfolios, and highlights the burdens associated with using relative interest rate relationships as business cycle indicators.

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Paper provided by National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc in its series NBER Working Papers with number 4969.

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Date of creation: Dec 1994
Date of revision:
Publication status: published as Review of Economics and Statistics, Vol. 80 (February 1998): 34-44.
Handle: RePEc:nbr:nberwo:4969
Note: ME
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  1. Sims, Christopher A., 1992. "Interpreting the macroeconomic time series facts : The effects of monetary policy," European Economic Review, Elsevier, vol. 36(5), pages 975-1000, June.
  2. Stock, J.H. & Watson, M.W., 1989. "New Indexes Of Coincident And Leading Economic Indicators," Papers 178d, Harvard - J.F. Kennedy School of Government.
  3. Anil K. Kashyap & Jeremy C. Stein & David W. Wilcox, 1991. "Monetary policy and credit conditions: evidence from the composition of external finance," Finance and Economics Discussion Series 154, Board of Governors of the Federal Reserve System (U.S.).
  4. Benjamin M. Friedman & Kenneth N. Kuttner, 1991. "Why Does the Paper-Bill Spread Predict Real Economic Activity?," NBER Working Papers 3879, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
  5. Christina D. Romer and David H. Romer., 1989. "Does Monetary Policy Matter? A New Test in the Spirit of Friedman and Schwartz," Economics Working Papers 89-107, University of California at Berkeley.
  6. Edward C. Prescott, 1986. "Theory ahead of business cycle measurement," Quarterly Review, Federal Reserve Bank of Minneapolis, issue Fall, pages 9-22.
  7. George L. Perry & Charles L. Schultze, 1993. "Was This Recession Different? Are They All Different?," Brookings Papers on Economic Activity, Economic Studies Program, The Brookings Institution, vol. 24(1), pages 145-212.
  8. Charles W. Calomiris & Charles P. Himmelberg & Paul Wachtel, 1994. "Commercial Paper, Corporate Finance, and the Business Cycle: A Microeconomic Perspective," NBER Working Papers 4848, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
  9. Ben S. Bernanke & Alan S. Blinder, 1989. "The federal funds rate and the channels of monetary transmission," Working Papers 89-10, Federal Reserve Bank of Philadelphia.
  10. Ben S. Bernanke, 1990. "On the predictive power of interest rates and interest rate spreads," New England Economic Review, Federal Reserve Bank of Boston, issue Nov, pages 51-68.
  11. Friedman, Benjamin M & Kuttner, Kenneth N, 1992. "Money, Income, Prices, and Interest Rates," American Economic Review, American Economic Association, vol. 82(3), pages 472-92, June.
  12. Leland Crabbe, 1993. "Anatomy of the medium-term note market," Federal Reserve Bulletin, Board of Governors of the Federal Reserve System (U.S.), issue Aug, pages 751-768.
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