Financial Markets, Intermediaries and Intertemporal Smoothing
The return of assets that are traded on financial markets are more volatile than the returns offered by intermediaries such as banks and insurance companies. This suggests that individual investors are exposed to more risk in countries which rely heavily on financial markets. In the absence of a complete set of Arrow-Debreu securities, there may be a role for institutions that can smooth asset returns over time. In this paper, we consider one such mechanism. We present an example of an overlapping generations economy in which the incompleteness of financial markets leads to underinvestment in reserves. There exist allocations where by building up large reserves it is possible to smooth asset returns and eliminate non-diversifiable risk. This allows an ex ante Pareto improvement. We then argue that a long-lived intermediary may be able to implement this type of smoothing. However, the position of the intermediary is fragile; competition from financial markets can cause the intertemporal smoothing mechanism to unravel, in which case the intermediary will do no better than the market.
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