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Consumer Credit: Too Much or Too Little (or Just Right?) Jonathan Zinman Dartmouth, IPA, NBER, etc. October 2013.

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Presentation on theme: "Consumer Credit: Too Much or Too Little (or Just Right?) Jonathan Zinman Dartmouth, IPA, NBER, etc. October 2013."— Presentation transcript:

1 Consumer Credit: Too Much or Too Little (or Just Right?) Jonathan Zinman Dartmouth, IPA, NBER, etc. October 2013

2 Motivation Many policy efforts to increase consumer credit supply – Loan guarantees (e.g., FHA) – Public provision/subsidies (e.g., student loans) – Concern about gaps in the lending ladder Many policy efforts to (functionally) decrease consumer credit supply – Interest rate and fee ceilings (consumer loans, credit cards) – Restrictions on rollovers (payday loans)

3 Motivation These policies presume answer to threshold questions: – Is credit under-supplied? – Is credit over-supplied? If yes to either, or both, wed also like to know: – When, where, and why? – (Whats the failure: market, decision, and/or policy?) Evidence on these questions would give us better sense of which policy options likely to: – Be (constrained) optimal – Pass cost-benefit test And hence which options worth testing, evaluating, simulating, etc.

4 Is Credit Under- or Over-Supplied? When/Where/Why? Paper reviews what we actually know about these questions, theoretically and empirically Organized around 8 classes of theories of inefficient supply For each of these theories, consider empirical evidence: – From U.S. (mostly), and big markets therein: mortgage, auto, student, credit card, payday, bank overdraft – That convincingly tests theory – That is more circumstantial (consistent with many theories), yet oft-invoked as supporting a particular one/class Also review reduced-form evidence on impacts: downstream effects of exogenous changes in credit supply on consumers

5 Plan for Today Briefly sketch the 8 classes of theories One sentence summary for each of related empirical evidence Summarize key takeaways

6 Theories of Under-Supply: 1. Market Power a.Plain vanilla – Pretty implausible for most part in U.S. b. Search/switch costs – Empirical evidence consistent with very high costs – Implications for efficiency depends on other parameters

7 Theories of Under-Supply: 2. Regulatory Failure Motivating facts: gaps in lending ladder between most expensive credit card & cheapest payday loan Many state laws outlaw the very contracts that would fill these gaps Tests of this theory? None that I know of Gaps could also be consistent with asymmetric information…

8 Theories of Under-Supply: 3. Asymmetric Information a.Ex-ante hidden information: adverse selection on type, project risk b.Ex-post hidden action: moral hazard in project choice, effort broadly defined, strategic default c.Selection on moral hazard Taking theories to the data: Doable, but still limited quantity of evidence – Karlan and Zinman (and Bryan) – Einav and Levin and co-authors Mixed on which varieties matter

9 Theories of Over-Supply: 1. Asymmetric Information a)Advantageous selection b)Moral hazard with common agency/common pool/coordination problems Taking theories to the data: b) Seems quite plausible, but consumer credit evidence quite thin a) Seems somewhat plausible, given: Evidence from insurance markets Marginal borrowers default more when subject to higher downpayment in Einav et al (ECMA)

10 Theories of Over-Supply: 2. Borrowing with Negative Externalities on Collateral a)Fire sales b)Location, location, location (3L) effects in real estate Taking theories to the data: Limited Mixed (Mian and Sufi infer fire sale but no 3L, Campbell et al v. versa)

11 Theories of Over-Supply: 3. Deleveraging Slows Recovery If leverage high enough entering shock, then the larger the debt overhang, the larger the rate cut needed for output to stay at potential. Zero bound may bind (Eggertsson and Krugman 2012; also Hall 2011) Taking theories to the data: Mian and Sufi (2011, 2012, 2013) find that drop in demand more pronounced in counties and zips that entered downturn with relatively high leverage

12 Theories of Over-Supply: 4. Systemic Risk via Ratchet Effect Khandani et al (2012): unintentional synchronization of homeowner leverage from rising home prices declining interest rates friction-free refis– and asymmetry therein (can ratchet leverage up but not down) Taking theory to the data: Not much. Bhutta and Keys (2013) find that later extractors more likely to default than early extractors

13 Theories of Over-Supply: 5. Behavioral Consumers Different varieties. Most interesting ones posit a plausible bias re: a.Preferences b.Expectations (over-optimism) c.Attention d.Price perceptions Taking theories/hypotheses to the data: Limited but intriguing evidence – Except for over-optimism, which is 0 for 2 so far

14 Reduced-Form Evidence on the Impacts Question Do proxies for consumer welfare get better or worse as credit supply increases or decreases? Evidence quite mixed, especially if restrict to U.S. studies Even a consensus finding would be difficult to map into theory and policy – Non-linearities – Policy/enforcement asymmetries – Heterogeneity => targeting and screening? – Credit market failures*other market failures?

15 Key Takeaways: Conceptual Theories abound for both over-, under-supply Several classes have elements of both: – credit over-supplied heading into a downturn – then under-supplied during the downturn If these models correct, then which objective should policymakers adopt in calmer times? – Try to reduce frictions, in anticipation of next downturn? – Or assume that frictions will always be severe enough to exacerbate downturns, and introduce frictions to keep leverage form being too high at next downturn?

16 Key Takeaways: Empirical Most classes of theory have some support No class of theory has anything resembling definitive/overwhelming/consensus support Overall lack of evidence on: – Whether markets err – In which direction – When/where/why Humility! Traditional approaches to policymaking will likely do more harm than good in many cases

17 Key Takeaways: Methodological Allow for heterogeneity: seems likely that diagnoses and treatments will vary substantially across product markets – Attract different (behavioral) types of borrowers Interactions between type and opportunity sets may be important – Contracting equilibrium merits scrutiny. One e.g.: More sympathetic to concerns about a market with strong symptoms of shrouded pricing (bank overdrafts) than one where pricing more-transparent (payday) – Collateralized vs. not likely important. Two e.g.: Externalities on collateral assets Bankruptcy rules

18 Key Takeaways: Methodological So what should policymakers do? – I am not advocating a simple hurry up and wait for more research strategy Pilot-testing new regulations and policies, in ways that generate rigorous evidence – More difficult for stabilization policy, more feasible for rulemaking focused on steady-stage – Safe harbors for firms that experiment on policy- relevant margins I.e., more beta-testing, less ready, fire, aim!

19 Finis

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