How do bonus structures affect risk and effort choices? Insight from a lab experiment

Qun Harris, Analise Mercieca, Emma Soane and Misa Tanaka.

The bonus regulations were introduced based on the consensus amongst financial regulators that compensation practices were a contributing factor to the 2008-9 financial crisis. But little is known about how they affect behaviour in practice. So we conducted a lab experiment to examine how different bonus structures affect individuals’ risk and effort choices. We find that restrictions on bonuses, such as a bonus cap, can incentivise people to take less risk. But their risk-mitigating effects weaken or disappear once bonus payment is made conditional on hitting a high performance target. We also find some evidence that bonus cap discourages effort to search for better projects.

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How do firms grow as they age?

Marko Melolinna and Patrick Schneider.

Firm age is a main determinant of firm growth and survival. For example, older firms are likely to be larger and grow more slowly than younger ones (see Audretsch & Mata, 1995; Coad et al, 2013). They are also more likely to survive (see Audretsch & Mahmood, 1995, Manjón-Antolín & Arauzo-Carod, 2008). This is why, in this blog post, we look at how firms’ lifecycles – firms being born, aging and dying – are linked to how firms grow. The results show that, as they age, firms in the United Kingdom grow mainly by employing more people, rather than by generating more turnover per employee. And while firms are on average less likely to die the older they get, the cohort of firms that were born since the financial crisis are more resilient than older firms.

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What goes up must come down: modelling the mortgage cycle

Kristina Bluwstein, Michal Brzoza-Brzezina, Paolo Gelain and Marcin Kolasa.

Mortgages matter. For the individual, borrowing to buy a house can be the biggest debt decision of a lifetime. For the economy, mortgages make up a large fraction of total debt and are a main driver of the financial cycle. Mortgage debt exceeds 80% of UK household debt (see Figure 1), so it is important to understand mortgage market trends, how they link to the macroeconomy and the implications for monetary policy. This post uses a novel model to do just that. In particular, it introduces a rich description of the housing sector into an otherwise standard ‘DSGE’ Model. It focusses on the role of fixed rate mortgages, the mortgage cycle, and how they affect monetary policy transmission.

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Look abroad! Global financial conditions and risks to domestic growth

Fernando Eguren-Martin and Andrej Sokol

What’s the relationship between financial conditions and risks to growth in an economy? And, in a world of highly integrated financial markets, to what extent are these “local” risks rather than reflections of global developments? In this post we offer some tentative answers. Financial conditions, measured across a broad range of asset classes and countries, display an important common component reflecting global developments. Loose financial conditions today increase the likelihood of a growth boom over the following few quarters, but when global financial conditions are loose, they increase the chances of a sharp contraction further ahead, highlighting some of the challenges of managing risks to growth across time from a policy maker’s perspective.

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Does competition help or hinder bank stability in the UK?

Sebastian de-Ramon, Bill Francis and Michael Straughan.

There is a debate in the regulatory and academic community about whether competition is good or bad for bank stability, particularly following the financial crisis (see Chapter 6 of the Independent Commission on Banking final report). The debate tends to be seen as a head-to-head argument between two camps: those that see competition as bad for stability (competition-fragility) versus those that see competition as good (competition-stability). In new research, we look at how competition affects the stability of banks in the UK. We find that competition affects less stable firms differently than more stable firms and that focussing on what happens to the average firm may not be sufficient.

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A question of interest: Is UK household debt unsustainable?

Lewis Kirkham and Stephen Burgess.

UK household debt is high relative to income. But is it “unsustainable”? Some commentators say “it is”; others say “there is no reason to worry”. To investigate, we build a simple model of the economic relationships between household debt, house prices and real interest rates which we believe must hold in the long run. In our model there is no single threshold beyond which debt suddenly becomes unsustainable, but we argue that household debt should be broadly sustainable under any rise in real interest rates of up to about 2 percentage points (pp) from current levels. We also show that falling real interest rates may have contributed around 20-25pp to the rise in the household debt-to-GDP ratio since the 1980s.

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A balancing act: the case for macroprudential margin requirements

Cian O’Neill and Nicholas Vause.

Certain policy actions require a high level of precision to be successful. In a recent paper, we find that using margins on derivative trades as a macroprudential tool would require such precision. Such a policy could force derivative users to hold more liquid assets. This would help them to meet larger margin calls and avoid fire-selling their derivatives, which could affect other market participants by moving prices. We find that perfect calibration of such a policy would completely eliminate this fire-sale externality and achieve the best possible outcome, while simple rules are almost as effective. However, calibration errors in any rule could amplify fire-sales and leave the financial system worse off than if there had been no policy at all.

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Our top five posts of 2018

As the year draws to a close and the blog prepares for a couple of weeks’ downtime over the festive period, we recap on the five most viewed posts for the year.  They span a wide range of topics including the reason for weak productivity growth, the macroeconomic effects of demographic change, what steeper yield curves mean for bank profitability, the future prospects for digital currencies, and drivers of consumer credit growth.

If you missed any of them first time round, this is a good chance to catch up on the posts that your fellow readers liked (or at least read) the most:

  1. The seven deadly paradoxes of cryptocurrency
  2. Population ageing and the macroeconomy
  3. Is a steeper yield curve good news for banks? A challenge to conventional wisdom
  4. The UK’s productivity puzzle is in the top tail of distribution
  5. Who’s driving consumer credit growth

We hope you enjoyed the blog in 2018. Happy Christmas and we look forward to you reading our posts in 2019!

John Lewis, Managing Editor

Simply is best: enhancing trust and understanding of central banks through better communications

David Bholat, Nida Broughton, Janna Ter Meer and Eryk Walczak

Clear communications are important for central banks at a time when their responsibilities have increased but trust in public institutions has declined. Using an online experiment with a representative sample of the UK population, our recent paper measured how differently styled summaries of the Inflation Report impacted public comprehension and trust in its policy messages. We find that a new ‘Visual Summary’ of the Inflation Report, which makes use of graphics and simpler language, increases understanding of policy messages. And making more changes using insights from behavioural science can further increase public understanding. These changes also somewhat increase people’s trust in the information.    Continue reading “Simply is best: enhancing trust and understanding of central banks through better communications”