Who took out mortgage payment holidays during the pandemic?

Georgina Green

The take-up of mortgage payment holidays in the UK during the Covid-19 pandemic was extraordinary: according to UK Finance, holidays granted reached a peak of 1.9 million during the pandemic, or roughly one in six mortgages. But which households benefited from the scheme? In this post I use rich UK household survey data to conduct an in-depth analysis of the distribution of the debt-relief scheme at an individual level. I find that borrowers struggling to keep up with payments during Covid applied for a holiday, suggesting the scheme played an important role in preventing a sharp rise in defaults. There is also evidence that some households may have taken them as insurance against future shocks, possibly dampening precautionary spending cuts.

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Measuring business dynamics in real time

Thibaut Duprey, Artur Kotlicki, Daniel Rigobon and Philip Schnattinger

Just as doctors monitor in real time the vital signs of their hospitalised patients to determine the best course of treatment, economists are turning towards a real-time tracking of economic conditions to inform policy decisions (for example, through proxy for GDP and inflation). In a recent paper, we introduce a new quasi-real time estimation of business opening and closure rates using data from Google Places – the dataset behind the Google Maps service. We find that the lifting of COVID-19 restrictions in Canada coincides with a wave of re-entry of temporarily closed businesses, suggesting that government support may have facilitated the survival of hibernating businesses.

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Booming entrepreneurship during the Covid-19 pandemic

Saleem Bahaj, Sophie Piton and Anthony Savagar

Recessions typically discourage entrepreneurs from starting new businesses. During the Great Recession, a ‘generation’ of start-ups went missing which contributed to a slow recovery in employment.  Two years after the pandemic started, evidence for the UK suggests a very different story: the pandemic inspired many entrepreneurs to start new businesses and this supported the recovery in employment.

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An unintended consequence of holding dollar assets

Robert Czech, Shiyang Huang, Dong Lou and Tianyu Wang

During the March 2020 ‘dash for cash’, 10-year gilt yields increased by more than 50 basis points. This huge yield spike was accompanied by the heavy selling of gilts by mutual funds and insurance companies and pension funds (ICPFs). Focusing on the latter group, we argue in a recent paper that ICPFs’ abnormal trading behaviour in this period was partly a result of the dollar’s global dominance: ICPFs invest a large portion of their capital in dollar assets and hedge these exposures through foreign exchange (FX) derivatives. As the dollar appreciated in March 2020, ICPFs sold large quantities of gilts to meet margin calls on their short-dollar derivative positions, contributing to the yield spike in the gilt market.

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(Some of) The macroeconomics of working from home

John Lewis

Increased working from home (WFH) for public health reasons during the pandemic has spawned a debate about whether this shift might become permanent. In this post, I try to sketch out some of the (macro) economics of a longer-run post-pandemic shift towards more WFH. I argue that: i) on consumption, it won’t affect aggregate expenditure, it will just reallocate it across space and sectors ii) in property markets, effects hinge on supply responses; iii) for output, cost-savings to firms from cutting back office space don’t translate one-for-one into GDP gains.

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Did the Covid-19 local lockdowns reduce business activity in the UK?

James Hurley and Danny Walker

In 2020 governments around the world responded to Covid-19 (Covid) by introducing lockdown measures that were designed to slow the spread of the virus. Business activity fell materially. But it is difficult to isolate the impact of the local lockdown measures on business activity, given that business activity was affected by other factors such as voluntary social distancing at the same time. In this post we compare UK small and medium enterprises (SMEs) located close to the borders of – but not within – local lockdowns with similar businesses just inside, and conclude that the local lockdown measures causally reduced turnover growth by 8 percentage points relative to businesses outside of the lockdowns, driven by restaurants and non-food retail. Average turnover growth over the period was around -20%, which implies that the lockdowns accounted for only two fifths of the overall drop in business activity at most.

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I need a dollar, dollar, a dollar is what I need

Ambrogio Cesa-Bianchi and Fernando Eguren-Martin


In March 2020, the Covid-19 (Covid) outbreak turned the world upside down. With economies virtually shut, financial markets were an exception and remained open. However, it was not business as usual for them: the increased need to meet immediate obligations, and a more generalised increase in risk aversion, led investors to liquidate positions in favour of hard old cash. In a recent Staff Working Paper we pose that investors did not seek any type of cash but rather that the world witnessed a ‘dash for dollars’. We show that the resulting race for dollars went beyond exchange rate markets and led to selling pressure on dollar bonds in corporate bond markets, which experienced particularly large increases in spreads.

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Does corporate leverage amplify economic downturns? A dive into the literature

Sudipto Karmakar, Alexandra Varadi and Sarah Venables

This post reviews the literature on the consequences of debt for corporate and macroeconomic outcomes, drawing both on the pandemic period and on previous financial crises. Lessons from previous crises show that high leverage can amplify corporate risks and economic downturns by: increasing reliance on external financing that may dry up in stress; through debt overhang problems; or by increasing linkages between corporates and other sectors of the economy. Corporate debt may also be correlated with negative outcomes in the pandemic as well, but it is still early to draw direct conclusions.

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What do two million accounts tell us about the impact of Covid-19 on small businesses?

James Hurley, Sudipto Karmakar, Elena Markoska, Eryk Walczak and Danny Walker

Compass on old map

This post is the second of a series of posts about the Covid-19 pandemic and its impact on business activity.

Covid-19 led to a sharp reduction in economic activity in the UK. As the shock was playing out, small and medium-sized businesses (SMEs) were expected to be more exposed than larger businesses. But until now, we have not had the data to analyse the impact on SMEs. In a recent Staff Working Paper we use a new data set containing monthly information on the current accounts of two million UK SMEs. We show that the average SME saw a very large drop in turnover growth and that the crisis played out very differently for different types of SMEs. The youngest SMEs in consumer-facing sectors in Scotland and London were hit hardest.

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Covid-19 briefing: working from home and worker productivity

John Lewis, Andrea Šiško and Misa Tanaka

The Covid pandemic has led to a large enforced shift towards working from home (WFH) as a result of ‘stay-at-home’ policies in many countries. This led to a resurgence in interest in, and new reignited discussion about, the consequences of greater WFH. In this briefing we review the literature on the impact of WFH on productivity. Across a very diverse literature the key lessons are: impacts depend on the nature of tasks, the share of WFH matters, and there is big difference between enforced versus voluntary WFH. And the caveats are important too: cost savings at the firm level don’t automatically translate into economy-wide productivity gains and evidence on long-run effects remains very scarce.

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