Many UK firms weathered the Covid shock by taking on debt. Small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs) in particular borrowed at an unprecedented rate and their debt increased by around a quarter since end-2019. But debt that allowed SMEs to survive the pandemic could now hamper the recovery as indebted firms may struggle to invest and grow. Debt on SMEs’ balance sheets could also make firms more vulnerable to future shocks and could amplify downturns if indebted firms reduce investment more following shocks. To understand how investment might evolve, our recent FS paper examines how leverage affected SME investment during and after the Global Financial Crisis (GFC) and discusses potential differences given regulatory and other changes since the GFC.
There is ample evidence that a monetary policy tightening triggers a decline in consumer price inflation and a simultaneous contraction in investment and consumption (eg Erceg and Levin (2006) and Monacelli (2009)). However, in a standard two-sector New Keynesian model, consumption falls while investment increases in response to a monetary policy tightening. In a new paper, we propose a solution to this problem, known as the ‘comovement puzzle’. Guided by new empirical evidence on the relevance of frictions in credit provision, we show that adding these frictions to the standard model resolves the comovement puzzle. This has important policy implications because the degree of comovement between consumption and investment matters for the effectiveness of monetary policy.
Matteo Benetton, Philippe Bracke, João F Cocco and Nicola Garbarino
Academics have made the case for mortgage products with equity features, so that gains and losses due to fluctuations in house values are shared between the household and an outside investor. In theory, the equity component expands the set of affordable properties, without increasing household debt, and default risk. These products have not become mainstream, but in a recent paper, we study a large UK experiment with equity-based housing finance — the Help To Buy Equity Loan scheme. We find that equity loans are mainly used to overcome credit constraints, rather than to reduce investment risk. Unconstrained household prefer mortgage debt over equity loans, suggesting optimism about house price risk. Equity loans could still contribute to house price inflation: we don’t find evidence that houses purchased with equity loans are overpriced, but an assessment of the aggregate effects is beyond the scope of the paper.
Firms are increasingly investing in automation, substituting capital for labour, as workers become more scarce and costly. We are seeing multiple examples, from automation in food processing to increasingly-common self-service tills. This push for productivity growth is one of the key themes from our meetings with businesses in the past year, which we think suggests a reversal of a decade-long trend.
Apocalypse Now is widely regarded as a masterpiece of the new Hollywood era. Director Francis Ford Coppola displayed audacious vision and a willingness to take risks. But we don’t just mean artistic risk. Mr Coppola gambled financially too: he staked his Napa Valley house and vineyard on the film, pledging it order to get the $32 million in loans necessary to keep the production on the road. While his movie was exceptional, there is nothing unusual about Mr Coppola’s financial strategy. Small business owners worldwide use their personal assets, and often their house, to back loans to their firms: in a new paper, we use microdata for several thousand firms to show how important this can be for UK investment.
Since the financial crisis the UK has experienced a period of weak productivity growth, weak investment coupled with a decline in credit to non-financial sectors of the economy. But there is debate about the direction of causality: did low growth and other structural factors mean firms and households wanted to borrow less – as argued by Martin Wolf? Or did the financial sector offer too few funds to the real economy in the wake of the crisis as banks tried to repair their balance sheets. Alternatively, the financial system may not be functioning properly in general, if much of the financial sector’s activity contributes little to the betterment of lives and efficiency of business – a point made by John Kay.
The internet’s share of UK retail sales is – at 12% – the highest in the developed world. In my daily conversations with businesses and services, I find that some sectors are responding much more nimbly to the competition from internet retailers than others. In this blog I argue that the growing share of internet retailing is likely to reduce business investment, especially in buildings, but the additional capacity associated with internet retailing is likely to be a drag on retailers’ profitability that may last for many years. In my view the long-term effect on capital productivity should be positive, but the effects on labour productivity are less obvious and may be adverse.