- Credit card debt puzzles (2005)
- Most US credit card holders revolve high-interest debt, often combined with substantial (i) asset accumulation by retirement, and (ii) low-rate liquid assets. Hyperbolic discounting can resolve only the former puzzle (Laibson et al., 2003). Bertaut and Haliassos (2002) proposed an 'accountant-shopper' framework for the latter. The current paper builds, solves, and simulates a fully-specified accountant-shopper model, to show that this framework can actually generate both types of co-existence, as well as target credit card utilization rates consistent with Gross and Souleles (2002). The benchmark model is compared to setups without self-control problems, with alternative mechanisms, and with impatient but fully rational shoppers. Klassifikation: E210, G110
- Credit cards: facts and theories (2006)
- We use data from several waves of the Survey of Consumer Finances to document credit and debit card ownership and use across US demographic groups. We then present recent theoretical and empirical contributions to the study of credit and debit card behavior. Utilization rates of credit lines and portfolios of card holders present several puzzles. Credit line increases initiated by banks lead households to restore previous utilization rates. High-interest credit card debt co-exists with substantial holdings of low-interest liquid assets and with accumulation of retirement assets. Although available evidence disputes ignorance of credit card terms by card holders, redit card rates do not respond to competition. There is a rising trend in bankruptcy and delinquency, partly attributable to an increased tendency of households to declare bankruptcy associated with reduced social stigma, ease of procedures, and financial incentives. Co-existence of credit card debt with retirement assets can be explained through self-control hyperbolic discounting. Strategic default motives contribute partly to observed co-existence of credit card debt with low-interest liquid assets. A framework of “accountant-shopper” households, in which a rational accountant tries to control an impulsive shopper, seems consistent with both types of co-existence and with observed utilization of credit lines. JEL Classification: G11, E21
- Differences in portfolios across countries: economic environment versus household characteristics : [Version 23 November 2011] (2014)
- We document and study international differences in both ownership and holdings of stocks, private businesses, homes, and mortgages among households aged fifty or more in thirteen countries, using new and comparable survey data. We employ counterfactual techniques to decompose observed differences across the Atlantic, within the US, and within Europe into those arising from differences in population characteristics and differences in economic environments. We then correlate the latter differences to country-level indicators. Ownership across the range of the assets considered tends to be more widespread among US households. We document that shortly prior to the current crisis, US households tended to invest larger amounts in stocks and smaller ones in homes, and to have larger mortgages in older age, even controlling for characteristics. This is consistent with the high prevalence of negative equity associated with the current crisis. More generally, we find that differences in household characteristics often play a small role, while differences in economic environments tend to explain most of the observed differences in ownership rates and in amounts held. The latter differences are much more pronounced among European countries than among US regions, suggesting further potential for harmonization of policies and institutions.
- Does product familiarity matter for participation? : [Version 23 July 2014] (2014)
- Regulation of investor access to financial products is often based on product familiarity indicated by previous use. The underlying premise that lack of familiarity with a product class causes unwarranted participation is difficult to test. This paper uses household-level data from the ‘experiment’ of German reunification that (exogenously) offered to East Germans access to capitalist products (exogenously) unfamiliar to them. We compare the evolution of post-unification participation of former East and West Germans in financial products, controlling for relevant household characteristics. We vary familiarity differentials by considering (i) both unfamiliar ‘capitalist’ products (stocks, bonds, and consumer credit) and ones available in the East (savings accounts and life insurance); and (ii) cohorts with different exposure to capitalism. We find that East Germans participated immediately in unfamiliar risky securities, at rates comparable to West Germans of similar characteristics. They phased out disproportionate participation in previously familiar assets as familiarity with capitalist products grew. They were more likely to use consumer debt, partly to catch up with richer new peers. We find no signs of abrupt participation drops that could suggest mistakes or regret related to lack of familiarity.
- Economic integration and mature portfolios (2008)
- This paper documents and studies sources of international differences in participation and holdings in stocks, private businesses, and homes among households aged 50+ in the US, England, and eleven continental European countries, using new internationally comparable, household-level data. With greater integration of asset and labor markets and policies, households of given characteristics should be holding more similar portfolios for old age. We decompose observed differences across the Atlantic, within the US, and within Europe into those arising from differences: a) in the distribution of characteristics and b) in the influence of given characteristics. We find that US households are generally more likely to own these assets than their European counterparts. However, European asset owners tend to hold smaller real, PPP-adjusted amounts in stocks and larger in private businesses and primary residence than US owners at comparable points in the distribution of holdings, even controlling for differences in configuration of characteristics. Differences in characteristics often play minimal or no role. Differences in market conditions are much more pronounced among European countries than among US regions, suggesting significant potential for further integration.
- Equity culture and the distribution of wealth (2005)
- Wider participation in stockholding is often presumed to reduce wealth inequality. We measure and decompose changes in US wealth inequality between 1989 and 2001, a period of considerable spread of equity culture. Inequality in equity wealth is found to be important for net wealth inequality, despite equity's limited share. Our findings show that reduced wealth inequality is not a necessary outcome of the spread of equity culture. We estimate contributions of stockholder characteristics to levels and inequality in equity holdings, and we distinguish changes in configuration of the stockholder pool from changes in the influence of given characteristics. Our estimates imply that both the 1989 and the 2001 stockholder pools would have produced higher equity holdings in 1998 than were actually observed for 1998 stockholders. This arises from differences both in optimal holdings and in financial attitudes and practices, suggesting a dilution effect of the boom followed by a cleansing effect of the downturn. Cumulative gains and losses in stockholding are shown to be significantly influenced by length of household investment horizon and portfolio breadth but, controlling for those, use of professional advice is either insignificant or counterproductive. JEL Classification: E21, G11
- Equity culture and the distribution of wealth (2013)
- Is wider access to stockholding opportunities related to reduced wealth inequality, given that it creates challenges for small and less sophisticated investors? Counterfactual analysis is used to study the influence of changes in the US stockholder pool and economic environment, on the distribution of stock and net household wealth during a period of dramatic increase in stock market participation. We uncover substantial shifts in stockholder pool composition, favoring smaller holdings during the 1990s upswing but larger holdings around the burst of the Internet bubble. We find no evidence that widening access to stocks was associated with reduced net wealth inequality.
- Financial advisors: a case of babysitters? (2009)
- We merge administrative information from a large German discount brokerage firm with regional data to examine if financial advisors improve portfolio performance. Our data track accounts of 32,751 randomly selected individual customers over 66 months and allow direct comparison of performance across self-managed accounts and accounts run by, or in consultation with, independent financial advisors. In contrast to the picture painted by simple descriptive statistics, econometric analysis that corrects for the endogeneity of the choice of having a financial advisor suggests that advisors are associated with lower total and excess account returns, higher portfolio risk and probabilities of losses, and higher trading frequency and portfolio turnover relative to what account owners of given characteristics tend to achieve on their own. Regression analysis of who uses an IFA suggests that IFAs are matched with richer, older investors rather than with poorer, younger ones.
- Household debt and social interactions : [Version 1 März 2012] (2012)
- Debt-induced crises, including the subprime, are usually attributed exclusively to supply-side factors. We examine the role of social influences on debt culture, emanating from perceived average income of peers. Utilizing unique information from a household survey representative of the Dutch population, that circumvents the issue of defining the social circle, we consider collateralized, consumer, and informal loans. We find robust social effects on borrowing, especially among those who consider themselves poorer than their peers; and on indebtedness, suggesting a link to financial distress. We employ a number of approaches to rule out spurious associations and to handle correlated effects.