Roberto Duncan Picks


Assistant Professor
of Economics


A Threshold Model of the US Current Account
(forthcoming in Economic Modelling, 2015) [pdf]


What drives US current account imbalances? Is there solid evidence that the behavior of the current account is different during deficits and surpluses or that the size of the imbalance matters? Is there a threshold relationship between the US current account and its main drivers? We estimate a threshold model to answer these questions using the instrumental variable estimation proposed by Caner and Hansen (2004). Rather than concluding that the size or the sign of (previous) external imbalances matters, we find that time is the most important threshold variable. One regime exists before and another one exists after the third quarter of 1997, a period that coincides with the onset of the Asian financial crisis and the Taxpayer Relief Act of 1997. Statistically significant determinants in the second regime are the fiscal surplus, productivity, productivity volatility, oil prices, the real exchange rate, and the real interest rate. Productivity has become a more important driver since 1997.


Institutional Quality, the Cyclicality of Monetary Policy and Macroeconomic Volatility
(Journal of Macroeconomics, March 2014, 39: 113-155) [pdf]


In contrast to industrialized countries, emerging market economies are characterized by pro- or a-cyclical monetary policies and high output volatility. This paper argues that those facts can be related to a long-run feature of the economy -namely, its institutional quality (IQL). The paper presents evidence that supports the link between an index of IQL (law and order, government stability, investment profile, etc.), and (i) the cyclicality of monetary policy, and (ii) the volatilities of output and the nominal interest rate. In a DSGE model, foreign investors that choose a portfolio of direct investment and lending to domestic agents, face a probability of partial confiscation which works as a proxy that captures IQL. The economy is hit by external shocks to demand for home goods and productivity shocks while its central bank seeks to stabilize inflation and output. In the long run, a lower IQL tends to discourage external liabilities. If there is a positive external demand shock, we observe an increase in output and real appreciation. The latter operates through two opposite channels. First, it directly increases the opportunity cost of leisure generating incentives to expand labor supply. Second, it reduces the real value of the debt denominated in foreign currency which stimulates consumption but contracts the labor supply. If the IQL is low, the economy attracts fewer loans for domestic consumers and shows a lower debt-to-consumption ratio in the steady state. This implies that the reduction of the real value of the debt caused by the real appreciation is smaller. Given this low wealth effect, the real appreciation leads to an expansion of the labor supply. Wages drop and inflation diminishes. The central bank reacts by cutting its policy rate to stabilize inflation and generates a negative comovement between output and the nominal interest rate (pro-cyclical policy). As a corollary, negative correlations between policy rates and output are not necessarily an indicator of destabilizing polices even in the presence of demand shocks.

[Working paper version] [Supplementary Appendix]


Do Good Institutions Promote Countercyclical Macroeconomic Policies?
(with C. Calderón and K. Schmidt-Hebbel; conditionally accepted in OBES)
[Working paper version]


The literature has argued that developing countries are unable to adopt counter-cyclical monetary and fiscal policies due to financial imperfections and unfavorable political-economy conditions. Using a world sample of 115 industrial and developing countries for 1984-2008, we nd that the level of institutional quality plays a key role in countries' ability to implement counter-cyclical macroeconomic policies. The results show that countries with strong (weak) institutions adopt counter- (pro-) cyclical macroeconomic policies, re ected in extended monetary policy and scal policy rules. The threshold level of institutional quality at which monetary and scal policies are a-cyclical is found to be similar.


Simple Models to Understand and Teach Business Cycle Macroeconomics for Emerging Market and Developing Economies
(December 2014, submitted) [pdf]


The canonical neoclassical model is insufficient to understand business cycle fluctuations in emerging market and developing economies (EMDEs). We reformulate the models proposed by Aguiar and Gopinath (2007) and Neumeyer and Perri (2005) in simple settings that can be used to do back-of-the-envelope analysis and teach business cycle macroeconomics for EMDEs at the undergraduate level. The simplified models are employed for qualitatively explaining facts such as the countercyclicality of the trade balance and the real interest rate, and the higher volatility of output, consumption, and real wages compared with those observed in advanced countries. Simple extensions can be used to understand other empirical facts such as large capital outflows and output drops, small government spending multipliers, the cyclical behavior of prices, and the negative association between currency depreciations and output.


Does the US Current Account Show a Symmetric Behavior over the Business Cycle?
(October 2014, submitted) [pdf]


Traditionally, the literature that attempts to explain the link between the current account and output finds a linear negative relationship (e.g., Backus et al., 1995). Using nonparametric regressions, we find a U-shaped relationship between the US current account and the GDP cycle. That is, when output is above (below) its trend, the current account and detrended output are positively (negatively) correlated. This finding is robust to different measures of external imbalances and cyclical components, sample periods, type of estimator, and econometric specifications. With the exceptions of Japan and the United Kingdom, the U-curve is not observed in the rest of G7 countries. We argue that this nonlinearity might be caused by non-variance-preserving productivity shocks or the presence of occasionally binding capacity constraints.


Financial Liberalization, Low World Interest Rates, and Global Imbalances: A Note with a Simple Two-Country Model
(Applied Economics Letters, April 2014, 21(14): 1025-1029) [pdf]


We can understand the role of the liberalization of capital outflows on the global imbalances, the increasing share of US equities in foreign investors' portfolio, and the decline in the world interest rate and the S&P dividend-price ratio, facts observed during the last three decades, when taxes on international assets holdings are reduced in a simple two-country model with costs of portfolio adjustment.