The Economic Logic blog by guest posters

Monday, January 20, 2014

A solution to sovereign debt dilution

Contributed by H. Economicus

When a country like Greece gets close to a situation where it cannot pay interest on some of its debt, it sometimes gets a new loan to stay liquid. Current bondholder may rejoice about the interest payout, but they may worry about the increased likelihood of a haircut on their bonds, as the difficulties of Greece have only compounded. Imagine the same scenario with the roll-over of some matured bonds. Because of the increased risk and interest rate, Greece needs to borrow a lot just to roll over. This satisfies the lucky bondholder who just got their money, but this dilutes the bonds of the other bond holders. And if a haircut needs to apply to Greek debt, it is applies uniformly across all maturities, while clearly the risk different maturities were facing were clearly different. A political decision, whether to apply a haircut or go for another loan, has thus important and redistributive consequences for bond holders. One can do better.

Satyajit Chatterjee and Burcu Eyigungor propose that sovereign debt should be subject to explicit seniority rules. One could imagine one that gives more seniority to older maturities, which would mean that the value of a bond increases with time as risk dissipates through successive roll-over rounds. This reduces the risk of dilution and of default, as now the sovereign has to take into account the high cost of raising funds with low seniority. For the case of Argentina, Chatterjee and Eyigungor show that this reduces the risk of default by a whooping 40%, reduces the interest spread by 42% and only slightly increases debt. But for this to work efficiently, it requires that settlement is immediate and costless, which is unfortunately unlikely for sovereign deb where political haggling is the norm.

Wednesday, January 15, 2014

Appropriate Aid Subsidy Levels

Contributed by Jason Vrooman

Preventative products and treatments for diseases have large social benefits, decreasing illness and helping people to live healthier lives. Programs that provide subsidies to such products are a great boon to promoting better health, especially in areas where affordability is an issue. The way this is usually done is to provide the highest subsidy rates possible. Unfortunately, such programs are very expensive to implement, requiring money being spent in the most efficient means possible.

Jessica Cohen, Pascaline Dupas and Simone Schaner gather and analyze data in Kenya on artemisinin combination therapies (ACTs) subsidies, used to treat malaria, to test whether changing the level of subsidies affects levels of over treatment. Testing a range of subsidies (92 to 80 percent), they find that the rate of malaria positive patients increases from 56 percent to 75, without significant drops in accessibility between the highest rate and the lowest. This result runs counter-intuitive to the idea that the best way to combat disease is to provide drugs at the highest subsidy levels possible. They also tested the effect of providing a highly subsidized over-the-counter rapid diagnostic test (RDT), finding that it increased the rate at which illness is tested for malaria, but compliance rates with negative results were only about 50 percent. They attribute this to possible lack of faith in the RDTs, believing that in the long run compliance rates would increase. This result shows just how important it can be to understand the local environment before doing any aid work.

Tuesday, January 7, 2014

Are homeowners delusional about the value of their home?

Contributed by H. Economicus.

The recent housing bubble in the US, and others elsewhere before, make you believe that market participants on the real estate markets lack some rationality. While it is true that bubbles can happen even with rational economic agents, this does not exclude the possibility that particularly homeowners may get fooled at least temporarily about the potential value of their home.

Alice Henriques shows that homeowners are quite delusional. When house prices decline as evidenced by some price indexes, they make on average a rather accurate estimate of the change in value of their home, they err only slightly on the optimistic side. But when house prices are booming, their estimates are way off. While CoreLogic reported an increase of 170%, the self-declared values in the Survey of Consumer Finances increased by 200%. This also shows that some results from this survey need to be taken with a grain of salt, as there seems to be some systematic bias.