By Henrik Jensen, Ivan Petrella, Søren Hove Ravn and Emiliano Santoro
We document that the U.S. economy has been characterized by an increasingly negative business cycle asymmetry over the last three decades. This finding can be explained by the concurrent increase in the financial leverage of households and firms. To support this view, we devise and estimate a dynamic general equilibrium model with collateralized borrowing and occasionally binding credit constraints. Higher leverage increases the likelihood that constraints become slack in the face of expansionary shocks, while contractionary shocks are further amplified due to binding constraints. As a result, booms become progressively smoother and more prolonged than busts. We are therefore able to reconcile a more negatively skewed business cycle with the Great Moderation in cyclical volatility. Finally, in line with recent empirical evidence, financially-driven expansions lead to deeper contractions, as compared with equally-sized non-financial expansions.
The fact that increasing financial leverage can explain the Great Moderation and the last recession is nothing new. The fact that it could explain the strong asymmetry between the sharp drop ten years ago and the slow recovery since is, however, new. By now, it should be clear that models relying on symmetry around a steady-state can be shelved for good.