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Economic Review

Economic Review
C O N T E N T S
First Quarter 2002/Volume 87, Number 1

Economic Review articles are posted on the Web as they become available. Page numbers in the PDF file posted here may not reflect the page numbers of the printed version.

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PRESIDENT
JACK GUYNN

SENIOR VICE PRESIDENT AND
DIRECTOR OF RESEARCH

ROBERT A. EISENBEIS

RESEARCH DEPARTMENT
THOMAS J. CUNNINGHAM
Vice President and
Associate Director of Research

GERALD P. DWYER JR.
Vice President, Financial

JOHN C. ROBERTSON
Assistant Vice President, Regional

ELLIS W. TALLMAN
Assistant Vice President, Macropolicy

PUBLIC AFFAIRS
BOBBIE H. MCCRACKIN
Vice President

LYNN H. FOLEY
Editor

NANCY PEVEY
Managing Editor

CAROLE L. STARKEY,
PETER HAMILTON, AND JILL DIBLE
Designers

ALISON BOUNDS
Marketing and Circulation

CHARLOTTE WESSELS
Administrative Assistance

The Economic Review of the Federal Reserve Bank of Atlanta, published quarterly, presents analysis of economic and financial topics relevant to Federal Reserve policy. In a format accessible to the nonspecialist, the publication reflects the work of the Research Department. It is edited, designed, produced, and distributed through the Public Affairs Department.

Views expressed in the Economic Review are not necessarily those of this Bank or of the Federal Reserve System.

Material may be reprinted or abstracted if the Review and author are credited. Please provide the Bank's Public Affairs Department with a copy of any publication containing reprinted material.

Free subscriptions and limited additional copies are available from the Public Affairs Department, Federal Reserve Bank of Atlanta, 1000 Peachtree Street, N.E., Atlanta, Georgia 30309-4470 (404/498-8020). Internet: http://www.frbatlanta.org. Change-of-address notices and subscription cancellations should be sent directly to the Public Affairs Department. Please include the current mailing label as well as any new information.

ISSN 0732-1813

Reforming Deposit Insurance and FDICIA
Robert A. Eisenbeis and Larry D. Wall
Current discussions about deposit insurance reform center on issues such as the size of insurance premiums, the size of the fund, and the size of the coverage limits—all issues that reflect a concern with how to allocate the losses arising from bank failures. The authors of this article argue that such issues, while important, do not affect the performance of the deposit insurance system nor should they be the focus of deposit insurance reform. They suggest that reform efforts should be directed toward strengthening the incentives to enforce the least cost resolution provisions of the Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation Improvement Act of 1991 (FDICIA).

The authors make the case that the large losses the FDIC has borne with some bank failures were due to supervisory forbearance. They suggest that a useful step forward would be to carry out FDICIA’s mandate to develop and implement market value—type disclosures of the value of banks’ assets and liabilities. Increasing the transparency of bank risk taking, as academics have long argued, would improve regulators’ ability to monitor bank risk exposure. These reforms, combined with a different approach to risk-based premiums and measures to strengthen market discipline, such as expanded use of subordinated debt, merit further consideration as potential partial solutions to the problem of implementing FDICIA.


The Effect of Immigration on Output Mix, Capital, and Productivity
Myriam Quispe-Agnoli and Madeline Zavodny

The growing influx of immigrants into the United States has prompted concerns about potential negative effects on native workers, especially the less skilled. Such concerns have not been borne out by many studies of the effect of immigration on wages. However, the typical theoretical negative effect of immigration flows on wages may be offset by changes in other aspects of the economy, including output mix, productivity, and capital.

This article examines the relationship between immigration and three factors—output mix, labor productivity, and capital—in the skilled and unskilled sectors in the U.S. manufacturing sector at the state level. The authors develop a simple two-sector model of the effect of immigration on these three factors. The authors then test the model’s predictions using data from the 1982 and 1992 Census of Manufactures and other sources.

The results indicate that immigration-induced changes in labor supply caused labor productivity in both the low- and high-skilled sectors to increase more slowly in states that attracted a larger share of immigrants during the 1980s than in other states. This slower growth may result from the gradual assimilation process many immigrants undergo as they acquire language skills and familiarity with U.S. institutions, the authors believe, and they call for further study of immigration’s longer-term effects on productivity.

Financing Housing through Government-Sponsored Enterprises
W. Scott Frame and Larry D. Wall

Three government-sponsored enterprises (GSEs)—Fannie Mae, Freddie Mac, and the Federal Home Loan Bank System—were created to improve the availability of home mortgage financing by supplementing local funding. But today’s more evolved financial markets enable retail lenders to tap national markets. Thus, the main contribution of the three housing GSEs has become providing homebuyers an interest rate subsidy that is made possible by the GSEs’ special relationship with the federal government.

This article examines the economic issues arising from the provision of such subsidies via the housing GSEs. The authors first review the benefits and costs of subsidizing housing finance and then provide background information about the housing GSEs and their relationship to the federal government. The GSEs’ importance to the financial markets, coupled with their special relationship with the government, raises concerns about the potential for moral hazard and the problems that would arise if a housing GSE became financially distressed or insolvent.

The discussion then focuses on two public policy debates that have been sparked by this special relationship. The first is whether the housing GSEs are efficient mechanisms for subsidizing housing. The second relates to the housing GSEs’ safety and soundness and questions whether implicit guarantees of their liabilities are the best way to subsidize them.


Fannie Mae’s and Freddie Mac’s Voluntary Initiatives: Lessons from Banking
W. Scott Frame and Larry D. Wall

The federal government has an interest in the financial stability of Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac because of their importance to financial markets and the government’s implicit guarantee of their liabilities.

In October 2000 these two housing government-sponsored enterprises (GSEs) announced six voluntary initiatives. One initiative would enhance market discipline by having the GSEs issue subordinated debt. A second would boost liquidity by having the GSEs maintain a liquid securities portfolio. The other four initiatives would increase transparency by having the GSEs disclose their credit and interest rate losses under certain scenarios, obtain a credit rating for the government’s exposure to loss, and disclose whether the GSEs comply with certain capital adequacy standards.

This article evaluates the initiatives from the perspective of current banking standards. The analysis suggests that the initiatives are beneficial but could be made more effective. The authors point out that the contribution of the subordinated debt initiative depends largely on whether investors believe the implicit guarantee extends to subordinated debtholders. The need for the liquidity initiative has not been established, the authors conclude, and can be criticized as allowing the GSEs to earn a credit spread. The most important of the disclosure initiatives, the one for interest rate risk, will provide some new information but could be more informative if it summarized a wider set of interest rate scenarios.