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Open Access Publications from the University of California

Nominal Rigidities and Finance

  • Author(s): Weber, Michael
  • Advisor(s): Lettau, Martin
  • et al.

Are prices sticky? This simple question has been at the cornerstone of heated discussions in macroeconomics for several decades. Price rigidities can potentially be an amplifying force for business cycle fluctuations and are the leading explanation for the effectiveness of monetary policy to stimulate the real side of the economy. Large-scale micro pricing datasets unambiguously show that prices at the micro level indeed adjust infrequently. This finding has moved the discussion about the existence of price stickiness to the question of whether or not they matter for the real economy. In my dissertation, I first address this question using information in the stock market valuation of firms. I then use information on the price stickiness of individual firms to better understand firms' exposure to systematic risk and the cross section of stock returns.

In the first chapter of my dissertation which is co-authored with Yuriy Gorodnichenko, I investigate whether sticky prices are costly and burden firms. A central tenet of New Keynesian models is that firms face costs of price adjustments or other rigidities that hinder them from adjusting output prices once hit by nominal or real shocks. Models in the tradition of the New Monetarist search literature instead suggest that sticky prices are an equilibrium outcome. These models generate sticky prices at the micro level even though firms could adjust prices at each instant in time without any costs. Both classes of models have vastly different implications for policy and business cycles. The key insight of this chapter is that sticky price firms should have a larger responsiveness of profits, returns, and volatilities to nominal or real shocks compared to flexible price firms in New Keynesian models, while New Monetarist search models predict an equal reaction across firms with different price stickiness. I show that after monetary policy announcements, the conditional volatility of stock market returns rises more for firms with stickier prices than for firms with more flexible prices. This differential reaction is economically large as well as strikingly robust to a broad array of checks. These results suggest that menu costs -- broadly defined to include physical costs of price adjustment, informational frictions, etc. -- are an important factor for nominal price rigidity. I also show that my empirical results are qualitatively and, under plausible calibrations, quantitatively consistent with New Keynesian macroeconomic models in which firms have heterogeneous price stickiness. Since the framework is valid for a wide variety of theoretical models and frictions preventing firms from price adjustment, I provide "model-free" evidence that sticky prices are indeed costly for firms. My findings provide support for workhorse models with sticky prices at policy institutions and imply that nominal rigidities are a central force for the real effects of monetary policy.

The second chapter examines the asset-pricing implications of nominal rigidities. I find that firms that adjust their product prices infrequently earn a cross-sectional return premium of more than 4% per year. Merging confidential product price data at the firm level with stock returns, I document that the premium for sticky-price firms is a robust feature of the data and is not driven by other firm and industry characteristics. The consumption-wealth ratio is a strong predictor of the return differential in the time series, and differential exposure to systematic risk fully explains the premium in the cross section. The sticky-price portfolio has a conditional market beta of 1.3, which is 0.4 higher than the beta of the flexible-price portfolio. The frequency of price adjustment is therefore a strong determinant of the cross section of stock returns. To rationalize these facts, I develop a multi-sector production-based asset-pricing model with sectors differing in their frequency of price adjustment. My results show that nominal rigidities are not only central in macroeconomics for business cycle fluctuations and the real effects of nominal shocks but are also a strong determinant of the cross section of stock returns. To the extent that firms equalize the costs and benefits of price adjustment the higher cost of capital for firms with stickier prices can provide a holistic measure for the cost of price adjustment.

My dissertation shows that price rigidities explain both business-cycle dynamics in aggregate quantities and cross-sectional variation in stock returns, and further bridge macroeconomics and finance.

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