Harrowing Accounts

Kevin Lewis

August 04, 2020

Why Do Borrowers Default on Mortgages? A New Method For Causal Attribution
Peter Ganong & Pascal Noel
NBER Working Paper, July 2020


There are two prevailing theories of borrower default: strategic default -- when debt is too high relative to the value of the house -- and adverse life events -- such that the monthly payment is too high relative to available resources. It has been challenging to test between these theories in part because adverse events are measured with error, possibly leading to attenuation bias. We develop a new method for addressing this measurement error using a comparison group of borrowers with no strategic default motive: borrowers with positive home equity. We implement the method using high-frequency administrative data linking income and mortgage default. Our central finding is that only 3 percent of defaults are caused exclusively by negative equity, much less than previously thought; in other words, adverse events are a necessary condition for 97 percent of mortgage defaults. Although this finding contrasts sharply with predictions from standard models, we show that it can be rationalized in models with a high private cost of mortgage default.

Effects of U.S. Banking Deregulation on Unemployment Dynamics
Bulent Unel
Journal of Macroeconomics, forthcoming


I use state-level banking deregulation in the U.S. to study the causal impact of credit expansion on unemployment through its effects on the average monthly job-finding and job-losing rates. State-level analysis shows that deregulation increased the average job-finding rate and decreased the job-losing rate, and thus led to a lower unemployment rate. I also find that deregulation decreased the average unemployment duration. Extending the analysis to industry-state level, I find that the impact of deregulation on the job-finding rate is positive, but does not show any pattern across industries with respect to their needs for external finance. However, deregulation reduced the average job-losing rate, and the reduction monotonically increases with industries’ dependence on external finance.

Does Increased Access to Home Mortgage Money Reduce Local Crime Rates? Evidence from San Diego County
William Bunting
Regional Science and Urban Economics, forthcoming


This study provides estimates of the impact of increased access to home mortgage credit on local crime rates and uses national home mortgage loan origination volume as an instrument for local home mortgage loan origination volume. The focus of the study is San Diego County from 2007-Q1 to 2013-Q1. The regression estimates indicate that increased access to home mortgage loans during this time period had a statistically significant negative impact on local crime rates: the baseline specification suggests that a ten percentage point increase in the growth in home mortgage loan originations decreases the growth in total crime incidents by approximately 2.75 percentage points. This finding is robust to different model specifications.

The Effect of Foreclosures on Homeowners, Tenants, and Landlords
Rebecca Diamond, Adam Guren & Rose Tan
NBER Working Paper, June 2020


How costly is foreclosure? Estimates of the social cost of foreclosure typically focus on financial costs. Using random judge assignment instrumental variable (IV) and propensity score matching (PSM) approaches in Cook County, Illinois, we find evidence of significant non-pecuniary costs of foreclosure, particularly for foreclosed-upon homeowners. For all homeowners (IV and PSM), foreclosure causes housing instability, reduced homeownership, and financial distress. For marginal homeowners (IV) but not average homeowners (PSM), foreclosure also causes moves to worse neighborhoods and elevated divorce. We show that the difference between IV and PSM is due to treatment effect heterogeneity: marginal homeowners have more to lose than average homeowners. We find similar financial costs for landlords, although the non-financial effects we find for owners are absent. We find few negative effects for renters whose landlord forecloses. The contrast between our results for owners, renters, and landlords implies that the financial costs come from the financial loss while the non-financial costs for owners are due to a combination of eviction and financial loss rather than either individually. Our estimates imply that foreclosure is far more costly than current estimates imply, particularly for marginal cases that are most responsive to foreclosure mitigation policies, and that the costs are disproportionately borne by owners who lose their home.

Payday Lending, Crime and Bankruptcy: Is There a Connection?
James Barth et al.
Journal of Consumer Affairs, forthcoming


The payday lending industry has been the subject of controversy over the years. This is largely due to the high fee structure of payday loans and the view of some that the industry targets economically vulnerable groups. For these reasons, some states prohibit payday lending, while others impose regulatory restrictions on their operations. Despite the prohibitions and restrictions, the industry nonetheless serves a significant segment of the US population. Our purpose is to determine whether in addition to providing loans to individuals, access to payday lenders is associated with less property crime and fewer bankruptcies. Using a unique dataset obtained directly from all state regulatory authorities, we find evidence, contrary to some earlier studies, that the presence of payday lenders may help reduce property crime as well as personal bankruptcies.

Appraising home purchase appraisals
Paul Calem et al.
Real Estate Economics, forthcoming


Home appraisals are produced for millions of residential mortgage transactions each year. In addition to preventing fraudulent transactions, an important benefit of appraisals when they report a value below the contract price is that they help borrowers renegotiate prices with sellers. However, appraised values are rarely below the purchase contract price: Some 30 percent of appraisals in our sample are exactly at the home price (with less than 10 percent of them below it). We construct a simple but intuitive model to explain how appraisers’ incentives within the institutional framework that governs mortgage lending lead to information loss in appraisals (that is, appraisals set equal to the contract price). We also present new empirical findings relevant to the issue of appraisal accuracy, based on analysis of appraisal and contract price data and analysis of mortgage default patterns. One new finding — that the frequency of appraisal equal to contract price increases at the loan‐to‐value boundaries (notches) typical of mortgage pricing schedules — is, in fact, implied by our model. In addition, consistent with information loss or, more broadly, with the view that appraisals often artificially confirm the contract price, we find that mortgages with appraised value equal to the contract price are more likely to default.

Collateral Misreporting in the Residential Mortgage-Backed Security Market
Samuel Kruger & Gonzalo Maturana
Management Science, forthcoming


Securitized mortgage appraisals routinely target pre-specified valuations, 45% of purchase loan appraisals exactly equal purchase prices, and appraisals virtually never fall below purchase prices. As a result, appraisals exceed automated valuation model (AVM) valuations 60% of the time and are 5% higher than AVM valuations on average. High appraisals and indicators of appraisal targeting predict loan delinquency and residential mortgage-backed security (RMBS) losses and are priced at the loan level through higher interest rates, but have essentially no impact on RMBS pricing. Selection bias simulations and unfunded loan application appraisals indicate that high appraisals are intentional. The extent to which appraisals exceed AVM valuations varies across loan officers, mortgage brokers, and appraisers, and high appraisals are associated with more repeat business for appraisers, potentially incentivizing appraisers to inflate their appraisals.

Geographic Diversification and Banks’ Funding Costs
Ross Levine, Chen Lin & Wensi Xie
Management Science, forthcoming


We assess the impact of geographic diversification on a bank’s costs of interest-bearing liabilities. We employ a new identification strategy and discover that geographic expansion across U.S. states lowered funding costs. Consistent with expansion facilitating risk diversification, we find that (1) funding costs fall more when banks expand into states whose economies are less correlated with the banks’ state and (2) geographic diversification reduces the costs of uninsured, but not insured, deposits. Consistent with expansion intensifying agency frictions, which puts upward pressures on funding costs, we discover that geographic diversification reduces the costs of interest-bearing liabilities more in better-monitored and better-run banks.

How Does Firms’ Innovation Disclosure Affect Their Banking Relationships?
Farzad Saidi & Alminas Žaldokas
Management Science, forthcoming


Firms face a trade-off between patenting, thereby disclosing innovation, and secrecy. We show that this trade-off interacts with firms’ financing choices. As a shock to innovation disclosure, we study the American Inventor’s Protection Act that made firms’ patent applications public 18 months after filing, rather than when granted. We find that such increased innovation disclosure helps firms switch lenders, resulting in lower cost of debt, and facilitates their access to syndicated-loan and public capital markets. Our evidence lends support to the idea that public-information provision through patents and private information in financial relationships are substitutes, and that innovation disclosure makes credit markets more contestable.

Betting on the House: Subjective Expectations and Market Choices
Nicolas Bottan & Ricardo Perez-Truglia
NBER Working Paper, June 2020


Home price expectations play a central role in macroeconomics and finance. However, there is little direct evidence on how these expectations affect market choices. We provide the first experimental evidence based on a large-scale, high-stakes field experiment in the United States. We provided information by mail to 57,910 homeowners who recently listed their homes on the market. Collectively, these homes were worth $34 billion dollars. We randomized the information contained in the mailing to create non-deceptive, exogenous variation in the subjects’ home price expectations. We then used rich administrative data to measure the effects of these information shocks on the subject’s market choices. We find that, consistent with economic theory, higher home price expectations caused the subjects to delay selling their homes. These effects are statistically highly significant, economically large in magnitude, and robust to a number of sharp checks. Our results indicate that market choices are highly elastic to expectations: a 1 percentage point increase in home price expectations reduced the probability of selling within six months by 2.45 percentage points. Moreover, we provide evidence that this behavioral elasticity would be even higher if it were not for the presence of optimization frictions.

Bank Networks and Acquisitions
Ross Levine, Chen Lin & Zigan Wang
Management Science, forthcoming


Does the predeal geographic overlap of the branches of two banks affect the probability that they merge, postannouncement stock returns, and postmerger performance? We compile information on U.S. bank acquisitions from 1984 through 2016, construct several measures of network overlap, and design and implement a new identification strategy. We find that greater predeal network overlap (1) increases the likelihood that two banks merge; (2) boosts the cumulative abnormal returns of the acquirer, target, and combined banks; and (3) reduces employment, boosts revenues, reduces the number of branches, improves loan quality, and expedites executive turnover.

Bank Integration and the Market for Corporate Control: Evidence from Cross-State Acquisitions
Kose John, Qianru Qi & Jing Wang
Management Science, July 2020, Pages 3277–3294


Using the staggered and reciprocal passage of interstate bank deregulation as an exogenous variation in the degree of bank integration, we investigate how and why bank integration influences the market for corporate control for nonfinancial firms. We posit that bank integration affects acquisitions either through reducing the information asymmetry between acquirers and targets or through increasing credit supply. Our evidence is more consistent with the former channel. Specifically, we document that (1) cross-state acquisitions are more likely to occur between reciprocally deregulated states, and (2) firms are more likely taken over by out-of-state acquirers after deregulation; this effect is stronger for a target who borrows from an out-of-state bank, whose local bank is acquired by an out-of-state bank, and who is informationally more opaque. Announcement returns for acquirers of out-of-state (particularly private) targets increase after deregulation, consistent with better identification of higher-valued targets by acquirers after deregulation.

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