How much do natural disasters really cost corporate America? — Jean-Noël Barrot and Julien Sauvagnat

MIT Sloan Assistant Professor Jean-Noël Barrot

MIT Sloan Assistant Professor Jean-Noël Barrot

From Fortune

As spring begins in New England after record-setting snowfall this winter, the economic consequences of natural disaster are a common topic of discussion. We know it will have a big impact on New England, but will it affect other parts of the country? If so, who will be affected and how much?

We hear these types of questions a lot following any type of disaster whether it is weather related or not. For instance, the fear of contagion was at the root of the decision of the U.S. government to bailout Chrysler and GM in 2008. Surprisingly, Ford’s CEO Allan Mullaly himself advocated the bailout of his two competitors in front of a U.S. Senate committee, as he recognized that “the collapse of one or both of our domestic competitors would threaten Ford because we have 80% overlap in supplier networks and nearly 25% of Ford’s top dealers also own GM  GM -2.69%  and Chrysler franchises.”

So the key question is: When a shock — like a natural disaster or financial crisis — hits a supplier, what really happens to the firms in that network? Is there a spillover effects? To address this issues, we studied the transmission of shock caused by natural disasters in the past 30 years in the U.S. within the supply chain of publicly traded firms. We analyzed a sample of 2000 large corporations and 4000 of their suppliers.

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Advice for Greece: Don’t let a crisis go to waste — Phil Budden

MIT Sloan Senior Lecturer Phil Budden

MIT Sloan Senior Lecturer Phil Budden

From Fortune

Whether Greece stays in the Eurozone and accepts its bitter medicine or is one day forced to exit the single currency, the country’s future is usually regarded as bleak. Either course seems to promise years of hardship and privation for the Greek people.

From another perspective, though, one could see opportunity for Greece. “Never let a crisis go to waste,” is a quote attributed to Winston Churchill, who knew something about crises. Greece today has a chance to turn adversity into advantage. With change in the air, it will be easier for the country’s institutions, government leaders, and people to abandon some of the failed approaches of the past and to embark in new directions.

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Watch this global market for clues about inflation and interest rates — Kristin Forbes

MIT Sloan Prof. Kristin Forbes

MIT Sloan Prof. Kristin Forbes

From MarketWatch

Trying to predict currency movements is — as they say here in the U.K. — a mug’s game. Any economist, myself included, will tell you it’s virtually impossible to do.

And yet, movements in exchange rates are incredibly important. They affect a country’s competitiveness — influencing everything from export competitiveness to GDP growth. They affect the prices of items coming from abroad, from oil to oranges to iPhones. They make it harder, or easier, to repay foreign debt and they affect earnings on foreign investments.

Currency movements also have big implications for the outlook for inflation. This relationship is known as “pass-through,” because it captures how changes in the exchange rate “pass-through” to import prices and then inflation.

So even if we can’t predict exchange rate movements, we need to understand how exchange rates will affect the economy. And for those of us tasked with setting monetary policy, understanding how currency movements pass-through into inflation is critical to our decision on when to adjust interest rates.

The problem is, much of what we thought we knew about pass-through has not been holding up well.

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Resurrecting Glass-Steagall — Simon Johnson

MIT Sloan Prof. Simon Johnson

MIT Sloan Prof. Simon Johnson

From The New Times

A major shift in American politics has taken place. All three of the remaining mainstream Democratic presidential candidates now agree that the existing state of the financial sector is not satisfactory and that more change is needed. President Barack Obama has long regarded the 2010 Dodd-Frank financial-reform legislation as bringing about sufficient change. Former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, Senator Bernie Sanders, and former Governor Martin O’Malley want to do even more.

The three leading Democratic candidates disagree, however, on whether there should be legislation to re-erect a wall between the rather dull business of ordinary commercial banking and other kinds of finance (such as issuing and trading securities, commonly known as investment banking).

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China’s economic policymakers have to learn to let go if they want to establish credibility — Yasheng Huang

MIT Sloan Prof. Yasheng Huang

MIT Sloan Prof. Yasheng Huang

From South China Morning Post

The ability of the Chinese government to control is undisputed and unparalleled compared with governments in other countries and, indeed, compared with the Chinese state during imperial times. If the stock market does not go up, then prevent it from going down by shutting it down. If too many investors want to cash out their positions at the same time, just charge them with “malicious intent to sell” and arrest them as proverbial chickens to scare off the monkeys.

The problem is that a government so focused on and obsessed with controls is not one that cares about or is particularly good at establishing credibility. A government needs credibility when it tries to convince others to do its bidding without the ability to dictate actions directly.

In his book, The Courage to Act, Ben Bernanke wrote about how US Federal Reserve officials debated and deliberated long and hard about particular words and phrases, and even about the usage of different punctuation marks, in their communiqués with the public.

The reason is that the effectiveness of the Fed does not depend on its ability to arrest people at will but on how it is perceived by market participants – whether it is perceived as being capable, deliberative and above all credible. If the Fed lost the confidence of the market, much of its influence and leverage would evaporate.

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