Bridging the knowledge gap on governments as financial institutions – Deborah Lucas

MIT Sloan Prof. Deborah Lucas

Ask most finance experts about the “world’s largest financial institutions,” and you’ll hear names like Citigroup, ICBC (China’s largest bank) and HSBC. However, governments top the list of large financial institutions, with investment and insurance operations that dwarf those of any private enterprise. For instance, last year the U.S. federal government made almost all student loans and backed over 97% of newly originated mortgages. Add to that Uncle Sam’s lending activities for agriculture, small business, energy and trade, plus its provision of insurance for private pensions and deposits, and you’ll discover it’s an $18-trillion financial institution. By comparison, JP Morgan Chase, the largest U.S. bank, had assets totaling about $2.4 trillion.

While government practices differ across countries, the basic story is much the same everywhere. As the world’s largest and most interconnected financial institutions — and through their activities as rule-makers and regulators — governments have an enormous influence on the allocation of capital and risk in society. And as financial actors they are confronted with the same critical issues as their private-sector peers: How should a government assess its cost of capital? How should its financial activities be accounted for? What are the systemic and macroeconomic effects? Are the institutions well-managed? Are its financial products well-designed?

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Is bitcoin a viable currency? It’s probably too volatile — Jonathan Parker

MIT Sloan Professor Jonathan Parker

MIT Sloan Professor Jonathan Parker

From The San Francisco Chronicle

While bitcoin remains a hot-button issue, most of the talk has centered on the technology of this virtual currency. There are lots of questions: Is bitcoin really secure? Is it truly anonymous? Can it be counterfeited? Are transaction costs actually lower?

I have a more fundamental question: Is bitcoin a viable currency?

My answer is no, and not just because of the wild fluctuations in the value but because these fluctuations are destined to continue. A good currency serves three purposes. It is:

A unit of account, used to measure and write contracts for income, wealth and goods.

A means of payment, used to avoid barter.

A store of value, held to be able to make future transactions.

Of these, the third historically has been the most important. People will be wary of accepting something that might lose lots of value, and something with a volatile price makes a bad unit of account.

Basically, bitcoin lacks a mechanism for setting the supply equal to the demand. That is needed in order for bitcoin to maintain its value.

History is replete with examples of what happens to currencies with fixed supplies. When governments tie their hands in the supply of their currencies, much like bitcoin has done, the value fluctuates.

Read the full post at SFGate

Jonathan A. Parker is the International Programs Professor in Management and a Professor of Finance at the MIT Sloan School of Management.

A bold new way to fund drug research — Roger Stein

MIT Sloan Senior Lecturer Roger Stein

MIT Sloan Senior Lecturer Roger Stein

From TED

Believe it or not, about 20 years’ worth of potentially life-saving drugs are sitting in labs right now, untested. Why? Because they can’t get the funding to go to trials; the financial risk is too high. Roger Stein is a finance guy, and he thinks deeply about mitigating risk. He and some colleagues at MIT came up with a promising new financial model that could move hundreds of drugs into the testing pipeline. (Filmed at TED@StateStreet.)

Roger Stein wants to bring financial engineering to the world of drug funding.

Watch the video on the TED site.

Roger Stein is a Senior Lecturer of Finance at the MIT Sloan School of Management. 

What’s driving the buyout comeback? — Erik Loualiche

MIT Sloan Assistant Professor Erik Loualiche

MIT Sloan Asst. Professor Erik Loualiche

From Fortune

Buyouts tend to come in waves. The first arrived in the 1980s, when a series of high-profile leveraged buyouts shook the corporate world. Buyouts surged again in the mid-1990s, the late 1990s, the early 2000s, and around 2006.

In peak years, there were nearly a hundred buyouts — in off years, as few as 10. The 2008 financial crisis is a striking reminder of this boom-bust feature of buyout markets. At the bottom of the market in 2008 we counted as little as 10 deals; the value of these deals was also low at 48 basis points fraction of total stock market capitalization.

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Advice for the underemployed class of 2014 — Thomas A. Kochan

MIT Sloan Professor Thomas Kochan

MIT Sloan Professor Thomas Kochan

From Fortune

Graduation speeches tend to be a mix of advice and calls to responsibility. Most tend to cover a broad patch of issues. Given the difficult job market high school and college graduates are entering today, perhaps a speech that advises and cajoles responsible actions to navigate the labor market is called for.

Here’s my career advice and call to action.

Congratulations! You have heeded your parent’s advice to work hard in school and get the best education possible, with the implied promise that by doing so you will do well when you graduate. You held up your part of the bargain, but unfortunately the economy you are entering is not holding up its part.

You are entering a troubled labor market that doesn’t have enough jobs to go around for all new high school or college graduates. Some of you will do very well indeed, especially those of you who have gained some work experience while in school and especially those of you who were fortunate enough to work in summer or co-op jobs and are now invited to join that organization on a full-time basis working in a career that uses your education and skills. Others with highly marketable technical or so-called STEM (science technical, engineering, and math) majors also face somewhat better prospects than those of you who followed your dreams to study literature, history, or the arts.

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