Hey, Economist! What’s the Case for Central Bank Digital Currencies?
Since the launch of Bitcoin and other first-generation cryptocurrencies, there has been extensive experimentation in the digital currency space. So far, however, digital currencies have yet to gain much ground as a means of payment. Is there a vacuum in the landscape of digital money and payments that central banks are naturally positioned to fill? In this post, Michael Lee and Antoine Martin, economists in the New York Fed’s Money and Payment Studies function, answer some questions regarding the concept of central bank digital currencies (CBDCs).
April Regional Service-Sector Survey Points to A Long-Awaited Rebound
While the manufacturing sector typically drives recessions and recoveries more than the service sector, the opposite has been true during the pandemic recession. Finally this month, the Federal Reserve Bank of New York’s April business surveys point to a solid increase in service sector activity as well as continued strength in manufacturing activity in the New York-Northern New Jersey region, marking the first signs of widespread growth since the pandemic began. While manufacturing activity had been increasing through much of the pandemic, service sector activity had declined for thirteen straight months before finally increasing at its strongest pace in years in our April survey. About half of service sector firms said their revenues were currently at or above normal levels, as did two-thirds of manufacturers. All in all, regional firms expressed widespread optimism that conditions would improve in the months ahead.
What Is behind the Global Jump in Personal Saving during the Pandemic?
Household saving has soared in the United States and other high-income countries during the COVID-19 pandemic, despite widespread declines in wages and other private income streams. This post highlights the role of fiscal policy in driving the saving boom, through stepped-up social benefits and other income support measures. Indeed, in the United States, Japan, and Canada, government assistance has pushed household income above its pre-pandemic trajectory. We argue that the larger scale of government assistance in these countries helps explain why saving in these countries has risen more strongly than in the euro area. Going forward, how freely households spend out of their newly accumulated savings will be a key factor determining the strength of economic recoveries.
How COVID-19 Affected First-Time Homebuyers
Efforts in the spring of 2020 to contain the spread of COVID-19 resulted in a sharp contraction in U.S. economic growth and an unprecedented, rapid rise in unemployment. While the first wave of the pandemic slowed the spring housing market, home sales rebounded sharply over the rest of the year, with strong gains in house prices. Given the rising house prices and continuing high unemployment, concerns arose that COVID-19 may have negatively affected first-time homebuyers. Using a new and more accurate measure of first-time homebuyers, we find that these buyers have not been adversely affected by the pandemic. At the same time, gains from lower mortgage rates have gone to existing homeowners and not to households purchasing their first home.
An Update on How Households Are Using Stimulus Checks
In October, we reported on how households used their first economic impact payments, which they started to receive in mid-April 2020 as part of the CARES Act, and how they expected to use a second stimulus payment. In this post, we exploit new survey data to examine how households used the second round of stimulus checks, abd we investigate how they plan to use the third round.
Do People View Housing as a Good Investment and Why?
Housing represents the largest asset owned by most households and is a major means of wealth accumulation, particularly for the middle class. Yet there is limited understanding of how households view housing as an investment relative to financial assets, in part because of their differences beyond the usual risk and return trade-off. Housing offers households an accessible source of leverage and a commitment device for saving through an amortization schedule. For an owner-occupied residence, it also provides stability and hedges for rising housing costs. On the other hand, housing is much less liquid than financial assets and it also requires more time to manage. In this post, we use data from our just released SCE Housing Survey to answer several questions about how households view this choice: Do households view housing as a good investment choice in comparison to financial assets, such as stocks? Are there cross-sectional differences in preferences for housing as an investment? What are the factors households consider when making an investment choice between housing and financial assets?
“Excess Savings” Are Not Excessive
How will the U.S. economy emerge from the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic? Will it struggle to return to prior levels of employment and activity, or will it come roaring back as soon as vaccinations are widespread and Americans feel comfortable travelling and eating out? Part of the answer to these questions hinges on what will happen to the large amount of “excess savings” that U.S. households have accumulated since last March. According to most estimates, these savings are around $1.6 trillion and counting. Some economists have expressed the concern that, if a considerable fraction of these accumulated funds is spent as soon as the economy re-opens, the ensuing rush of demand might be destabilizing. This post argues that these savings are not that excessive, when considered against the backdrop of the unprecedented government interventions adopted over the past year in support of households and that they are unlikely to generate a surge in demand post-pandemic.