How do firms set prices? What factors do they consider, and to what extent are cost increases passed through to prices? While these are important questions in general, they become even more salient during periods of high inflation. In this blog post, we highlight preliminary results from ongoing research on firms’ price-setting behavior, a joint project between researchers at the Federal Reserve Banks of Atlanta, Cleveland, and New York. We use a combination of open-ended interviews and a quantitative survey in our analysis. Firms reported that the strength of demand was the most important factor affecting pricing decisions in recent years, while labor costs and maintaining steady profit margins were also highly important. Using three methodological approaches, we consistently estimate a rate of cost-price passthrough in the range of 60 percent for the representative firm over 2022-23—with considerable heterogeneity in this number across firms.
The U.S. labor force participation rate (LFPR) currently stands at 62.5 percent, 0.8 percentage point below its level in February 2020. This “participation gap” translates into 2.1 million workers out of the labor force. In this post, we evaluate three potential drivers of the gap: First, population aging from the baby boomers reaching retirement age puts downward pressure on participation. Second, the share of individuals of retirement age that are actually retired has risen since the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic. Finally, long COVID and disability more generally may induce more people to leave the labor force. We find that nearly all of the participation gap can be explained by population aging, which caused a significant rise in the number of retirements. Higher retirement rates compared to pre-COVID have had only a modest effect, while disability has virtually no effect.
Annual CPI inflation reached 9.1 percent in June 2022, the highest reading since November 1981. The broad-based nature of the recent inflation readings has increased concerns that inflation may run above the Federal Reserve’s target for a longer period than anticipated. In this post we use detailed industry-level data to examine two prominent cost-push-based explanations for high inflation: rising import prices and higher labor costs. We find that the pass-through of wages and input prices to the U.S. Producer Price Index has grown during the pandemic. Both the large changes in these costs and a higher pass-through into domestic prices have contributed toward higher inflation.
A number of studies have documented that market concentration among U.S. firms has increased over the last decades, as large firms have grown more dominant. In a new study, we examine whether this rising domestic concentration means that large U.S. firms have more market power in the manufacturing sector. Our research argues that increasing foreign competition over the last few decades has in fact reduced U.S. firms’ market power in manufacturing.
The services sector was hit hard during the COVID-19 pandemic. Small businesses were particularly affected, and many of them were forced to close. We examine the state of these firms using micro data from Homebase (HB), a scheduling and time tracking tool that is used by around 100,000 businesses, mostly small firms, in the leisure and hospitality and retail industries. The data reveal that 35 percent of businesses that were active prior to the pandemic are still closed and that most have been inactive for twenty weeks or longer. We estimate that each additional week of being closed reduces the probability that a business reopens by 2 percentage points. Moreover, an additional week of business closure lowers the share of workers that are rehired at reopening. Our estimates imply that only about 4 percent of the workers that are still laid off from the currently closed businesses will eventually be rehired.
In our previous post, we looked at the effects that the reopening of state economies across the United States has had on consumer spending. We found a significant effect of reopening, especially regarding spending in restaurants and bars as well as in the healthcare sector. In this companion post, we focus specifically on small businesses, using two different sources of high-frequency data, and we employ a methodology similar to that of our previous post to study the effects of reopening on small business activity along various dimensions. Our results indicate that, much like for consumer spending, reopenings had positive and significant effects in the short term on small business revenues, the number of active merchants, and the number of employees working in small businesses. It is important to stress that we are not expressing any views in this post on the normative question of whether, when, or how states should loosen or tighten restrictions aimed at controlling the COVID-19 pandemic.
The spread of COVID-19 in the United States has had a profound impact on economic activity. Beginning in March, most states imposed severe restrictions on households and businesses to slow the spread of the virus. This was followed by a gradual loosening of restrictions (“reopening”) starting in April. As the virus has re-emerged over the last few weeks, a number of states have taken steps to reverse the reopening of their economies. For example, Texas and Florida closed bars again in June, and Arizona additionally paused operations of gyms and movie theatres. Taken together, these measures raise the question of how closures and reopenings affect consumer spending. In this post, we investigate how much consumer spending increased after the reopenings. It is important to stress that we are not expressing any views on the normative question of whether, when, or how states should loosen or tighten restrictions aimed at controlling the COVID-19 pandemic.
The COVID-19 pandemic has had a significant impact on trade between the United States and China so far. As workers became sick or were quarantined, factories temporarily closed, disrupting international supply chains. At the same time, the trade relationship between the United States and China has been characterized by rising protectionism and heightened trade policy uncertainty over the last few years. Against this background, this post examines how the recent period of economic disruptions in China has affected U.S. imports and discusses how this episode might impact firms’ supply chains going forward.