This paper uses a natural experiment in Japan to provide evidence of the feedback loop between corporate borrowing and commercial real estate investment emphasized in macro-finance models with collateral constraints. Japan enacted a series of reforms in the early 1980s which relaxed national regulatory constraints on the height and size of buildings. Combining originally-constructed local commercial land price indices for over 400 localities with geocoded firm balance sheets, I show that these land use deregulations generated a boom-bust cycle in corporate real estate values, borrowing, and real estate investment. Firms located in more ex ante land use constrained areas both issued more debt and invested more heavily in real estate, thus amplifying the initial positive shock to commercial real estate prices. I develop a multi-city spatial sorting model with production externalities and real estate collateral which uses the estimated reduced form effects of my local regulatory instruments on firm outcomes to assess aggregate effects of the reform. I find that the deregulatory shock to commercial real estate markets and corporate borrowing environment amplified the real estate cycle in the 1980s and led to an increased incidence of zombie lending in the 1990s.
This paper analyzes the effects of transfer taxes targeting property flips on house prices and investment decisions. We study a 2011 reform in Taiwan which required sellers of non-owner-occupied properties to pay a surcharge of up to 15% of the full sale price for properties held for two years or less. Linking the universe of personal income tax returns to transaction records, we show immediate and substantial bunching at the two-year holding period threshold, but negligible changes in overall prices. According to our missing mass estimates, the tax generated a 75% drop in one-year flips and a 40% drop in overall second home sales volume. We use shocks to housing net worth from inheritances received after decedents’ untimely deaths to show that investors with more portfolio exposure pass through the tax to buyers. While low-wealth out-of-town investors account for most of the drop in sales volume, locals and non-residents earn statistically similar holding period returns in the pre-reform period. We use spatial and time variation in the severity of typhoon seasons to estimate a 20% share of noise trading prior to the reform. We combine our estimates of the noise trading share and change in short-term sales volume to parametrize a model of optimal financial transaction taxes. The optimal transfer tax on short-term sales is 4%, at most, which is close to the flat transfer tax rates imposed in most major real estate markets. Our results point to market segmentation and inventory effects as key constraints on the effectiveness of property flip taxes towards promoting housing affordability.
with Takashi Unayama
This paper documents heterogeneous spending out of a large stimulus tax rebate by exposure to the 1980s Japanese housing market turbulence. Linking geocoded household expenditure and financial transactions data to a new set of local housing price indices in Japan, we estimate a U-shaped pattern in the marginal propensity to consume with respect to housing price growth. Recipients living in areas with the smallest housing price gains during the 1980s spent 47% of the 1994 rebate within three months of payment, compared to 24% among recipients in areas which experienced the largest housing price gains. We find limited heterogeneity in marginal propensities to consume among households in less affected areas, but MPCs are higher for younger, renter households with no debt residing in more affected areas. Our results are consistent with near-rationality rather than a liquidity constraint story. Winners who are less exposed to housing risk respond more to payments, implying policies which target losers from housing market downturns may be less effective at stimulating consumption.
The question of how governments should choose the frequency of payments has received little attention in the literature on the optimal design of public benefits programs. We propose a simple model in which the government chooses the length of the interval between payments, subject to a tradeoff between the administrative cost of providing more frequent benefits and the welfare gain from reducing deviations from full consumption smoothing. In our empirical application, we examine consumer and retailer responses to bimonthly payments from the Japanese National Pension System. We exploit variation in the duration of payment cycles using a unique retail dataset that links consumers to their purchase history. Our difference-in-differences style approach shows a clear spike in spending on payment dates for customers who are of retirement age relative to those who are not. While within-store average prices increase by 1.6% on payday, this effect is almost entirely due to consumers substituting towards higher quality goods rather than a retailer response. We use these reduced-form estimates to parameterize the model and conclude that the optimal frequency of Japanese public pension payments is less than one month, implying the government could improve welfare by increasing payment frequency.
Works in Progress
The Saved and the Probate: Trade-offs between Asset Control and Inheritance Tax Minimization
with Lorenzo Pessina
Place-Based Policies and the Spatial Distribution of Corporate Investment
with Shogo Sakabe
Microbubbles and Local Property Tax Regimes
with Takashi Unayama
Delaying the Honeymoon: The Great Decline in American Vacation