David S. Scharfstein
Edmund Cogswell Converse Professor of Finance and Banking
David S. Scharfstein is the Edmund Cogswell Converse Professor of Finance and Banking at Harvard Business School. His current research focuses on financial services and financial regulation. He teaches a MBA course on managing financial firms and a Ph.D. course on corporate finance and banking.
Prior to joining the Harvard Business School faculty in 2003, Scharfstein was for 16 years on the finance faculty of MIT's Sloan School of Management, most recently as the Dai Ichi Kangyo Professor of Management. He has been Editor of the Rand Journal of Economics, Associate Editor of the Journal of Finance and Review of Financial Studies, and Director of the American Finance Association.
Scharfstein is a Research Associate of the National Bureau of Economic Research and a member of the New York Fed’s Financial Advisory Roundtable. He is also a member of the Squam Lake Working Group on Financial Regulation, a nonpartisan, nonaffiliated group of fifteen leading economists that offers guidance on financial regulatory reform. During 2009-10 Scharfstein served as Senior Advisor to the Secretary of the U.S. Treasury and on the staff of the National Economic Council.
Scharfstein has a Ph.D in Economics from MIT (1986) and an A.B. summa cum laude from Princeton University (1982).
Fiscal Risk and the Portfolio of Government Programs
This paper proposes a new approach to social cost-benefit analysis using a model in which a benevolent government chooses risky projects in the presence of market failures and tax distortions. The government internalizes market failures and therefore perceives project payoffs differently than do individual private actors. This gives it a "social risk management" motive - projects that generate social benefits are attractive, particularly if those benefits are realized in bad economic states. However, because of tax distortions, government financing is costly, creating a "fiscal risk management" motive. Government projects that require large tax-financed outlays are unattractive, particularly if those outlays tend to occur in bad economic times. At the optimum, the government trades off its social and fiscal risk management motives. Frictions in government financing create interdependence between two otherwise unrelated government projects. As in the theory of portfolio choice, the fiscal risk of a project depends on how its fiscal costs covary with the fiscal costs of the government's overall portfolio of projects. This interdependence means that individual projects should not be evaluated in isolation.
An Evaluation of Money Market Fund Reform Proposals
U.S. money market mutual funds (MMFs) are an important source of dollar funding for global financial institutions, particularly those headquartered outside the U.S. MMFs proved to be a source of considerable instability during the financial crisis of 2007–2009, resulting in extraordinary government support to help stabilize the funding of global financial institutions. In light of the problems that emerged during the crisis, a number of MMF reforms have been proposed, which we analyze in this paper. We assume that the main goal of MMF reform is safeguarding global financial stability. In light of this goal, reforms should reduce the ex ante incentives for MMFs to take excessive risk and increase the ex post resilience of MMFs to system-wide runs. Our analysis suggests that requiring MMFs to have subordinated capital buffers could generate significant financial stability benefits. Subordinated capital provides MMFs with loss absorption capacity, lowering the probability than an MMF suffers losses large enough to trigger a run, and reduces incentives to take excessive risks. Other reform alternatives based on market forces, such as converting MMFs to a floating NAV, may be less effective in protecting financial stability. Our analysis sheds light on the fundamental tensions inherent in regulating the shadow banking system.
The Growth of Finance
The U.S. financial services industry grew from 4.9% of GDP in 1980 to 7.9% of GDP in 2007. A sizeable portion of the growth can be explained by rising asset management fees, which in turn were driven by increases in the valuation of tradable assets, particularly equity. Another important factor was growth in fees associated with an expansion in household credit, particularly for residential mortgages. This expansion was itself fueled by the development of non-bank credit intermediation (or "shadow banking"). Whether the growth of the financial sector has been socially beneficial depends on one's view of active asset management, the increase in household credit, and the growth of shadow banking. While recognizing some of the benefits of professional asset management, we are skeptical about the marginal value of active asset management. We then raise concerns about whether the potential benefits of increased access to household credit—the main output of the shadow banking system—are outweighed by the risks inherent in this new approach to credit delivery.
Concentration in Mortgage Lending, Refinancing Activity, and Mortgage Rates
We present evidence that high concentration in local mortgage lending reduces the sensitivity of mortgage rates and refinancing activity to mortgage-backed security (MBS) yields. A decrease in MBS yields is typically associated with greater refinancing activity and lower rates on new mortgages. However, this effect is dampened in counties with concentrated mortgage markets. We isolate the direct effect of mortgage market concentration and rule out alternative explanations based on borrower, loan, and collateral characteristics in two ways. First, we use a matching procedure to compare high- and low-concentration counties that are very similar on observable characteristics and find similar results. Second, we examine counties where concentration in mortgage lending is increased by bank mergers. We show that within a given county, sensitivites to MBS yields decrease after a concentration-increasing merger. Our results suggest that the strength of the housing channel of monetary policy transmission varies in both the time series and the cross section. In the cross section, increasing concentration by one standard deviation reduces the overall impact of a decline in MBS yields by approximately 50%. In the time series, a decrease in MBS yields today has a 40% smaller effect on the average county than it would have had in the 1990s because of higher concentration today.
Dollar Funding and the Lending Behavior of Global Banks
A large share of dollar-denominated lending is done by non-U.S. banks, particularly European banks. We present a model in which such banks cut dollar lending more than euro lending in response to a shock to their credit quality. Because these banks rely on wholesale dollar funding, while raising more of their euro funding through insured retail deposits, the shock leads to a greater withdrawal of dollar funding. Banks can borrow in euros and swap into dollars to make up for the dollar shortfall, but this may lead to violations of covered interest parity (CIP) when there is limited capital to take the other side of the swap trade. In this case, synthetic dollar borrowing becomes expensive, which causes cuts in dollar lending. We test the model in the context of the Eurozone sovereign crisis, which escalated in the second half of 2011 and resulted in U.S. money-market funds sharply reducing the funding provided to European banks. Coincident with the contraction in dollar funding, there were significant violations of euro-dollar CIP. Moreover, dollar lending by Eurozone banks fell relative to their euro lending in both the U.S. and Europe; this was not the case for U.S. global banks. Finally, European banks that were more reliant on money funds experienced bigger declines in dollar lending.