Tag Archives: Chicago Booth

Updates from Chicago Booth

Ever closer to an optimally cost-efficient assembly-line operation
By Chuck Burke and Vanessa Sumo – Companies such as Dell and BMW use an assemble-to-order production strategy that keeps common components on the factory floor, ready for final assembly into the type of personal computer or vehicle that a customer orders. This is great for companies looking to satisfy a large volume of demand but that don’t want to build whole units in advance, to avoid any unsold products.

However, the difficulty of estimating how much of each component to hold in stock and how to allocate components to each product can keep companies from maximizing ATO’s benefits in practice.

A cross between two alternate production strategies

Make-to-stock strategy: MTS managers forecast consumer demand and match anticipated orders with an inventory of fully assembled products.

Make-to-order strategy: On the other hand, MTO systems wait for a customer’s order to arrive before starting production. Because this can include procuring parts and assembling components, MTO often results in a longer lead time.

Assemble-to-order strategy: An ATO strategy aims to combine the best of both systems—its flexibility lets companies fulfill large orders relatively quickly with minimal unsold inventory, yet still allows customers to partially customize orders. Here is how it works:

Managers must decide the quantity of components to order even before they can ascertain customer demand for their products.

When customers’ orders arrive, managers must then choose how to allocate the supply of components to each product for assembly. more>

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Updates from Chicago Booth

Could anything unite the United States?
Cultural and political divisions have persisted for decades. Now there’s a growing gap in how Americans see each other.
By Rose Jacobs – As the Democratic Party battles over whether a moderate or liberal presidential candidate stands the better chance of winning the White House in November 2020, many Americans are asking a similar but broader question: Has the country ever been so divided?

Academics, for their part, are attempting to measure what often feel like widening gaps. In 2017, Stanford’s Matthew Gentzkow looked at a series of Pew Research Center surveys of Americans’ views on policies ranging from government regulation to welfare, immigration, and the environment, and noted that fewer individuals in 2014 than 10 years earlier held positions that put them across the political divide from their own, self-identified political party.

Nor do divides appear confined to politics and policy. Chicago Booth’s Marianne Bertrand and Emir Kamenica examined three national surveys that probe Americans’ consumption habits, leisure time, and social attitudes. They find that different groups of Americans—rich and poor, black and white, men and women, politically liberal and conservative, college educated and not—tend to eat different food, watch different television programs, pursue different hobbies, and adopt different social attitudes. The algorithms the researchers developed for their study were able to predict people’s income bracket with nearly 90 percent accuracy on the basis of the brands of products and services they bought; they could do the same for gender by looking at what TV shows and films people watched and what magazines they read; and they could predict race with 75–85 percent accuracy using self-reported stances on topics such as marriage, law enforcement, and government spending.

Yes, then, the nation appears to be divided.

Bertrand and Kamenica point out that cultural gaps in the categories that they studied, between rich and poor or black and white, for instance, are worrisome in part because they might dampen social and economic mobility. The real-world effects of growing partisanship are less obvious, but research is beginning to probe how a politically divided populace plays out in areas ranging from corporate finance to macroeconomics to medicine and law.

The researchers looked at the months surrounding President Trump’s election in 2016, and find that analysts registered as Democrats were more likely to issue downgrades to the companies they covered after November 8 than were Republican analysts. This effect was greater with analysts who voted more frequently. This result is in line with their wider analysis of political affiliation and presidential elections going back 18 years, which suggests that analysts whose politics do not align with the sitting president’s are more likely to downgrade companies’ debt than analysts who share a political party with the president. more>

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Updates from Chicago Booth

US small businesses have little cushion against prolonged disruptions
By Michael Maiello – Even in a growing economy, most small businesses in the United States lack sufficient reserve capital to endure a prolonged business interruption, so a natural disaster, pandemic, or any condition that interrupts normal operations can quickly lead to job cuts and business failures. If the government wants to keep small businesses afloat, its support must be enacted quickly and generously and be easy to access, according to a survey of 5,800 small businesses conducted early during the COVID-19 outbreak in the US.

University of Illinois’s Alexander W. Bartik, Chicago Booth’s Marianne Bertrand, and Harvard’s Zoë Cullen, Edward Glaeser, Michael Luca, and Christopher Stanton have been studying small-business behaviors, decision-making, and attitudes. Their research provides a detailed look at the financial health of small businesses heading into COVID-19 and underscores the need for fast and easy-to-access government interventions when businesses are interrupted.

The researchers conducted their survey as the Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security (CARES) Act was signed into law in late March and implemented in April. By then, small-business owners, who employ 48 percent of American workers, had already cut their workforces massively, a sign of their precarious finances even ahead of the outbreak. Three quarters of survey respondents, who are all members of Alignable, a small-business network, reported they had cash on hand to cover expenses for no more than two months.

Survey respondents who believed the pandemic would last longer were more pessimistic about their companies’ chances of surviving. The researchers estimated that business closures could lead to almost 33 million job losses if the pandemic were to last four months, 35 million if it were to extend six months. more>

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Updates from Chicago Booth

The notorious failure contains valuable lessons for investors
By James E. Schrager – Amid the many stories of business turmoil this spring has produced, the legal drama surrounding WeWork and its lead investor, SoftBank Group, stands out for its roots not in disease and social distancing, but old-fashioned bad decision-making.

In early April, WeWork announced it had filed a lawsuit against SoftBank for backing out of a tender offer to purchase about $3 billion of WeWork stock, an offer made as part of a bailout package from SoftBank after WeWork’s planned initial public offering fell through last fall. About a month later, WeWork cofounder and former CEO Adam Neumann, who could have sold up to nearly $1 billion of stock as part of the tender offer, filed his own suit against SoftBank.

To the uninitiated, the saga of WeWork’s journey toward an IPO—which was abandoned after a precipitous decline in the company’s valuation, from $47 billion to $8 billion—must have raised a number of questions.

Is it typical for failed founders to demand nearly a billion dollars for their efforts, as Neumann has done, no matter how badly things turn out?

Is an entrepreneur’s compensation package directly and positively proportional to the amount of money he loses for investors?

Are startup funds so abundant, borrowing costs so low, and big risks so encouraged that giant paydays are the rule even for losing CEOs? more>

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Updates from Chicago Booth

Think you’re not racist?
Research uncovers our secret prejudices, and ways to overcome them
By Alice G. Walton – It has been 50 years since the Civil Rights Act outlawed discrimination based on race, color, religion, sex, or national origin. The landmark legislation marked the end of the era of legalized racism. Now some affirmative action programs, created to encourage and promote diversity and the presence of underrepresented minorities, are being rolled back.

However, while overt racism may be on the wane in the US, research suggests it remains just below the surface. Very few people would admit to being biased, yet there’s strong evidence that biases continue, often under the level of our expression and of our awareness.

Ten years ago Marianne Betrand, Chris P. Dialynas Distinguished Service Professor of Economics at Chicago Booth, and Sendhil Mullainathan, then at MIT, published a famous study entitled, “Are Emily and Greg More Employable Than Lakisha and Jamal? A Field Experiment on Labor Market Discrimination,” in which 5,000 fictitious resumes were sent in response to 1,300 job postings in Chicago and Boston. The resumes were either “high quality” or “low quality,” varying in the typical things that set resumes apart—job and internship experiences, academic institutions, and languages spoken. Then, the team randomly assigned either a “white-sounding” name, such as Emily Walsh, or an “African American–sounding” name, such as Lakisha Washington, to each resume.

The results were unambiguous. White-sounding applicants got 50% more callbacks than African American–sounding candidates. This didn’t seem to be a matter of how common the names were or the apparent social status of the applicant, but simply a function of what the names suggested about the race of the fictional applicants.

Even more disturbingly, white applicants with higher-quality resumes had a strong advantage over their African American peers. The authors suggest that this makes it less enticing for African Americans to develop high-quality resumes, which makes hiring discrimination part of a destructive cycle. more> [VIDEO]

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Updates from Chicago Booth

How leaders can rise to the challenge of COVID-19
By Daniel Diermeier – As cases of COVID-19 continue to grow across the world, leaders in business, government, and other spheres face unprecedented challenges. The disease has encroached not only on public health but on global economic well-being and on some of the most fundamental practices of modern society. It has generated great anxiety and exacted an enormous and growing human toll. And it has required virtually every organization to reinvent its processes to cope with a world in which many people simply don’t feel safe being in the same room together.

Crisis situations can overwhelm even the most experienced leaders, presenting unexpected, complex scenarios that evolve at a fast pace and in several directions. Even in cases in which contingency plans have been prepared, those plans need to be adjusted to respond to rapidly changing circumstances. Fortunately, there are tools and perspectives leaders can use to help their organizations weather difficult times. By building trust, managing fear, and encouraging a sense of duty and community orientation, any leader—whether in business, government, or the nonprofit sector, and in organizations big and small—can better navigate the difficult path of crisis management.

Crises frequently happen without warning and require a response under extreme time pressure. Decision makers often find themselves drowning in data, yet truly vital information is not available. During these situations, leaders must continue to build trust, both internally and externally. Doing so generates much-needed room to maneuver and the goodwill that leaders will need to rely on when tough decisions have to be made.

Even though the desirability of trust is obvious, leaders often struggle with building and maintaining it, especially during high-stakes crises. Research has identified four major factors that influence the level of trust among stakeholders involved in a crisis, summarized in what I’ve called the Trust Radar:

Full transparency is reached when, in the mind of your audience, all relevant questions have been addressed. Your audience—not you—will determine what information is considered relevant. What is relevant will also vary for different audiences. more>

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Updates from Chicago Booth

How the Fed plans to pay the country’s bills
By John H. Cochrane – Public attention in the United States during the first phase of the COVID-19 crisis has been largely on the disease itself, the massive social and economic shock of the shutdown, and how we can orchestrate a safe reopening. But we also need to pay some attention to the financial side of the current situation, and the Federal Reserve’s immense reaction to it. Whatever one thinks of that reaction, it’s important to understand what the bank did, what beneficial and adverse consequences there are, and how our financial and economic system and policies might be set up better in the future.

We face a severe economic downturn of unknown duration. If it is something other than a V-shaped downturn spanning months rather than years, there will be a wave of bankruptcies, from individuals to corporations, and huge losses all over the financial system. “Well, earn returns in good times and take losses in bad times,” you may say, and I do, more often than the Fed does, but for now this is simply a fact.

Our government’s basic economic plan to confront this situation is simple: the Federal Reserve will print money to pay every bill, and guarantee every debt, for the duration. And, to a somewhat lesser approximation, the plan is also to ensure that no fixed-income investor loses money.

To be clear, my intention here is not to criticize this plan. From a combination of voluntary and imposed social distancing, the economy is collapsing. Twenty million people, more than 1 in 10 US workers, lost their jobs in the first month of the COVID-19 shutdowns. That’s more than the entire 2008–09 recession, all in the course of three weeks. A third of US apartment renters didn’t pay April rent. Run that up through the financial system: most guesses say that companies have one to three months of cash on hand, and then fail.

If you want to know why the Fed hit the panic button, it’s because every alarm went off.

Is the plan really to try to pay every bill?

Yes, pretty much. This is not stimulus. It is “get-through-it-us.” People who lost jobs and businesses that have no income can’t pay their bills. When people run out of cash, they stop paying rent, mortgages, utilities, and consumer debts. In turn, the people who lent them money are in trouble. Businesses with zero income can’t pay debts, employees, rent, mortgages, or utilities either. When they stop paying, they go through bankruptcy, and their creditors get into trouble. If you want to stop a financial crisis, you have to pay all the bills, not just hand out some cash so people can buy food.

And that’s more or less the plan. more>

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Updates from Chicago Booth

Why US unemployment is even worse than the official numbers say
By Rebecca Stropoli – The COVID-19 crisis has sent the US jobs market reeling. As of April 16, more than 22 million workers had filed unemployment claims since the shutdowns began in March.

But the real unemployment figures are likely higher than reported, suggests research by University of Texas’s Olivier Coibion, University of California at Berkeley’s Yuriy Gorodnichenko, and Chicago Booth’s Michael Weber. Despite catastrophic job losses, an increase in workers dropping out of the labor force altogether may mean the official unemployment rate is misleadingly low, they argue.

To track the pandemic’s effect on unemployment, the researchers used an ongoing survey, conducted by Nielsen, of households that participate in its Homescan panel, studying three key measures typically tracked by the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS): the unemployment-to-population ratio, the unemployment rate, and the labor-force-participation rate.

During recessions, as the employment-to-population ratio falls, the unemployment rate typically rises, and vice versa. But in more severe recessions, a higher number of discouraged out-of-work people may stop looking for employment. In this case, while the employment-to-population ratio is low, the unemployment rate doesn’t rise at the same rate, as there are fewer people who are an active part of the labor force.

The researchers tracked surveys prior to and during the pandemic. They find that the employment-to-population ratio had fallen by around 7.5 percent in April, which meant almost 20 million jobs had been lost as of April 6, far more than the estimated 16.5 million that had been reported. State governments’ inability to process such a crushing number of claims, coupled with the fact that many workers aren’t eligible for unemployment benefits, may account for the underestimation, the researchers note. more>

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Updates from Chicago Booth

No one has all the answers for COVID-19 policy
By Joseph L. Pagliari, Jr. – The COVID-19 epidemic and the policy response to it have already become a wellspring for new economic research, and economics will no doubt emerge from this unprecedented global moment with new evidence for important macroeconomic phenomena. But however the crisis informs economics, it has also reaffirmed one of the science’s core tenets: important decisions involve trade-offs.

The notion of trade-offs, or the idea that there is an opportunity cost to any choice, is central to much of economics. The study of these trade-offs is often associated with traded quantities (the dollar value of things such as domestic production, interest rates, workers’ salaries, etc.), but the COVID-19 pandemic places economists in the uncomfortable position of examining things such as the economic value of human life, the quality of such lives, and the human stresses related to attending to a pandemic. Despite the natural discomfort most people (many economists included) feel about quantifying these things, these economic exercises still play an important role in our understanding of the situation and our crafting policy to address it.

Consider this illustration highlighting the trade-offs inherent in the current pandemic: (see diagram).

As has been much discussed elsewhere, the intention of the stay-at-home (or shelter-in-place) measures in effect throughout the United States is to “flatten the [epidemiological] curve,” or to slow the rate at which the virus spreads, thereby reducing the likelihood of a surge in demand for medical services that leads to sorrowful, triage-like decisions about whom to treat. The “COVID-19-related costs” curve illustrates the all-in costs of mitigating the adverse effects of the coronavirus as a function of the length of the government’s quarantine measures. These all-in costs include not only those who unfortunately perish due to the virus, but also the economic and human costs of providing these medical services, including the extraordinary efforts of the medical community in responding to the pandemic. To state the obvious, these costs are exceedingly difficult to quantify. more>

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Updates from Chicago Booth

Some basic economics of COVID-19 policy
A look at the trade-offs we face in regulating behavior during the pandemic
By Casey B. Mulligan, Kevin M. Murphy, and Robert H. Topel – The costs of the COVID-19 crisis come in two primary forms. The first is the direct impact in terms of health and lives lost. The second is the indirect impact that comes from efforts by individuals, private institutions, and governments to mitigate those health impacts, such as social distancing, stay-at-home orders, and mandatory business closures. It is imperative that we keep in mind that both are costs, and that less of one typically means more of the other. Like it or not, the first lesson of economics is that there are trade-offs, and choices are inevitable.

Regardless of how we choose to bear them, the costs of the pandemic will be large. Some very rough estimates provide perspective. Based on our earlier work on the value of mortality reductions and improved health, we estimate that an unrestricted pandemic infecting 60 percent of the US population and with an infection fatality rate (IFR) below 1 percent would result in roughly 1.4 million deaths, heavily concentrated among the elderly, with a total value of lost lives of about $6 trillion. For comparison, that is equivalent to about 30 percent of annual US GDP, suggesting that even small progress against the spread of the disease can be quite valuable.

Against this, we estimate that efforts to slow the pandemic via a nationwide shutdown of “non-essential” economic activities would carry a cost approaching $7 trillion per year (roughly $20 billion per day), even ignoring other long-run costs from reduced values of human and physical capital and any intrinsic value of reduced civil liberties.

Of course, an unrestricted pandemic is implausible even in the absence of government interventions, as individuals have powerful incentives to engage in self-protection once the risks are even partially known. Even so, these are big numbers. more>

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