Jason Roderick Donaldson

Assistant Professor, Olin Business School, Washington University in St Louis



Current Research

Warehouse Banking

with Giorgia Piacentino and Anjan Thakor (accepted at the JFE)

We develop a theory of banking that explains why banks started out as commodities warehouses. We show that warehouses become banks because their superior storage technology allows them to enforce the repayment of loans most effectively. Further, interbank markets emerge endogenously to support this enforcement mechanism. Even though warehouses store deposits of real goods, they make loans by writing new “fake” warehouse receipts, rather than by taking deposits out of storage. Our theory helps to explain how modern banks create funding liquidity and why they combine warehousing (custody and deposit-taking), lending, and private money creation within the same institutions. It also casts light on a number of contemporary regulatory policies.

Resaleable Debt and Systemic Risk

with Eva Micheler (accepted at the JFE)

Many debt claims, such as bonds, are resaleable, whereas others, such as repos, are not. There was a fivefold increase in repo borrowing before the 2008 crisis. Why? Did banks’ dependence on non-resaleable debt precipitate the crisis? In this paper, we develop a model of bank lending with credit frictions. The key feature of the model is that debt claims are heterogenous in their resaleability. We find that decreasing credit market frictions leads to an increase in borrowing via non-resaleable debt. Borrowing via non-resaleable debt has a dark side: it causes credit chains to form, since if a bank makes a loan via non-resaleable debt and needs liquidity, it cannot sell the loan but must borrow via a new contract. These credit chains are a source of systemic risk, since one bank’s default harms not only its creditors but also its creditors’ creditors. Overall, our model suggests that reducing credit market frictions may have an adverse effect on the financial system and may even lead to the failures of financial institutions.

Contracting to Compete for Flows

with Giorgia Piacentino (conditionally accepted at JET)

Delegated asset managers frequently refer to credit ratings in the contracts they offer their investors. However, regulators have advised against this. Why? In this paper, we present a model that suggests a new reason that delegated asset managers contract on credit ratings: contracting on ratings is a way for asset managers to compete for flows of investor capital. However, competition among asset mangers triggers a race to the bottom: asset mangers use ratings in their contracts even though it is socially inefficient. This inefficiency is due to a Hirshleifer-type effect by which contracting on ratings prevents risk-sharing.

Houshold Debt and Unemployment

with Giorgia Piacentino and Anjan Thakor (revise and resubmit at the JF)

The worst employment slumps tend to follow the largest expansions of household debt. Using a competitive search model, we find that levered households protected by limited liability engage in risk-shifting by searching for jobs with high wages but low employment probabilities. In general equilibrium, firms respond to this household preference distortion and post high wages but few vacancies. This vacancy-posting effect implies that high household debt leads to high unemployment. The equilibrium level of household debt is inefficiently high due to a household-debt externality. We analyze the role that a financial regulator can play in mitigating this externality.

Deadlock on the Board

with Nadya Malenko and Giorgia Piacentino

We develop a dynamic model of board decision making. We show that directors may knowingly retain the policy they all think is the worst just because they fear they may disagree about what policy is best in the future—the fear of deadlock begets deadlock. Board diversity can exacerbate deadlock. Hence, shareholders may optimally appoint a biased director to avoid deadlock, whereas a CEO may appoint an independent director to create deadlock, and thus entrench himself. Our theory thus gives a new explanation for CEO entrenchment. It also gives a new perspective on director tenure, staggered boards, and short-termism.


with Giorgia Piacentino

We present a model to explain why banks hold off-setting debts without netting them out. We find that off-setting debts help a bank to raise liquidity with new debt from a third party, since diluting old debt subsidizes the new debt. Even though a diluted bank is worse off ex post, a network of gross debts is stable ex ante. This is because it provides banks with valuable liquidity co-insurance, since each bank exercises its option to dilute when it needs liquidity most. However, the network harbors systemic risk: since one bank’s liabilities are other banks’ assets, a liquidity shock can transmit through the network in a default cascade.

Money Runs

with Giorgia Piacentino

We present a banking model in which bank debt circulates in secondary markets, facilitating trade. The key friction is that secondary market trade is decentralized, i.e. bank debt is traded over the counter like banknotes were in the nineteenth century and repos are today. We find that bank debt is susceptible to runs because secondary market liquidity is fragile, and subject to sudden, self-fulfilling dry-ups. When debt fails to circulate it is redeemed on demand in a “money run.” Even though demandable debt exposes banks to costly runs, banks still choose to issue it because it increases their debt capacity: the option to demand increases the price of debt in the secondary market and hence allows banks to borrow more in the primary market—unlike in existing models, demandability and tradeability are complements.

The Paradox of Pledgeability

with Denis Gromb and Giorgia Piacentino

In this paper, we develop a model in which collateral serves to protect creditors from the claims of competing creditors. We find that borrowers rely most on collateral when cash flow pledgeability is high, because this is when it is easy to take on new debt, diluting existing creditors. Creditors thus require collateral for protection against being diluted. This causes a collateral rat race that results in all borrowing being collateralized. But collateralized borrowing has a cost: it encumbers assets, constraining future borrowing and investment, i.e. there is a collateral overhang. Our results suggest that increasing the supply of collateral can have adverse effects.

Procyclical Promises

In this paper, I model a dynamic market economy in which debt contracts are subject to renegotiation. I find that a firm with more cyclical cash flows can borrow more than a firm with less cyclical cash flows, consistent with empirical evidence. The reason is that a firm with cyclical cash flows puts its creditors in a relatively strong bargaining position when debt is renegotiated. In general equilibrium, this leads to a collateral premium for assets that generate cyclical cash flows—they are expensive because they allow firms to borrow against them, scaling up their investments via leverage. Endogenous variation in enforcement frictions generates business cycle fluctuations in both firm-level and aggregate quantities consistent with stylized facts, even in the absence of capital accumulation or technology shocks.

Intermediation Variety

with Giorgia Piacentino and Anjan Thakor

We explain the endogenous emergence of a variety of lending intermediaries in a model based only on differences in their funding costs. Banks have a lower cost of capital than non-banks due to government safety nets. However, with only bank finance, entrepreneurs make inefficient project choices, forgoing innovative projects for traditional projects. Non-banks emerge to mitigate this inefficiency, using their high cost of capital as a commitment device not to fund traditional projects, thus inducing entrepreneurs to innovate efficiently. Despite earning high returns, non-banks never take over the entire market, but coexist with banks in general equilibrium.


Systemic Risk Centre

Finance Theory Group

Labor and Finance Group

Other Stuff


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