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Jozef Konings

17 December 2014
Policy-making institutions such as the European Commission, the ECB and the OECD often use unit labor costs as a measure of international competitiveness. The goal of this paper is to examine how well this measure is related to international export performance at the firm level. To this end, we use Belgian firm-level data for the period 1999-2010 to analyze the impact of unit labor costs on exports. We use exports adjusted for their import content. We find a statistically significant negative effect of unit labor costs on export performance of firms with an estimated elasticity of the intensive margin of exports ranging between -0.2 and -0.4. This result is robust to various specifications, including firm, time and sector fixed effects and estimation approaches. We find that this elasticity varies between sectors and between firms, with firms that are more labor-intensive having a higher elasticity of exports with respect to unit labor costs. The micro data also enable us to analyze the impact of unit labor costs on the extensive margin. Our results show that higher unit labor costs reduce the probability of starting to export for non-exporters and increase the probability of exporters stopping. While our results show that unit labor costs have an impact on the intensive margin and extensive margin of firm-level exports, the effect is rather low, suggesting that passthrough of costs into prices is limited or that demand for exported products is not elastic. The latter is consistent with recent trade models emphasizing that not only relative costs, but also demand factors such as quality and taste matter for explaining firm-level exports.
JEL Code
F1 : International Economics→Trade
F4 : International Economics→Macroeconomic Aspects of International Trade and Finance
F16 : International Economics→Trade→Trade and Labor Market Interactions
Competitiveness Research Network
13 April 2021
Increased investment in clean electricity generation or the introduction of a carbon tax will most likely lead to higher electricity prices. We examine the effect from changing electricity prices on manufacturing employment. Analyzing firm-level data, we find that rising electricity prices lead to a negative impact on labor demand and investment in sectors most reliant on electricity as an input factor. Since these sectors are unevenly spread across countries and regions, the labor impact will also be unevenly spread with the highest impact in Southern Germany and Northern Italy. We also identify an additional channel that leads to heterogeneous responses. When electricity prices rise, financially constrained firms reduce employment more than less constrained firms. This implies a potentially mitigating role for monetary policy.
JEL Code
E52 : Macroeconomics and Monetary Economics→Monetary Policy, Central Banking, and the Supply of Money and Credit→Monetary Policy
H23 : Public Economics→Taxation, Subsidies, and Revenue→Externalities, Redistributive Effects, Environmental Taxes and Subsidies
J23 : Labor and Demographic Economics→Demand and Supply of Labor→Labor Demand
Q48 : Agricultural and Natural Resource Economics, Environmental and Ecological Economics→Energy→Government Policy