Theses Doctoral

Essays on Attention Allocation and Factor Models

Scanlan, Susannah

In the first chapter of this dissertation, I explore how forecaster attention, or the degree to which new information is incorporated into forecasts, is reflected at the lower-dimensional factor representation of multivariate forecast data. When information is costly to acquire, forecasters may pay more attention to some sources of information and ignore others. How much attention they pay will determine the strength of the forecast correlation (factor) structure. Using a factor model representation, I show that a forecast made by a rationally inattentive agent will include an extra shrinkage and thresholding "attention matrix" relative to a full information benchmark, and propose an econometric procedure to estimate it. Differences in the degree of forecaster attentiveness can explain observed differences in empirical shrinkage in professional macroeconomic forecasts relative to a consensus benchmark. Forecasters share the same reduced-form model, but differ in their measured attention. Better-performing forecasters have higher measured attention (lower shrinkage) than their poorly-performing peers. Measured forecaster attention to multiple dimensions of the information space can largely be captured by a single scalar cost parameter.

I propose a new class of information cost functions for the classic multivariate linear-quadratic Gaussian tracking problem called separable spectral cost functions. The proposed measure of attention and mapping from theoretical model of attention allocation to factor structure in the first chapter is valid for this set of cost functions. These functions are defined over the eigenvalues of prior and posterior variance matrices. Separable spectral cost functions both nest known cost functions and are consistent with the definition of Uniformly Posterior Separable cost functions, which have desirable theoretical properties.

The third chapter is coauthored work with Professor Serena Ng. We estimate higher frequency values of monthly macroeconomic data using different factor based imputation methods. Monthly and weekly economic indicators are often taken to be the largest common factor estimated from high and low frequency data, either separately or jointly. To incorporate mixed frequency information without directly modeling them, we target a low frequency diffusion index that is already available, and treat high frequency values as missing. We impute these values using multiple factors estimated from the high frequency data. In the empirical examples considered, static matrix completion that does not account for serial correlation in the idiosyncratic errors yields imprecise estimates of the missing values irrespective of how the factors are estimated. Single equation and systems-based dynamic procedures that account for serial correlation yield imputed values that are closer to the observed low frequency ones. This is the case in the counterfactual exercise that imputes the monthly values of consumer sentiment series before 1978 when the data was released only on a quarterly basis. This is also the case for a weekly version of the CFNAI index of economic activity that is imputed using seasonally unadjusted data. The imputed series reveals episodes of increased variability of weekly economic information that are masked by the monthly data, notably around the 2014-15 collapse in oil prices.


This item is currently under embargo. It will be available starting 2026-04-18.

More About This Work

Academic Units
Thesis Advisors
Woodford, Michael
Ng, Serena
Ph.D., Columbia University
Published Here
April 22, 2024