Staff Report 244

Is There a Trend Break in U.S. GNP? A Macroeconomic Perspective

Lee E. Ohanian | Consultant
Lutz Kilian

Published January 1, 1998

Unit root tests against trend break alternatives are based on the premise that the dating of the trend breaks coincides with major economic events with permanent effects on economic activity, such as wars and depressions. Standard economic theory, however, suggests that these events have large transitory, rather than permanent, effects on economic activity. Conventional unit root tests against trend break alternatives based on linear ARIMA models do not capture these transitory effects and can result in severely distorted inference. We quantify the size distortions for a simple model in which the effects of wars and depressions can reasonably be interpreted as transitory. Monte Carlo simulations show that in moderate samples, the widely used Zivot-Andrews (1992) test mistakes transitory dynamics for trend breaks with high probability. We conclude that these tests should be used only if there are no plausible economic explanations for apparent trend breaks in the data

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