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Measuring the financial soundness of U.S. firms, 1926-2012

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  • Andrew G. Atkeson
  • Andrea L. Eisfeldt
  • Pierre-Olivier Weill

Abstract

Building on the Merton (1974) and Leland (1994) structural models of credit risk, we develop a simple, transparent, and robust method for measuring the financial soundness of individual firms using data on their equity volatility. We use this method to retrace quantitatively the history of firms’ financial soundness during U.S. business cycles over most of the last century. We highlight three main findings. First, the three worst recessions between 1926 and 2012 coincided with insolvency crises, but other recessions did not. Second, fluctuations in asset volatility appear to drive variation in firms’ financial soundness. Finally, the financial soundness of financial firms largely resembles that of nonfinancial firms.

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Bibliographic Info

Paper provided by Federal Reserve Bank of Minneapolis in its series Staff Report with number 484.

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Date of creation: 2013
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Handle: RePEc:fip:fedmsr:484

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Keywords: Business cycles;

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  1. Merton, Robert C., 1973. "On the pricing of corporate debt: the risk structure of interest rates," Working papers 684-73., Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT), Sloan School of Management.
  2. Nobuhiro Kiyotaki & John Moore, 1995. "Credit Cycles," NBER Working Papers 5083, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
  3. Thomas Cooley & Ramon Marimon & Vicenzo Quadrini, 1999. "Aggregate consequences of limited contract enforceability," Economics Working Papers 843, Department of Economics and Business, Universitat Pompeu Fabra, revised Oct 2003.
  4. Thomas F. Cooley & Vincenzo Quadrini, 1999. "Financial Markets and Firm Dynamics," Working Papers 99-14, New York University, Leonard N. Stern School of Business, Department of Economics.
  5. Bernanke, Ben & Gertler, Mark, 1989. "Agency Costs, Net Worth, and Business Fluctuations," American Economic Review, American Economic Association, vol. 79(1), pages 14-31, March.
  6. Carlstrom, Charles T & Fuerst, Timothy S, 1997. "Agency Costs, Net Worth, and Business Fluctuations: A Computable General Equilibrium Analysis," American Economic Review, American Economic Association, vol. 87(5), pages 893-910, December.
  7. François Gourio, 2009. "Disasters Risk and Business Cycles," NBER Working Papers 15399, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
  8. Douglas W. Diamond & Raghuram G. Rajan, 2011. "Fear of Fire Sales, Illiquidity Seeking, and Credit Freezes," The Quarterly Journal of Economics, Oxford University Press, vol. 126(2), pages 557-591.
  9. Leland, Hayne E, 1994. " Corporate Debt Value, Bond Covenants, and Optimal Capital Structure," Journal of Finance, American Finance Association, vol. 49(4), pages 1213-52, September.
  10. Black, Fischer & Cox, John C, 1976. "Valuing Corporate Securities: Some Effects of Bond Indenture Provisions," Journal of Finance, American Finance Association, vol. 31(2), pages 351-67, May.
  11. Zhigu He & Arvind Krishnamurthy, 2012. "A Model of Capital and Crises," Review of Economic Studies, Oxford University Press, vol. 79(2), pages 735-777.
  12. Carmen M. Reinhart & Kenneth S. Rogoff, 2009. "This Time Is Different: Eight Centuries of Financial Folly," Economics Books, Princeton University Press, edition 1, volume 1, number 8973.
  13. Xavier Gabaix, 2008. "Variable Rare Disasters: An Exactly Solved Framework for Ten Puzzles in Macro-Finance," NBER Working Papers 13724, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
  14. Nicholas Bloom, 2007. "The Impact of Uncertainty Shocks," NBER Working Papers 13385, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
  15. Ben S. Bernanke, 1983. "Non-Monetary Effects of the Financial Crisis in the Propagation of the Great Depression," NBER Working Papers 1054, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
  16. Adriano A. Rampini & S. Viswanathan, 2010. "Collateral, Risk Management, and the Distribution of Debt Capacity," Journal of Finance, American Finance Association, vol. 65(6), pages 2293-2322, December.
  17. Gary B. Gorton, 2012. "Some Reflections on the Recent Financial Crisis," NBER Working Papers 18397, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
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