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The differential impact of leverage on the default risk of small and large firms

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  • Cathcart, Lara
  • Dufour, Alfonso
  • Rossi, Ludovico
  • Varotto, Simone

Abstract

We analyse a sample of 6 million firm-year observations of large corporations and small and medium sized enterprises (SMEs) spanning 6 European countries from 2005 to 2015, to determine the impact of leverage and different sources of funding on default risk. We find that financial leverage has a greater impact on the probability of default of SMEs than of large corporations. The difference in default probability between the top and bottom leverage quartiles is 1.24% for large firms and 2.87% for SMEs. This difference may be explained by the greater exposure of SMEs to short-term debt and their consequently higher refinancing risk. Indeed, we find that SMEs that recover from the state of insolvency may have similar leverage to defaulted SMEs; however their liability structure is significantly altered towards long-term debt and away from short-term debt. Our findings have important implications not only for bank regulators and policy-makers but also for credit risk modelling.

Suggested Citation

  • Cathcart, Lara & Dufour, Alfonso & Rossi, Ludovico & Varotto, Simone, 2020. "The differential impact of leverage on the default risk of small and large firms," Journal of Corporate Finance, Elsevier, vol. 60(C).
  • Handle: RePEc:eee:corfin:v:60:y:2020:i:c:s0929119918305443
    DOI: 10.1016/j.jcorpfin.2019.101541
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    More about this item

    Keywords

    Default risk; Leverage; Small and medium enterprises; Recovery probabilities;
    All these keywords.

    JEL classification:

    • G01 - Financial Economics - - General - - - Financial Crises
    • G32 - Financial Economics - - Corporate Finance and Governance - - - Financing Policy; Financial Risk and Risk Management; Capital and Ownership Structure; Value of Firms; Goodwill
    • G33 - Financial Economics - - Corporate Finance and Governance - - - Bankruptcy; Liquidation

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