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

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

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

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Date of creation: 2013
Date of revision:
Handle: RePEc:fip:fedmsr:484
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  1. Thomas F. Cooley & Vincenzo Quadrini, 2001. "Financial Markets and Firm Dynamics," American Economic Review, American Economic Association, vol. 91(5), pages 1286-1310, December.
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  14. 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.
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  18. Yan Bai & Patrick Kehoe & Cristina Arellano, 2011. "Financial Markets and Fluctuations in Uncertainty," 2011 Meeting Papers 896, Society for Economic Dynamics.
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