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

  • Andrew G. 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. 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.
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  8. Kiyotaki, Nobuhiro & Moore, John, 1997. "Credit Cycles," Journal of Political Economy, University of Chicago Press, vol. 105(2), pages 211-48, April.
  9. Charles T. Carlstrom & Timothy S. Fuerst, 1996. "Agency costs, net worth, and business fluctuations: a computable general equilibrium analysis," Working Paper 9602, Federal Reserve Bank of Cleveland.
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  13. 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.
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  17. Yan Bai & Patrick Kehoe & Cristina Arellano, 2011. "Financial Markets and Fluctuations in Uncertainty," 2011 Meeting Papers 896, Society for Economic Dynamics.
  18. Zhigu He & Arvind Krishnamurthy, 2012. "A Model of Capital and Crises," Review of Economic Studies, Oxford University Press, vol. 79(2), pages 735-777.
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