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Who said large banks don’t experience scale economies? Evidence from a risk-return-driven cost function

  • Joseph P. Hughes
  • Loretta J. Mester

The Great Recession focused attention on large financial institutions and systemic risk. We investigate whether large size provides any cost advantages to the economy and, if so, whether these cost advantages are due to technological scale economies or too-big-to-fail subsidies. Estimating scale economies is made more complex by risk-taking. Better diversification resulting from larger scale generates scale economies but also incentives to take more risk. When this additional risk-taking adds to cost, it can obscure the underlying scale economies and engender misleading econometric estimates of them. Using data pre- and post-crisis, we estimate scale economies using two production models. The standard model ignores endogenous risk-taking and finds little evidence of scale economies. The model accounting for managerial risk preferences and endogenous risk-taking finds large scale economies, which are not driven by too-big-to-fail considerations. We evaluate the costs and competitive implications of breaking up the largest banks into smaller banks. ; This paper supersedes Federal Reserve Bank of Philadelphia Working Paper No. 11-27

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Paper provided by Federal Reserve Bank of Philadelphia in its series Working Papers with number 13-13.

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Date of creation: 2013
Date of revision: 04 Feb 2014
Handle: RePEc:fip:fedpwp:13-13
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  1. Loretta J. Mester, 1990. "Traditional and nontraditional banking: an information-theoretic approach," Working Papers 90-3, Federal Reserve Bank of Philadelphia.
  2. Elijah Brewer & Julapa Jagtiani, 2009. "How much did banks pay to become too-big-to-fail and to become systemically important?," Working Papers 09-34, Federal Reserve Bank of Philadelphia.
  3. Joseph P. Hughes & Loretta J. Mester, 1998. "Bank Capitalization And Cost: Evidence Of Scale Economies In Risk Management And Signaling," The Review of Economics and Statistics, MIT Press, vol. 80(2), pages 314-325, May.
  4. Michel Habib & Alexander Ljungqvist, 2000. "Firm Value and Managerial Incentives: A Stochastic Frontier Approach," OFRC Working Papers Series 2000fe03, Oxford Financial Research Centre.
  5. Joseph P. Hughes & William W. Lang & Choon-Geol Moon & Michael S. Pagano, 1999. "Measuring the efficiency of capital allocation in commercial banking," Proceedings 626, Federal Reserve Bank of Chicago.
  6. Hughes, Joseph P, et al, 1996. "Efficient Banking under Interstate Branching," Journal of Money, Credit and Banking, Blackwell Publishing, vol. 28(4), pages 1045-71, November.
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  8. Braeutigam, Ronald R. & Daughety, Andrew F., 1983. "On the estimation of returns to scale using variable cost functions," Economics Letters, Elsevier, vol. 11(1-2), pages 25-31.
  9. Joseph P. Hughes & Loretta J. Mester & Choon-Geol Moon, 2000. "Are scale economies in banking elusive or illusive? Evidence obtained by incorporating capital structure and risk-taking into models of bank production," Working Papers 00-4, Federal Reserve Bank of Philadelphia.
  10. Deaton, Angus S & Muellbauer, John, 1980. "An Almost Ideal Demand System," American Economic Review, American Economic Association, vol. 70(3), pages 312-26, June.
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  12. Joseph P. Hughes & William W. Lang & Loretta J. Mester & Choon-Geol Moon, 2000. "Recovering risky technologies using the almost ideal demand system: an application to U.S. banking," Working Papers 00-5, Federal Reserve Bank of Philadelphia.
  13. Demsetz, Rebecca S & Strahan, Philip E, 1997. "Diversification, Size, and Risk at Bank Holding Companies," Journal of Money, Credit and Banking, Blackwell Publishing, vol. 29(3), pages 300-313, August.
  14. Tufano, Peter, 1996. " Who Manages Risk? An Empirical Examination of Risk Management Practices in the Gold Mining Industry," Journal of Finance, American Finance Association, vol. 51(4), pages 1097-1137, September.
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  16. Alan Greenspan, 2010. "The Crisis," Brookings Papers on Economic Activity, Economic Studies Program, The Brookings Institution, vol. 41(1 (Spring), pages 201-261.
  17. Isil Erel & Taylor D. Nadauld & René M. Stulz, 2011. "Why Did U.S. Banks Invest in Highly-Rated Securitization Tranches?," NBER Working Papers 17269, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
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