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Gibrat's law redux: Think profitability instead of growth

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  • Philipp Mundt

    () (Department of Economics, University of Bamberg, Bamberg, Germany)

  • Mishael Milakovic

    () (Department of Economics, University of Bamberg, Bamberg, Germany)

  • Simone Alfarano

    () (Department of Economics, Universitat Jaume I, Castellón, Spain)

Abstract

The basic philosophy behind Gibrat's rule of proportionate effect has been to find some common mechanism in the growth process of business firms, based on the idea that growth rates are independent of size and drawn from the same distribution. After decades of research, however, it seems fair to say that the ÒlawÓ fails to provide a universal mechanism for the growth of firms. Here we take the position that it is more plausible for GibratÕs approach to apply to firm profitability rather than firm growth, in line with the classical idea of economic competition as a dynamic process of capital reallocation. Considering a sample of more than five hundred long-lived US corporations from virtually all sectors, we compare the statistical properties of growth and profit rates over a time span of thirty years, and find that profit rates and their volatilities are independent of size, which is not true of growth rates. We also find that the empirical densities of both profitability and growth can be described by exponential power (or Subbotin) distributions, but there are pronounced differences in their parameterizations and autocorrelation structures. We argue that a recently proposed diffusion process not only reproduces the cross-sectional distribution of profit rates, but is also consistent with the empirical time series of individual firms and their autocorrelations. In the natural sciences such a situation is commonly referred to as a statistical equilibrium, while econometricians speak of ergodicity and stationarity. Our economic interpretation of this property is that all surviving firms are subject to the same competitive pressures of capital reallocation, irrespective of their industry or particular line of business. They all face the same profitability benchmark and volatility, while their idiosyncratic efforts merely have an effect on the persistence of abnormal profits. In other words, survivors have to participate in the same game and can only choose to do so at different ÒspeedsÓ. We conclude with the empirical observation that the speed of convergence from abnormal profits to the system-wide average depends negatively on firm size, diversification, and capital intensity.

Suggested Citation

  • Philipp Mundt & Mishael Milakovic & Simone Alfarano, 2014. "Gibrat's law redux: Think profitability instead of growth," Working Papers 2014/02, Economics Department, Universitat Jaume I, Castellón (Spain).
  • Handle: RePEc:jau:wpaper:2014/02
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    References listed on IDEAS

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    2. Meyer, Dietmar & Shera, Adela, 2015. "Remittances' impact on the labor supply and on the deficit of current account," BERG Working Paper Series 97, Bamberg University, Bamberg Economic Research Group.
    3. Schmitt, Noemi & Westerhoff, Frank, 2015. "Evolutionary competition and profit taxes: market stability versus tax burden," BERG Working Paper Series 104, Bamberg University, Bamberg Economic Research Group.
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    6. Fatoke Dato, Mafaizath A., 2015. "Impact of income shock on children’s schooling and labor in a West African country," MPRA Paper 64317, University Library of Munich, Germany.
    7. Williams, Michael A. & Baek, Grace & Park, Leslie Y. & Zhao, Wei, 2016. "Global evidence on the distribution of economic profit rates," Physica A: Statistical Mechanics and its Applications, Elsevier, vol. 458(C), pages 356-363.
    8. Fatoke-Dato, Mafaïzath A., 2015. "Impact of an educational demand-and-supply policy on girls' education in West Africa: Heterogeneity in income, school environment and ethnicity," BERG Working Paper Series 101, Bamberg University, Bamberg Economic Research Group.
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    Keywords

    Profit rates; diffusion process; statistical equilibrium; dynamic competition; persistence;

    JEL classification:

    • C16 - Mathematical and Quantitative Methods - - Econometric and Statistical Methods and Methodology: General - - - Econometric and Statistical Methods; Specific Distributions
    • L10 - Industrial Organization - - Market Structure, Firm Strategy, and Market Performance - - - General
    • D21 - Microeconomics - - Production and Organizations - - - Firm Behavior: Theory
    • E10 - Macroeconomics and Monetary Economics - - General Aggregative Models - - - General

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