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The Walking Dead?: Zombie Firms and Productivity Performance in OECD Countries


  • Müge Adalet McGowan
  • Dan Andrews
  • Valentine Millot


This paper explores the extent to which “zombie” firms – defined as old firms that have persistent problems meeting their interest payments – are stifling labour productivity performance. The results show that the prevalence of and resources sunk in zombie firms have risen since the mid-2000s and that the increasing survival of these low productivity firms at the margins of exit congests markets and constrains the growth of more productive firms. Controlling for cyclical effects, cross-country analysis shows that within-industries over the period 2003-2013, a higher share of industry capital sunk in zombie firms is associated with lower investment and employment growth of the typical non-zombie firm and less productivity-enhancing capital reallocation. Besides limiting the expansion possibilities of healthy incumbent firms, market congestion generated by zombie firms can also create barriers to entry and constrain the post-entry growth of young firms. Finally, we link the rise of zombie firms to the decline in OECD potential output growth through two key channels: business investment and multi-factor productivity growth Les Morts-Vivants ? : Entreprises Zombies et Productivité dans les Pays de l’OCDE Ce document examine dans quelle mesure les entreprises “zombies” – définies comme les entreprises de plus de dix ans rencontrant des problèmes persistants dans le remboursement de leurs intérêts – nuisent aux performances de la productivité du travail. Les résultats montrent que la prévalence des entreprises zombies et les ressources qui y sont renfermées ont augmenté depuis le milieu des années 2000 et que l’augmentation de la survie de ces entreprises à faible productivité, au bord de la sortie, accroît la congestion du marché et limite la croissance des entreprises plus productives. Une analyse portant sur différents pays sur la période 2003-2013 et contrôlant pour les effets conjoncturels montre qu’au sein d’un secteur, une part plus importante de capital renfermé dans les entreprises zombies est associée à un moindre investissement et une plus faible croissance de l’emploi pour l’entreprise non-zombie typique, et à une réaffectation du capital moins favorable à la productivité. Outre le fait qu’elle limite les possibilités de croissance des entreprises saines en place, la congestion du marché générée par les entreprises zombies peut également créer des barrières à l’entrée et limiter la croissance après l’entrée des jeunes entreprises. Enfin, nous relions l’augmentation des entreprises zombies au ralentissement de la croissance potentielle de l’OCDE à travers deux mécanismes principaux : l’investissement des entreprises et la croissance de la productivité multifactorielle.

Suggested Citation

  • Müge Adalet McGowan & Dan Andrews & Valentine Millot, 2017. "The Walking Dead?: Zombie Firms and Productivity Performance in OECD Countries," OECD Economics Department Working Papers 1372, OECD Publishing.
  • Handle: RePEc:oec:ecoaaa:1372-en
    DOI: 10.1787/180d80ad-en

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    References listed on IDEAS

    1. Dan Andrews & Filippos Petroulakis, 2017. "Breaking the Shackles: Zombie Firms, Weak Banks and Depressed Restructuring in Europe," OECD Economics Department Working Papers 1433, OECD Publishing.
    2. Dan Andrews & Alessandro Saia, 2017. "Coping with creative destruction: Reducing the costs of firm exit," OECD Economics Department Working Papers 1353, OECD Publishing.
    3. Dan Andrews & Chiara Criscuolo & Peter N. Gal, 2016. "The Best versus the Rest: The Global Productivity Slowdown, Divergence across Firms and the Role of Public Policy," OECD Productivity Working Papers 5, OECD Publishing.
    4. Avouyi-Dovi, S. & Lecat, R. & O’Donnell, C. & Bureau, B. & Villetelle, J-P., 2016. "Are insolvent firms being kept afloat by excessively low interest rates?," Rue de la Banque, Banque de France, issue 29, september.
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    More about this item


    firm exit; investment; misallocation; productivity; zombie lending;
    All these keywords.

    JEL classification:

    • D24 - Microeconomics - - Production and Organizations - - - Production; Cost; Capital; Capital, Total Factor, and Multifactor Productivity; Capacity
    • E22 - Macroeconomics and Monetary Economics - - Consumption, Saving, Production, Employment, and Investment - - - Investment; Capital; Intangible Capital; Capacity
    • G32 - Financial Economics - - Corporate Finance and Governance - - - Financing Policy; Financial Risk and Risk Management; Capital and Ownership Structure; Value of Firms; Goodwill
    • O16 - Economic Development, Innovation, Technological Change, and Growth - - Economic Development - - - Financial Markets; Saving and Capital Investment; Corporate Finance and Governance
    • O40 - Economic Development, Innovation, Technological Change, and Growth - - Economic Growth and Aggregate Productivity - - - General
    • O47 - Economic Development, Innovation, Technological Change, and Growth - - Economic Growth and Aggregate Productivity - - - Empirical Studies of Economic Growth; Aggregate Productivity; Cross-Country Output Convergence

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