Can the Financial Restraint Hypothesis Explain Japan's Postwar Experience?
While the Japanese banking sector seems to have disciplined borrower firms for inefficient management in the high growth era, its fragility was revealed by the serious non-performing loans since the early 1990s. According to 'the financial restraint hypothesis' advocated by Hellman, Murdock and Stiglitz (1996), the comprehensive competition-restricting regulation was effective in motivating banks to prudently monitor their client firms by giving the banks excess profit opportunities. The financial deregulation started at the beginning of the 1980s undermined banks' profitability and induced the banks to shirk monitoring. Thus, according to the financial restraint hypothesis, the Japan's bank crisis in the 1990s was a consequence of the financial deregulation in the 1980s. This paper criticizes the financial restraint hypothesis, and proposes the alternative hypothesis that the banking sector was potentially fragile even before the 1980s because the government was unable to penalize inefficiently managed banks in credible ways. The manufacturing firms, which were disciplined by competitive pressures from abroad, reduced their reliance on bank credit in the late 1970s, and non-traded good industries such as real estate became major borrowers of bank credit in the 1980s. This structural change in the bank credit market revealed the potential fragility of the Japanese banking sector. The empirical analyses based on more than 1,600 manufacturing firms supports the alternative hypothesis this paper proposes.
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