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An empirical model of sunk costs and the decision to export

  • Roberts, Mark J.
  • Tybout, James R.

Exports respond unpredictably to a change in real exchange rates, suggests evidence from the 1980s. Recent theoretical work explains this as a consequence of the sunk costs associated with breaking into foreign markets. Sunk costs include the cost of packaging, upgrading product quality, establishing marketing channels, and accumulating information on demand sources. The authors use micro panel data to estimate a dynamic discrete-choice model of participation in export markets, a model derived from the Krugman-Baldwin sunk-cost hysteresis framework. Applying the model to data on manufacturing plants in Colombia (1981-89), they test for the presence of sunk entry costs and quantify the importance of those costs in explaining export patterns. The econometric results reject the hypothesis that sunk costs are zero. The results, which control for both observed and unobserved sources of plant heterogeneity, indicate that prior export market experience has a substantial effect on the probability of exporting, but its effect depreciates fairly quickly. The reentry costs of plants that have been out of the export market for a year are substantially lower than the costs of a first-time exporter. After a year out of the export market, however, the reentry costs are not significantly different from the entry costs. Plant characteristics are also associated with export behavior: large old plants owned by corporations are more likely to export than other plants. Variations in plant-level cost and demand conditions have much less effect on the profitability of exporting than variations in macroeconomic conditions and sunk costs do. It appears especially difficult to break into foreign markets during periods of world recession.

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Paper provided by The World Bank in its series Policy Research Working Paper Series with number 1436.

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Date of creation: 31 Mar 1995
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Handle: RePEc:wbk:wbrwps:1436
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  1. Zvi Eckstein & Kenneth I. Wolpin, 1989. "The Specification and Estimation of Dynamic Stochastic Discrete Choice Models: A Survey," Journal of Human Resources, University of Wisconsin Press, vol. 24(4), pages 562-598.
  2. Dunne, Timothy & Roberts, Mark J & Samuelson, Larry, 1989. "The Growth and Failure of U.S. Manufacturing Plants," The Quarterly Journal of Economics, MIT Press, vol. 104(4), pages 671-98, November.
  3. Richard Baldwin, 1989. "Sunk-Cost Hysteresis," NBER Working Papers 2911, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
  4. Richard Baldwin & Paul R. Krugman, 1986. "Persistent Trade Effects of Large Exchage Rate Shocks," NBER Working Papers 2017, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
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  7. Evans, David S., 1986. "Tests of Alternative Theories of Firm Growth," Working Papers 86-36, C.V. Starr Center for Applied Economics, New York University.
  8. Dixit, Avinash K, 1989. "Hysteresis, Import Penetration, and Exchange Rate Pass-Through," The Quarterly Journal of Economics, MIT Press, vol. 104(2), pages 205-28, May.
  9. Goldstein, Morris & Khan, Mohsin S., 1985. "Income and price effects in foreign trade," Handbook of International Economics, in: R. W. Jones & P. B. Kenen (ed.), Handbook of International Economics, edition 1, volume 2, chapter 20, pages 1041-1105 Elsevier.
  10. Timothy F. BRESNAHAN & Peter C.REISS, 1994. "Measuring the Importance of Sunk Costs," Annales d'Economie et de Statistique, ENSAE, issue 34, pages 181-217.
  11. Bresnahan, T.F & Reiss, P.C., 1989. "Entry And Competition In Concentrated Markets," Papers 151, Stanford - Studies in Industry Economics.
  12. Feinberg, Robert M., 1992. "Hysteresis and export targeting," International Journal of Industrial Organization, Elsevier, vol. 10(4), pages 679-684, December.
  13. James J. Heckman, 1981. "Heterogeneity and State Dependence," NBER Chapters, in: Studies in Labor Markets, pages 91-140 National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
  14. Butler, J S & Moffitt, Robert, 1982. "A Computationally Efficient Quadrature Procedure for the One-Factor Multinomial Probit Model," Econometrica, Econometric Society, vol. 50(3), pages 761-64, May.
  15. Campa, Joe Manuel, 1993. "Entry by Foreign Firms in the United States under Exchange Rate Uncertainty," The Review of Economics and Statistics, MIT Press, vol. 75(4), pages 614-22, November.
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