NATIONAL BUREAU OF ECONOMIC RESEARCH
NATIONAL BUREAU OF ECONOMIC RESEARCH

Financial Distress in the Great Depression

John R. Graham, Sonali Hazarika, Krishnamoorthy Narasimhan

NBER Working Paper No. 17388
Issued in September 2011
NBER Program(s):   TWP

We use firm-level data to study corporate performance during the Great Depression era for all industrial firms on the NYSE. Our goal is to identify the factors that contribute to business insolvency and valuation changes during the period 1928 to 1938. We find that firms with more debt and lower bond ratings in 1928 became financially distressed more frequently during the Depression, consistent with the trade-off theory of leverage and the information production role of credit rating agencies. We also document for the first time that firms responded to tax incentives to use debt during the Depression era, but that the extra debt used in response to this tax-driven “debt bias” did not contribute significantly to the occurrence of distress. Finally, we conduct an out of sample test during the recent 2008-2009 Recession and find that higher leverage and lower bond ratings also increased the occurrence of financial distress during this period.

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Document Object Identifier (DOI): 10.3386/w17388

Published: Graham, John R., Sonali Hazarika, and Krishnamoorthy Narasimhan, 2011, Financial Distress in the Great Depression, Financial Management 40, 821-844. -- Lead article

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