NATIONAL BUREAU OF ECONOMIC RESEARCH
NATIONAL BUREAU OF ECONOMIC RESEARCH

How Does Government Borrowing Affect Corporate Financing and Investment?

John Graham, Mark T. Leary, Michael R. Roberts

NBER Working Paper No. 20581
Issued in October 2014
NBER Program(s):   CF   EFG

Using a novel dataset of accounting and market information that spans most publicly traded nonfinancial firms over the last century, we show that U.S. federal government debt issuance significantly affects corporate financial policies and balance sheets through its impact on investors' portfolio allocations and the relative pricing of different assets. Government debt is strongly negatively correlated with corporate debt and investment, but strongly positively correlated with corporate liquidity. These relations are more pronounced in larger, less risky firms whose debt is a closer substitute for Treasuries. Indeed, we find a strong negative relation between the BAA-AAA yield spread and government debt, highlighting the greater sensitivity of more highly rated credit to variation in the supply of Treasuries. The channel through which this effect operates is investors' portfolio decisions: domestic intermediaries actively substitute between lending to the federal government and the nonfinancial corporate sector. The relations between government debt and corporate policies, as well as the substitution between government and corporate debt by intermediaries, are stronger after 1970 when foreign demand increased competition for Treasury securities. In concert, our results suggest that large, financially healthy corporations act as liquidity providers by supplying relatively safe securities to investors when alternatives are in short supply, and that this financial strategy influences firms' capital structures and investment policies.

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Document Object Identifier (DOI): 10.3386/w20581

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