Machine Learning for Zombie Hunting. Firms' Failures and Financial Constraints
40 Pages Posted: 30 Apr 2020 Last revised: 26 May 2020
Date Written: April 28, 2020
In this contribution, we exploit machine learning techniques to predict the risk of failure of firms. Then, we propose an empirical definition of zombies as firms that persist in a status of high risk, beyond the highest decile, after which we observe that the chances to transit to lower risk are minimal. We implement a Bayesian Additive Regression Tree with Missing Incorporated in Attributes (BART-MIA), which is specifically useful in our setting as we provide evidence that patterns of undisclosed accounts correlate with firms' failures. After training our algorithm on 304,906 firms in Italy in the period 2008-2017, we show how it outperforms proxy models like the Z-scores and the Distance-to-Default, traditional econometric methods, and other widely used machine learning techniques. We document that zombies are on average 21% less productive, 76% smaller, and they increased in times of financial crisis. In general, we argue that our application helps in the design of evidence-based policies in the presence of market failures, for example optimal bankruptcy laws. We believe our framework can help to inform the design of support programs for highly distressed firms after the recent pandemic crisis.
Keywords: machine learning, Bayesian statistical learning, financial constraints, bankruptcy, zombie firms
JEL Classification: C53, C55, G32, G33, L21, L25
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