The Secular Decline in Private Firm Leverage
48 Pages Posted: 16 May 2022 Last revised: 25 Jul 2022
Date Written: May 2022
Using firm-level administrative tax data on the 43% of business liabilities in the United States tied to privately held firms, we document dramatic reductions in leverage since the Great Recession. Leverage for the average private firm fell fifteen percent between 2004 and 2018. In contrast, leverage among public firms rose during this period. The decline in leverage among private firms is inconsistent with theories that suggest firm leverage tracks pro-cyclical credit market conditions. Younger and smaller private firms see especially large declines in leverage, and we find that reduced leverage among private firms is correlated with lower investment. Our findings have important implications for theories on how firm leverage and investment relate to economic fluctuations.
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