ZURICH–The number of profit-constrained “zombie” firms has risen sharply since the late 1980s, according to research published Sunday by the Bank for International Settlements, a sign of the lingering effects from ultralow interest rates since the financial crisis.
Zombie firms are generally defined as companies that can’t service their debt from profits during an extended period. These types of companies, which first gained attention in Japan decades ago and have since gained prevalence in Europe, steer resources away from healthier parts of the economy, weighing on productivity and economic growth.
“The prevalence of zombie firms has ratcheted up since the late 1980s,” according to a paper published Sunday by the Switzerland-based BIS, a consortium of central banks, in its quarterly review of financial market developments.
Under a broad definition–the ratio of earnings before interest and taxes to interest paid is less than one for three-straight years in companies more than 10-years old–the percentage of zombie companies rose from 2% in the late 1980s to 12% in 2016. The data used by the authors covered 14 developed economies including the U.S., Japan, Germany and France.
And they seem to stay that way for longer. The authors found that whereas in the late 1980s zombie firms had a 60% chance of staying in that condition the following year, the probability reached 85% in 2016. Low interest rates have helped these firms stay afloat by reducing their financial pressure to reduce debt.
“Lower rates boost aggregate demand and raise employment and investment in the short run. But the higher prevalence of zombies they leave behind misallocate resources and weigh on productivity growth,” the authors wrote.
For the full story, see:
Brian Blackstone. “Rise of the Zombies: Ranks of Non-Viable Firms Up Sharply Since 1980s, Study Says; Low rates have helped these firms stay afloat by reducing their financial pressure to reduce debt.” The Wall Street Journal (Sunday, Sept. 23, 2018 URL: https://www.wsj.com/articles/rise-of-the-zombies-ranks-of-non-viable-firms-up-sharply-since-1980s-study-says-1537718401?mod=searchresults&page=1&pos=2
(Note: at least as of Oct. 1, 2018, this article appears only to have been published online.)
The study published in BIS Quarterly Review, and mentioned above, is:
Banerjee, Ryan Niladri, and Boris Hofmann. “The Rise of Zombie Firms: Causes and Consequences.” BIS Quarterly Review (Sept. 2018): 67-78.