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Small and Large Firms over the Business Cycle

Working Paper 741 | Published September 6, 2017

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Neil Mehrotra Assistant Vice President and Policy Advisor
Small and Large Firms over the Business Cycle


Drawing from confidential firm-level data of US manufacturing firms, we provide new evidence on the cyclicality of small and large firms. We show that the cyclicality of sales and investment declines with firm size. The effect is primarily driven by differences between the top 0.5% of firms and the rest. Moreover, we show that, due to the skewness of sales and investment, the higher cyclicality of small firms has a negligible influence on the behavior of aggregates. We argue that the size asymmetry is unlikely to be driven by financial frictions given 1) the absence of statistically significant differences in the behavior of production inputs or debt in recessions, 2) the survival of the size effect after directly controlling for proxies of financial strength, and 3) the predictions of a simple financial frictions model, in which unconstrained (large) firms contract more in recessions than constrained (small) firms.

Published in the _American Economic Review_, (Vol. 110 No. 11, November 2020, pp. 3549-3601),