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Bank credit, trade credit or no credit: Evidence from the Surveys of Small Business Finances

Cole, Rebel (2010): Bank credit, trade credit or no credit: Evidence from the Surveys of Small Business Finances.

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Abstract

In this study, we use data from the SSBFs to provide new information about the use of credit by small businesses in the U.S. More specifically, we first analyze firms that do and do not use credit; and then analyze why some firms use trade credit while others use bank credit. We find that one in five small firms uses no credit, one in five uses trade credit only, one in five uses bank credit only, and two in five use both bank credit and trade credit. These results are consistent across the three SSBFs we examine—1993, 1998 and 2003. When compared to firms that use credit, we find that firms using no credit are significantly smaller, more profitable, more liquid and of better credit quality; but hold fewer tangible assets. We also find that firms using no credit are more likely to be found in the services industries and in the wholesale and retail-trade industries. In general, these findings are consistent with the pecking-order theory of firm capital structure. Firms that use trade credit are larger, more liquid, of worse credit quality, and less likely to be a firm that primarily provides services. Among firms that use trade credit, the amount used as a percentage of assets is positively related to liquidity and negatively related to credit quality and is lower at firms that primarily provide services. In general, these results are consistent with the financing-advantage theory of trade credit. Firms that use bank credit are larger, less profitable, less liquid and more opaque as measured by firm age, i.e., younger. Among firms that use bank credit, the amount used as a percentage of assets is positively related to firm liquidity and to firm opacity as measured by firm age. Again, these results are generally consistent with the pecking-order theory of capital structure, but with some notable exceptions. We contribute to the literature on the availability of credit in at least two important ways. First, we provide the first rigorous analysis of the differences between small U.S. firms that do and do not use credit. Second, for those small U.S. firms that do participate in the credit markets, we provide new evidence regarding factors that determine their use of trade credit and of bank credit, and whether these two types of credit are substitutes (Meltzer, 1960) or complements (Burkart and Ellingsen, 2004). Our evidence strongly suggests that they are complements.

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