Predicting the past: Understanding the causes of bank distress in the Netherlands in the 1920s

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Abstract

Why do some banks fail in financial crises while others survive? This article answers this question by analysing the effect of the Dutch financial crisis of the 1920s on 142 banks, of which 33 failed. We find that choices of balance sheet composition and product market strategy made in the lead-up to the crisis had a significant impact on banks’ subsequent chances of experiencing distress. We document that high-risk banks – those operating highly-leveraged portfolios and attracting large quantities of deposits – were more likely to fail. Branching and international activities also increased banks’ default probabilities. We measure the effects of board interlocks, which have been characterized in the extant literature as contributing to the Dutch crisis. We find that boards mattered: failing banks had smaller boards, shared directors with smaller and very profitable banks and had a lower concentration of interlocking directorates in non-financial firms.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)97-121
Number of pages25
JournalExplorations in Economic History
Volume55
Early online date16 Sep 2014
DOIs
Publication statusPublished - Jan 2015

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Distress
The Netherlands
1920s
Causes
Financial crisis
Financial Crisis
Balance sheet
Interlock
Market strategy
Interlocking directorates
Deposits
Product market
Default probability
Bank risk

Cite this

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title = "Predicting the past: Understanding the causes of bank distress in the Netherlands in the 1920s",
abstract = "Why do some banks fail in financial crises while others survive? This article answers this question by analysing the effect of the Dutch financial crisis of the 1920s on 142 banks, of which 33 failed. We find that choices of balance sheet composition and product market strategy made in the lead-up to the crisis had a significant impact on banks’ subsequent chances of experiencing distress. We document that high-risk banks – those operating highly-leveraged portfolios and attracting large quantities of deposits – were more likely to fail. Branching and international activities also increased banks’ default probabilities. We measure the effects of board interlocks, which have been characterized in the extant literature as contributing to the Dutch crisis. We find that boards mattered: failing banks had smaller boards, shared directors with smaller and very profitable banks and had a lower concentration of interlocking directorates in non-financial firms.",
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AB - Why do some banks fail in financial crises while others survive? This article answers this question by analysing the effect of the Dutch financial crisis of the 1920s on 142 banks, of which 33 failed. We find that choices of balance sheet composition and product market strategy made in the lead-up to the crisis had a significant impact on banks’ subsequent chances of experiencing distress. We document that high-risk banks – those operating highly-leveraged portfolios and attracting large quantities of deposits – were more likely to fail. Branching and international activities also increased banks’ default probabilities. We measure the effects of board interlocks, which have been characterized in the extant literature as contributing to the Dutch crisis. We find that boards mattered: failing banks had smaller boards, shared directors with smaller and very profitable banks and had a lower concentration of interlocking directorates in non-financial firms.

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