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Does Product Market Competition Cause Capital Constraints?

At the very center of Schumpeter’s (1934, 1942) notion of creative destruction is firms’ access to bank capital, which helps to fund the innovation in competitive product markets that drives out less productive firms in favor of those with more profitable ideas. However, competition is a two-edged sword and may result in firms being unable to fund all of their otherwise economically profitable investments. Using unique survey data from 58 countries, Bergbrant, Hunter, and Kelly (2016) find that product market competition increases capital constraints and has a greater effect than banking sector competition. Further, we show that quantity-of-capital constraints negatively impact firm growth.

Capital and creative destruction

At the very center of Schumpeter’s (1934, 1942) notion of creative destruction is firms’ access to bank capital, which helps to fund the innovation in competitive product markets that drives out less productive firms in favor of those with more profitable ideas. While product market competition may be the fundamental driver of the innovation envisioned by Schumpeter, it may also impede access to the very source of capital that is supposed to fund that innovation. More intense product market competition can affect firms’ ability to finance their projects either by increasing the price of financing or by inducing capital constraints, whereby firms are unable to obtain the quantity of capital needed to fund all their positive net present value projects.

Recent research has focused on the price side of financing, showing that product market competition increases the cost of equity (Hou and Robinson, 2006) and the cost of debt (Valta, 2012). In this brief we examine the quantity side of financing; that is, whether product market competition increases capital constraints.

Isn’t it obvious that competition causes capital constraints?

Actually, no. There is a familiar argument that firms are reluctant to disclose commercially valuable information when competitors are more likely to exploit this information. Theory predicts that it is not optimal for creditors to respond to the resulting asymmetric information by raising interest rates; instead, restricting capital is more appropriate (Stiglitz and Weiss, 1981). However, competition may have the very opposite effect because a competitive environment lowers owners’ cost of monitoring and measuring managerial performance. Theory and recent empirical tests indicate that lower cost of monitoring managers induces greater disclosure by owners.

Whether or not product market competition makes banks restrict the supply of loans is arguably more important than whether it influences the cost of debt. Greenwald, Stiglitz, and Weiss (1984) show that firms’ investment behavior is not particularly sensitive to the interest rates they pay, consistent with the notion that increases in the cost of debt may reduce investment, but only at the margin; i.e., projects change from generating economic profits to generating economic losses (net present value changes from positive to negative). By contrast, increased capital constraints can lead to underinvestment by forcing firms to abandon projects which generate economic profits (net present values are positive), thus hindering investment and preventing firm innovation and growth (see Harford and Uysal, 2014).

What does the research tell us?

Recent research by Bergbrant, Hunter, and Kelly (2016) uses survey data obtained from the World Bank’s World Business Environment Survey, conducted among non-financial firms from around the world. Capital constraints are the response to a question about the extent of the obstacle to operations and growth posed by capital constraints that managers and owners rank from 1 (No Obstacle) to 4 (Major Obstacle). Competition is represented by an index constructed from eight individual forms of competition reported by firms.

The empirical evidence indicates that the intensity of product market competition significantly increases capital constraints. Table 1 shows the marginal effects of a change in the intensity of competition on capital constraints. For instance, the first row shows that a small (instantaneous rate of) increase in product market competition leads to an increase in the likelihood that capital constraints are a “major obstacle” (4 on a four- point scale) at a rate of 18.9%. Similar results hold when competition is assessed at a one-standard-deviation (3rd row) increase or when competition changes from 0 to 1 on a version of our competition index which ranges from 0 to 1 (5th row).

Table 1: Effect of competition on capital constraints

For a change of:


No obstacle


Minor obstacle


Mod. obstacle


Major obstacle


0 to 1-0.145-0.0590.0080.196

Note: The table reports the marginal effects “for a change of” product market competition of varying amounts on firms responding that capital constraints pose one of the four levels of “obstacle” for their operations.

The above results are qualitatively similar when the competition index is replaced by any one of its eight individual components. In addition, competition increases not only a measure of general capital constraints, as employed in the above analysis, but also specific forms of capital constraints. These include the credit constraints that firms experience when, as a precondition for lending, banks require that borrowers have special connections in the banking sector, pledge collateral, satisfy banks’ bureaucratic need for business documents, and pay bribes to corrupt bank officials. Further, the evidence is not unique to domestic bank capital as more intense product market competition also impedes firms’ access to nonbank equity, foreign bank capital, special export financing, and lease financing.

To further validate our main result we account for two well-established strands of research that contend that banking sector competitiveness is among the most important determinants of access to credit and that banking sector structure can also affect the competiveness of non-financial firms’ industries. The evidence reported in Table 2 shows that while (one of three measures of) banking sector competition and the degree of bank freedom affect capital constraints, in general the regulatory structure of the banking sector does not. More important, our main finding is unchanged when controlling for banking sector structure. Finally, it is important to note that in all our models we control for any cost-of-debt (higher-interest-rate) effects.

Table 2: Accounting for banking sector structure

Competition (10 separate models)+ve signif.
Lerner bank competition index+ve, signif.
Bank concentration ratioinsignif.
Boone indicator of banking sectorinsignif.
private credit as a fraction of GDPinsignif.
restrictions on nonbank activitiesinsignif.
fraction of bank applications deniedinsignif.
bank freedom from gov’t interference-ve, signif.
existence of a credit registryinsignif.
foreign bank share of banking systeminsignif.
government share of banking systeminsignif.

Note: We augment our main model with the above banking sector variables, one at a time, to determine their impact on the significance (signif. or insignif.) of product market competition.

Capital constraints hurt firms’ growth and so we expect our measure of capital constraints to be negatively associated with growth. We confirm this in the data, after controlling for the direct impact of competition on growth. We also find that the quantity-of-capital effect has a greater impact on expected firm growth than the cost-of-capital effect.


Our research indicates that the intensity of product market competition increases capital constraints even in the presence of controls for banking sector competition. Our work suggests several policy recommendations. First, the implementation of a product-market competition policy, for instance by several Central and Eastern European countries in the 1990s (Fingleton et al., 1996; Dutz and Vagliasindi, 2000), should contemplate the possibility that such action is likely to have negative externalities for firms’ access to capital. Second, banking sector reforms aimed at creating a more competitive banking system in order to improve access to capital should not be pursued in isolation and should take into consideration the existing competitiveness of the product market. Third, given that the quantity-of-capital effect has a greater impact on firm growth than the cost-of-capital effect, policymakers should exert at least as much effort in easing quantity constraints as they do to reduce the cost of capital.


  • Bergbrant, M.; D. Hunter; and P. Kelly, 2016. “Product Market Competition, Capital Constraints and Firm Growth”. Available at SSRN:
  • Dutz, M. A.; and M. Vagliasindi, 2000. “Competition policy implementation in transition economies: An empirical assessment”. European Economic Review 44, 762-772. Fingleton, J.; E. Fox; D. Neven; and P. Seabright, 1996. “Competition policy and the transformation of central and eastern Europe”. Working paper. CEPR, London.
  • Greenwald, B.; J.E. Stiglitz; and A. Weiss, 1984. “Informational imperfections in the capital market and macroeconomic fluctuations”. American Economic Review 74(2), 194-199.
  • Harford, J.; and V. B. Uysal, 2014. “Bond market access and investment”. Journal of Financial Economics 112, 147-163.
  • Hou, K.; and D. Robinson, 2006. “Industry concentration and average stock returns”. Journal of Finance 61, 1927-1956.
  • Schumpeter, J.A., 1934. “The Theory of Economic Development”. Harvard University Press, Cambridge, MA.
  • Schumpeter, J. A., 1942. “Capitalism, Socialism and Democracy”. Harper and Brothers, New York, NY.
  • Stiglitz, J.; and A. Weiss, 1981. “Credit rationing in markets with imperfect information”. Amer. Econ. Review 71, 393-410.Valta, P., 2012. “Competition and the cost of debt”. Journal of Financial Economics, 105(3), 661-682.

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