No. 1009 - Social capital and the cost of credit: evidence from a crisis

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by Paolo Emilio Mistrulli and Valerio Vacca April 2015

Social capital is a key factor affecting the functioning of financial markets (Guiso, Sapienza and Zingales, 2004). However, the estimation of the effect of social capital on credit markets is notoriously difficult. In this paper we exploit the recent Lehman Brothers crisis and a rich dataset to investigate whether social capital shields firms from the tightening of credit conditions. We mainly focus on lending to small Italian firms that rely almost exclusively on banks’ credit and we compare the level of loan interest rates before (June 2008) and after (June 2010) Lehman’s default for a balanced sample of bank-firm relationships. We find that for firms headquartered in provinces where social capital is higher, the rise in the loan spreads following Lehman’s default was milder compared to firms located in low-social capital communities. The benefits were larger for small firms borrowing from more than one bank and for uncollateralised credit but did not extend to larger firms. Moreover, different measures of social capital provide slightly different results, suggesting a more ambiguous role for particularistic networking (e.g. having a wide network of friends) than for altruistic behaviour rooted in universalistic ethics. Finally, the propensity of a community to cooperate in the credit market, a kind of credit-specific measure of networking, did not always have an impact comparable to  that for more general measures of social capital.

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