Causes of U.S. Bank Distress during the Depression

Download file The full text of this paper is available here as an Adobe Acrobat PDF.

Abstract

This paper provides the first comprehensive econometric analysis of the causes of bank distress during the Depression. We assemble bank-level data for virtually all Fed member banks, and combine those data with county-level, state-level, and national-level economic characteristics to capture cross-sectional and inter-temporal variation in the determinants of bank failure. We construct a model of bank survival duration suing these fundamental determinants of bank failure as predictors, and investigate the adequacy of fundamentals for explaining bank failures during alleged episodes of nationwide or regional banking panics. We find that fundamentals explain most of the incidence of bank failure, and argue that “contagion or “liquidity crises” were a relatively unimportant influence on bank failure risk prior to 1933. We construct upper-bound measures of the importance of contagion or liquidity crises. At the national level, we find that the first two banking crises identified by Friedman and Schwartz in 1930 and 1931 are not associated with positive unexplained residual failure risk, or with changes in the importance of liquidity measures for forecasting bank failures. The third banking crisis they identify is a more ambiguous case, but even if one views it as a bona fide national liquidity crisis, the size of the contagion effect could not have been very large. The last banking crisis they identify--at the beginning of 1933--is associated with important, unexplained increases in bank failure risk. We also investigate the causes of bank distress measured as deposit contraction, using county-level measures of deposits of all commercial banks, and reach similar conclusions about the importance of fundamentals in determining deposit contraction.

Also Visit
AEIdeas Blog The American Magazine
About the Author

 

Charles W.
Calomiris

What's new on AEI

Rebuilding American defense: A speech by Governor Bobby Jindal
image Smelling liberal, thinking conservative
image Stopping Ebola before it turns into a pandemic
image All too many reasons for pessimism about Europe
AEI on Facebook
Events Calendar
  • 20
    MON
  • 21
    TUE
  • 22
    WED
  • 23
    THU
  • 24
    FRI
Monday, October 20, 2014 | 2:00 p.m. – 3:30 p.m.
Warfare beneath the waves: The undersea domain in Asia

We welcome you to join us for a panel discussion of the undersea military competition occurring in Asia and what it means for the United States and its allies.

Event Registration is Closed
Tuesday, October 21, 2014 | 8:30 a.m. – 10:00 a.m.
AEI Election Watch 2014: What will happen and why it matters

AEI’s Election Watch is back! Please join us for two sessions of the longest-running election program in Washington, DC. 

Event Registration is Closed
Wednesday, October 22, 2014 | 1:00 p.m. – 2:30 p.m.
What now for the Common Core?

We welcome you to join us at AEI for a discussion of what’s next for the Common Core.

Thursday, October 23, 2014 | 10:00 a.m. – 11:00 a.m.
Brazil’s presidential election: Real challenges, real choices

Please join AEI for a discussion examining each candidate’s platform and prospects for victory and the impact that a possible shift toward free-market policies in Brazil might have on South America as a whole.

No events scheduled this day.
No events scheduled this day.
No events scheduled this day.
No events scheduled this day.