Friday, February 21, 2014

21/2/2014: Homeownership, Negative Equity, Entrepreneurship: Data from France

Over recent years I wrote extensively about the issues of negative equity and the costs of this phenomena to the society and economy at large. Much of the research in this areas focuses on the US data, with some departures for German and Italian data sets. Here is a recent paper using French data and dealing with the issue of housing collateral (house prices-linked borrowing constraints) and entrepreneurship.

"HOUSING COLLATERAL AND ENTREPRENEURSHIP" by Martin C. Schmalz, David A. Sraer, David Thesmar (Working Paper 19680 provides evidence on whether entrepreneurs "face credit constraints, which restrict firm creation, post-entry growth, and survival, even over the long run. The existing literature documents a strong correlation between entrepreneurial wealth and the propensity to start or keep a business (Evans and Jovanovic, 1989; Evans and Leighton, 1989; Holtz-Eakin et al., 1993)."

The problem is that there is still "a considerable debate …about whether such a correlation constitutes evidence of financial constraints. For instance, individuals who experience a wealth shock, through personal accumulation or inheritance, may also experience an expansion of business opportunities for reasons unrelated to their wealth (Hurst and Lusardi, 2004)."

The authors used "variations in local house prices, combined with micro-level data on home ownership by entrepreneurs. …We compare entrepreneurial outcomes of entrepreneurs owning a house and entrepreneurs renting a house, and compare this difference across geographic regions with different house price dynamics. The comparison between owners and non-owners allows us to filter out local economic shocks that may drive the creation, growth, and survival of local businesses." Do note the important aspect of this data set - by controlling for home ownership v renters, the paper also allows us to look at the potential benefits of the former or the latter in terms of entrepreneurship.

"We investigate both the extensive and intensive margin of entrepreneurship, that is, entry decisions as well as post-entry growth. Our investigation starts with firm growth and survival, conditional on entry. We construct a large cross section of French entrepreneurs starting a businesses in 1998. Combining survey data and administrative data, we are able to observe a variety of personal characteristics, in particular, the home location of the entrepreneurs, as well as their home-ownership status. We match this information to firm-level accounting data of the newly created firms for up to eight years following creation."

Now for the results: 

  • "We find that in regions with greater house price growth in the 1990s, firms started by homeowners in 1998 are significantly larger and more likely to survive than firms started by renters." Oops, for the folks saying that homeownership should not be encouraged or incentivised. "In other words, the difference in the size of businesses created by owners and renters is larger in regions in which house prices have appreciated more in the past five years. 
  • This effect is robust to controlling for a large set of entrepreneurial characteristics. It is also persistent: in 2005, firms started by entrepreneurs with lower collateral values in 1998 remain significantly smaller in terms of assets, sales, employment, or value added. 
  • Finally, this effect is economically large: going from the 25th to the 75th percentile of house price growth in the five years preceding creation allows homeowners to create firms that are 6.5% larger in terms of total assets."
  • "We then verify how collateral shocks affect the probability of starting a business, that is, the extensive margin of entrepreneurship. …We find that homeowners located in regions where house prices appreciate more are significantly more likely to create businesses, relative to renters located in the same regions. In other words, the difference between owners and renters in the propensity to start a business is larger in regions in which house prices appreciated more in the past. 
  • Again, the effects are economically sizable. Going from the 25th to the 75th percentile of past house price growth increases the probability of firm creation by homeowners, relative to renters, by 9% in our preferred specification."
  • More to the above: "We confirm the importance of this result in the aggregate: total firm creation at the regional level is more correlated with house prices in regions where the fraction of homeowners is larger."

As an aside, consider also the following discussion from the paper: The link between funding of start ups and wealth constraints is non-trivial. "Robb and Robinson (2013) document that debt is a large source of financing for start-ups (approximately 44%) and that its availability is related to the scarcity —and therefore the value— of real estate collateral. Hurst and Lusardi (2004) and Adelino et al. (2013) are closest to our paper, because they also investigate the role of housing wealth on firm creation."

However, the latest paper "makes two significant advances relative to these papers:

  1. the information on individual homeownership allows us to control for local economic shocks that might create a spurious correlation between entrepreneurial rate and local house prices, and 
  2. the nature of our data allows us to track not only firm creation (the extensive margin), but also post-entry growth and survival over a long horizon (the intensive margin)."

"Several earlier papers focus on the role of inheritance shocks to firm quality and survival. Holtz-Eakin et al. (1993) find that firms started after a large inheritance are more likely to survive, a finding they interpret as evidence of credit constraints. By contrast, using Danish data, Andersen and Nielsen (2011) find that businesses started following a large inheritance have lower performance. This finding suggests the relationship between wealth and entrepreneurship may be driven by private benefits of control, or in other words, that business ownership has a luxury-good component (Hurst and Lusardi, 2004). The relation between wealth shocks and post-entry growth/survival thus remains an open discussion."

The latest paper "contributes to this debate by looking at wealth shocks generated by local variations in house prices for homeowners. Arguably, these shocks are much less likely to be correlated with the unobserved heterogeneity in entrepreneurial outcome than inheritance shocks."

"Fracassi et al. (2012) also provide a clean identification on the role credit constraints play small business survival, by exploiting a discontinuity in the attribution of loans to start-ups at a small local bank. In a similar vein, Black and Strahan (2002) find that banking deregulations in U.S. states led to a large increase in firm creations. Whereas these papers focus on the effect credit supply on firm creation and survival, our paper focuses on credit demand via the supply of collateral."

There is an intuitive link between the above forces: "When house prices increase, firms and households have more collateral to pledge, which raises borrowing capacity. On the credit-supply size, banks, balance sheets become stronger, which allows them to lend more. Recent papers have documented the link between house prices and household borrowing and consumption (Mian et al., 2011; Gan, 2010), the link between real estate prices and corporate investment (Gan, 2007a; Chaney et al., 2012), and the link between real estate bubbles and bank lending (Gan, 2007b)."

And the conclusion is: "Our paper shows that entrepreneurial activity also strongly reacts to changes in the value of collateral available to potential entrepreneurs."

So back to that 'negative equity only matters for those who want to move from their current house' meme that Irish economists and policymakers keep pushing around… My suggestion: go back to study economics, folks.
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