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The purpose of this article is to test the hypothesis that the share of financially fragile firms in the US is growing along with the approaching macroeconomic or financial crisis. Two criteria were used to measure financial fragility. According to the Mulligan criterion, the speculative financing regime dominated the US private sector, and according to the Davis with coauthors criterion, it was the hedge regime. The low share of Ponzi firms — compared to countries that implemented austerity policies (e. g. Greece, Portugal and the Netherlands) — could be explained by the US government’s expansionary fiscal and monetary policies, which sought to maintain the revenue of the US private sector at an ‘acceptable level’ in the times of crisis. The most fragile industry was consumer cyclicals, and the least fragile, healthcare. Our econometric analysis, based on panel-based fixed-effects logistic regression, demonstrated that the probability of becoming a Ponzi-financed firm — according to the Mulligan criterion — is affected by the amount of its debt, the presence or absence of a crisis in a particular year, its total capital stock, and net income after tax. Thus, the financial instability hypothesis — tested against the Mulligan criterion in the form of the interest coverage ratio — is confirmed for private US firms: for several years, before the onset of both crises considered, the number and share of Ponzi firms grew steadily. The accumulation of financial fragility before, during, and after the Great Recession — measured according to the criterion described in Davis et al. — does not fit the logic of the financial instability hypothesis: the dynamics of the number and share of Ponzi firms is not related to cyclical fluctuations in GDP.
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