The Determinants of Business Investment: Has Capital Spending Been Surprisingly Low?

by Richard W. Kopcke
January/Februrary 1993

Many are worried that since 1980 capital investment by businesses has been lower than expected. Unusual circumstances, such as changes in savings patterns or in business leverage, a credit crunch, or widespread adoption of a shorter-term outlook, have been suggested as culprits. To see whether investment spending has indeed departed from its traditional determinants, this article compares capital spending during the 1980s and early 1990s with projections of spending derived from historical relationships between investment and various measures of economic activity.

The results show that capital investment has not been low for any surprising reasons; in general, business investment has adhered fairly well to its historical correspondence with output, profits, and the cost of capital. Investment in equipment behaved as the models predicted, while investment in nonresidential structures exceeded the models’ forecasts in the early eighties, in large part as a result of the construction of oil rigs and a commercial real estate boom. The author concludes that the disappointing volume of capital investment by businesses of late is a symptom of slow economic growth, not exceptional impediments.

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