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date: 18 April 2024

The Economics and Finance of Customer–Supplier Relationshipslocked

The Economics and Finance of Customer–Supplier Relationshipslocked

  • Ling CenLing CenDepartment of Finance, Chinese University of Hong Kong
  •  and Sudipto DasguptaSudipto DasguptaDepartment of Finance, Chinese University of Hong Kong, ABFER, CEPR and ECGI


The interrelationships between upstream supplier firms and downstream customer firms—popularly referred to as supply-chain relationships—constitute one of the most important linkages in the economy. Suppliers not only provide production inputs for their customers but, increasingly, also engage in R&D and innovation activity that is beneficial to the customers. Yet, the high degree of relationship specificity that such activities involve, and the difficulty of writing complete contracts, expose suppliers to potential hold-up problems. Mechanisms that mitigate opportunism have implications for the origins of such relationships, firm boundary, and organizational structure. Smaller supplier firms benefit from relationships with large customer firms in many ways, such as knowledge sharing, operational efficiency, insulation from competition, and reputation in capital markets. However, customer bargaining power, undiversified customer base, and innovation strategy also expose suppliers to disruption risk. Relationship specificity of investment, customer bargaining power, and customer concentration associated with a less diversified customer base have important consequences for financing decisions of suppliers and customers, such as capital structure choice and the provision and role of trade credit. Changes in the risk of disruption (e.g., bankruptcy filings, takeover activity, and credit market shocks) have spillover effects along the supply chain. The correlation of economic fundamentals of suppliers and customers and the co-attention that they receive from market participants translate to return predictability (with implications for trading strategies), information diffusion along the supply chain, and stock-price informativeness of supply-chain partners.


  • Financial Economics
  • Industrial Organization

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