Abstract: Historical Patterns of Enterprise Finance: The Case of General Electric

Mary O'Sullivan


In this paper, I address the empirical challenge involved in understanding the historical evolution of the financial behavior of enterprises and leave the comparative challenge aside. Specifically, I focus on one of the most prominent U.S. companies over the last century, General Electric, to determine whether, or more precisely, how we can compile the data required to understand the historical evolution of the company's financing behavior. Relying primarily on the company's annual reports, as well as on data on the company's security issues from the Commercial and Financial Chronicle, I analyze the historical evolution of the company's investments, its capacity to fund them from internal sources, its reliance on external sources of finance, as well as the forms of external finance that it favored during the period from its incorporation in 1892 until 2000. I show that we can glean a detailed and comprehensive picture of that company's financial history from these sources for a period of more than a century.