Abstract: The Profitability of Spanish Firms in a European Perspective

Xavier Tafunell and Albert Carreras


The profits and profitability of companies have been relatively neglected and remain among the few important aspects of business and economic history about which hardly anything is known. Although there have been some studies on the topic, these relatively few works do not combine to form a critical mass of knowledge on the historical evolution of business profits for many countries in the period before the second half of the twentieth century. We present an estimate of the century-long profitability of Spanish firms from 1880 to 1981 based on massive use of published reports. We assess its robustness and weakness as well as its main features. We compare it with comparable data on business performance for Britain, France, and Germany based on previous work by Cassis, Arnold, Spoerer, and Marseille. The various estimates tend to confirm each other. A number of common features appear that could led to new research challenges. We conclude that it is possible to assess business profitability quantitatively with some confidence.