Abstract: This paper explores the dynamics of corporate finance during the early stages of industrial growth by examining a newly constructed panel database of Imperial Russian industrial corporations’ balance sheets. We document large differences in financial strategies and outcomes across industries, over time, over firms’ life cycles, and between two Russian corporation types. Russian corporations’ profits and dividend payouts followed the Russian business cycle. Russian corporate debt ratios mostly follow modern capital structure theories, but tangible assets were not associated with higher debt levels, suggesting that Russian corporate debt was short-term, that collateral was irrelevant, or that agency problems dominated. We also find evidence that investors needed to be compensated for poor protections, since dividends were highly valued and widely-held corporations enjoyed greater returns.
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