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Abstract: I decompose the cross-sectional variation of the credit spreads for corporate bonds into changing expected returns and changing expectation of credit losses with a model-free method. Using a log-linearized pricing identity and a vector autoregression applied to micro-level data from 1973 to 2011, I find that the expected credit loss component and the excess return component each explains about half of the variance of the credit spreads. Unlike the market-level findings in Gilchrist and Zakrajsek (2012), at the firm level, the expected credit loss is volatile and affects the firms' investment decision more than the expected excess returns.

Keywords: Credit risk, fixed income, variance decomposition, credit spread

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