Whether banks should hold diversified loan portfolios or focus on a small number of industries where they have special expertise remains an open research question. In this paper, we explore the cross-section of banks’ industrial loan portfolios using data from Japan for the period 1980 - 2013. Our main results are as follows: first, we find that generalist banks (diversified lending) and specialist banks (focused lending) coexist. Second, we find a similar asymmetry for the funding side, such that generalist industries (diversified borrowing) and specialist industries (focused borrowing) also coexist. Third, we show that specialist banks tend to concentrate their lending activities on the very same generalist industries. We describe the structure of the credit network using a simple generalist-specialist model. While the model shows a deteriorating fit over time, the fit is significant compared to alternative benchmark models, and allows us to identify a highly persistent, and economically meaningful set of generalist banks and industries. We provide an econometric analysis of the factors that predict whether a given node will be a generalist. We find that size is an important determinant in this regard, both for banks and industries, but we also highlight additional relevant factors. Finally, we find that generalist banks tend to be less vulnerable compared to specialist banks. Hence, how banks position themselves in the network has important implications for their risk profile.


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