Sourcing of services and total factor productivity

Working Paper N° 426

Classification JEL: 

This paper studies how outsourcing of services activities affects TFP at the firm level. Using the universe of buyer-supplier relationships in Belgium, we first document several new empirical facts about how firms engage in the outsourcing of supporting activities. We show that virtually all firms source from at least one services supplier, but there is substantial heterogeneity in the services sourcing of firms. Geographic proximity plays a key role for the matching of services suppliers and customers as firms mostly connect with services suppliers at a distance of no more than 35 km. Finally, the extensive margin goes a long way to explaining both the aggregate trend and the firmlevel fluctuations in services outsourcing growth. Based on these findings, we develop a model with endogenous choice of the set of tasks produced in-house. Consistent with the model, we estimate the probability of a supplier-buyer relationship and how this affects the productivity of the buyer. We find that productivity gains from outsourcing of services activities may be substantial. Reducing local trade costs might lead to significant productivity gains. Reductions of variable trade costs by 10 or 50% lead respectively to average productivity gains of 3% and 7%. On the other hand, a 25% reduction in the probability of a transaction, due for example to a permanent increase in unconditional fixed costs, would lead to an average 1.3% TFP decline at the firm level. Reducing the costs associated with the sourcing of services can be achieved in many ways, ranging from digitalization to reducing congestion or removing cultural barriers that may bring local discontinuities in the organisation of the production network. This is true for Belgium but also in the European Single Market context.