Zombie company

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In political economy, a zombie company is a company that needs bailouts in order to operate, or an indebted company that is able to repay the interest on its debts but not repay the principal.


Zombie companies are indebted businesses that, although generating cash, after covering running costs, and fixed costs (wages, rates, rent) only have enough funds to service the interest on their loans, but not the debt itself.[1] As such, they are generally dependent on the refinancing of maturing debt for their continued existence, and may face solvency risks should interest rates rise or investors withdraw from further financing.


The term "zombie company" was applied to Japanese firms supported by Japanese banks during the period known as the "Lost Decade" after the collapse of the Japanese asset price bubble in c.1990. Japanese banks continued to support weak or failing firms.[2] The retailer Daiei is an example of a large company that expanded greatly during the period leading to the 1990 crash, and under different circumstances would have been expected to have entered receivership or bankruptcy. The finance minister, Takeo Hiranuma, was reported as describing the 96,000-employee firm as being 'too big to fail'.[2][3]

The term regained popularity in the media during 2008 for companies receiving bailouts from the U.S. Troubled Asset Relief Program (TARP).[citation needed]

By 2016, following the economic downturn in China (see also 2015–16 Chinese stock market crash), Chinese industrial companies (steel, aluminum, paper, etc.) had developed gross overproduction capacity problems, with overcapacity rising from 0% in 2007 to an average of 13% by 2015, with figures higher than 30% in some industries (cement, steel in 2014).[4] At the 2016 National People's Congress, the country's government recognized the issue of the 'Zombie Enterprises' and announced that it was to close or reorganize many state-owned (public) industrial companies by 2020.[5][6] In the coal and steel industries, the resultant loss of work was expected to result in 1.8 million redundancies (15% of the workforce), with total redundancies estimated to be up to 6 million workers.[7]

The term has also seen an increased amount of usage in 2022, with concern over a number of "zombies" possibly going bankrupt or needing to layoff workers due to a spike in interest rates.[8]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ "'Zombie' companies eating away at economic growth". BBC. 13 Nov 2012. Archived from the original on 12 November 2020. Retrieved 20 June 2018. "A zombie company is one which is generating just about enough cash to service its debt, so the bank is not obliged to pull the plug on the loan," (Mark Thomas, PA Consulting)
  2. ^ a b Denny, Charlotte (20 Nov 2002). "Japan's zombie economy – not buying but browsing". The Guardian. Archived from the original on 26 December 2019. Retrieved 13 December 2016.
  3. ^ Brooke, James (October 29, 2002). "They're Alive! They're Alive! Not!; Japan Hesitates to Put an End to Its 'Zombie' Businesses". New York Times. Archived from the original on February 16, 2009. Retrieved September 19, 2017.
  4. ^ "The march of the zombies". The Economist. 27 Feb 2016. Archived from the original on 1 December 2017. Retrieved 19 September 2017.
  5. ^ "China to clean-up 'zombie' companies by 2020: Xinhua". Xinhua / Reuters. 17 Jan 2016. Archived from the original on 8 November 2020. Retrieved 3 July 2017.
  6. ^ Tu, Lianting (8 Mar 2016). "China's Takeover Troubles Putting Xi's 'Zombie' Reforms to Test". Bloomberg. Archived from the original on 2019-12-26. Retrieved 2017-03-12. "We will address the issue of 'zombie enterprises' proactively yet prudently by using measures such as mergers, reorganizations, debt restructurings and bankruptcy liquidations," (Li Keqiang)
  7. ^ Petricic, Sasa (3 Mar 2016). "Massive layoffs coming as China confronts its overbuilt 'zombie economy'". CBC News. Archived from the original on 8 November 2020. Retrieved 13 March 2016.
  8. ^ "A huge number of 'Zombie' companies are drowning in debt. This CEO sees a reckoning as interest rates soar". Fortune. Retrieved 2022-12-15.