Editor’s Note: This paper has now been accepted at the American Economic Review.
We exploit plausibly exogenous geographical variation in the reduction in domestic demand caused by the Great Recession in Spain to document the existence of a robust, within-firm negative causal relationship between demand-driven changes in domestic sales and export flows. Spanish manufacturing firms whose domestic sales were reduced by more during the crisis observed a larger increase in their export flows, even after controlling for firms’ supply determinants (such as labor costs). This negative relationship between demand-driven changes in domestic sales and changes in export flows illustrates the capacity of export markets to counteract the negative impact of local demand shocks. We rationalize our findings through a standard heterogeneous-firm model of exporting expanded to allow for non-constant marginal costs of production. Using a structurally estimated version of this model, we conclude that the firm-level responses to the slump in domestic demand in Spain could well have accounted for around one-half of the spectacular increase in Spanish goods exports (the so-called ‘Spanish export miracle’) over the period 2009-13.