In the presence of cost uncertainty, limited liability introduces the possibility of default in procurement with its associated bankruptcy costs. When financial soundness is not perfectly observable, we show that incentive compatibility implies that financially less sound contractors are selected with higher probability in any feasible mechanism. Informational rents are associated with unsound financial situations. By selecting the financially weakest contractor, stronger price competition (auctions) may not only increase the probability of default but also expected rents. Thus, weak conditions are sufficient for auctions to be supoptimal. In particular, we show that pooling firms with higher assets may reduce the cost of procurement even when default is costless for the sponsor.
Published as: Bilateral trade with strategic gradual learning in Games and Economic Behavior , Vol. 107, 380-395, January, 2018