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Taxation, Corporate Capital Structure, and Financial Distress

In: Tax Policy and the Economy: Volume 4

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  • Mark Gertler
  • R. Glenn Hubbard

Abstract

Is corporate leverage excessive? Is the tax code distorting corporate capital structure decisions in a way that increases the possibility of an economic crisis owing to "financial instability"? Answering these kinds of questions first requires some precision in terminology. In this paper, we describe the cases for and against the trend toward high leverage, and evaluate the role played by taxation. While provision of proper incentives to managers may in part underlie the trend to the debt, high leverage may in practice be a blunt way to address the problem, and one which opens up the possibility for undue exposure to the risks of financial distress. Our story takes as given the kinds of managerial incentive problems deemed important by advocates of leverage. We maintain, however, that when a firm is subject to business-cycle risk as well as individual risk, a profit maximizing arrangement is not simple debt, but rather a contract with mixed debt and equity features. That is, the contract should index the principal obligation to aggregate and/or industry-level economic conditions. We argue that the tax system encourages corporations to absorb more business cycle risk than they would otherwise. It does so in two respects: First, it provides a relative subsidy to debt finance; second, it restricts debt for tax purposes from indexing the principal to common disturbances. At a deeper level, the issue hinges on the institutional aspects of debt renegotiation. If renegotiation were costless, then debt implicitly would have the equity features relevant for responding to business-cycle risk. However, because of the diffuse ownership pattern of much of the newly issued debt and also because of certain legal restrictions, renegotiation is likely to be a costly activity.

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Bibliographic Info

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This chapter was published in:

  • Lawrence H. Summers, 1990. "Tax Policy and the Economy: Volume 4," NBER Books, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc, number summ90-1, May.
    This item is provided by National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc in its series NBER Chapters with number 11572.

    Handle: RePEc:nbr:nberch:11572

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    1. Jensen, Michael C, 1988. "Takeovers: Their Causes and Consequences," Journal of Economic Perspectives, American Economic Association, vol. 2(1), pages 21-48, Winter.
    2. Gertler, M.L. & Hubbard, R.G., 1988. "Financial Factors In Business Fluctuations," Papers fb-_88-37, Columbia - Graduate School of Business.
    3. James M. Poterba, 1989. "Tax Reform and the Market For Tax-Exempt Debt," NBER Working Papers 2900, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
    4. Henry Kaufman, 1986. "Debt: the threat to economic and financial stability," Proceedings - Economic Policy Symposium - Jackson Hole, Federal Reserve Bank of Kansas City, pages 15-26.
    5. Ben Bernanke & Mark Gertler, 1987. "Financial Fragility and Economic Performance," NBER Working Papers 2318, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
    6. Takeo Hoshi & Anil Kashyap & David Scharfstein, 1989. "Bank monitoring and investment: evidence from the changing structure of Japanese corporate banking relations," Finance and Economics Discussion Series 86, Board of Governors of the Federal Reserve System (U.S.).
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    11. Benjamin M. Friedman, 1986. "Increasing indebtedness and financial stability in the United States," Proceedings - Economic Policy Symposium - Jackson Hole, Federal Reserve Bank of Kansas City, pages 27-61.
    12. Ben S. Bernanke & John Y. Campbell, 1988. "Is There a Corporate Debt Crisis?," Brookings Papers on Economic Activity, Economic Studies Program, The Brookings Institution, vol. 19(1), pages 83-140.
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    16. Jeffrey K. MacKie-Mason, 1990. "Do Firms Care Who Provides Their Financing?," NBER Chapters, in: Asymmetric Information, Corporate Finance, and Investment, pages 63-104 National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
    17. Michael C. Jensen, 1989. "Active Investors, LBOs, and the Privatization of Bankruptcy," Journal of Applied Corporate Finance, Morgan Stanley, vol. 2(1), pages 35-44.
    18. John B. Shoven, 1987. "The Tax Consequences of Share Repurchases and Other Non-Dividend Cash Payments to Equity Owners," NBER Chapters, in: Tax Policy and the Economy, Volume 1, pages 29-54 National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
    19. Cooper, Russell & John, Andrew, 1988. "Coordinating Coordination Failures in Keynesian Models," The Quarterly Journal of Economics, MIT Press, vol. 103(3), pages 441-63, August.
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    Cited by:
    1. Charles W. Calomiris & Athanasios Orphanides & Steven A. Sharpe, 1994. "Leverage as a State Variable for Employment, Inventory Accumulation, andFixed Investment," NBER Working Papers 4800, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
    2. Dailami, Mansoor & Giugale, Marcelo, 1991. "Reflections on credit policy in developing countries: its effect on private investment," Policy Research Working Paper Series 654, The World Bank.
    3. Hans-Werner Sinn, 1991. "Taxation and the Cost of Capital: The "Old" View, the "New" View and Another View," NBER Working Papers 3501, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
    4. Davis, E. Philip & Stone, Mark R., 2004. "Corporate financial structure and financial stability," Journal of Financial Stability, Elsevier, vol. 1(1), pages 65-91, September.
    5. Mark Gertler & R. Glenn Hubbard, 1993. "Corporate Financial Policy, Taxation, and Macroeconomic Risk," RAND Journal of Economics, The RAND Corporation, vol. 24(2), pages 286-303, Summer.
    6. Fabio ALESSANDRINI, 2003. "Introducing Capital Structure in a Production Economy: Implications for Investment, Debt and Dividends," Cahiers de Recherches Economiques du Département d'Econométrie et d'Economie politique (DEEP) 03.03, Université de Lausanne, Faculté des HEC, DEEP.
    7. Frederick T. Furlong, 1990. "Tax incentives for corporate leverage in the 1980s," Economic Review, Federal Reserve Bank of San Francisco, issue Fall, pages 3-17.

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