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On the Association between Operating Leverage and Risk

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  • Lev, Baruch

Abstract

A link between the firm's operating decisions and the riskiness of its stocks was established. Differences in the production process affecting the relative shares of fixed and variable costs (i.e., the operating leverage) were found, both analytically and empirically, to be associated with risk differentials. Specifically, other things equal, the higher the operating leverage (i.e., the lower the unit variable costs) the larger the overall and systematic risk of the stocks.Various practical implications are suggested by these findings. On the firm level, it can be expected that large capital expenditures associated with an operating leverage increase will increase stock riskiness. In these cases, the cut-off rate used for the capital budgeting decision (i.e., the cost of capital) should allow for the increased risk. The use of the current cost of capital as the cut-off rate would probably result in a decrease in stock prices, adversely affecting stockholders' wealth. On the investor level, these findings might assist in the estimation of common stocks' risk given expected changes in the firm's operating leverage. Specifically, they suggest that, if a firm will experience a significant operating leverage change, the estimation of risk measures based exclusively on historical returns would be inappropriate.

Suggested Citation

  • Lev, Baruch, 1974. "On the Association between Operating Leverage and Risk," Journal of Financial and Quantitative Analysis, Cambridge University Press, vol. 9(4), pages 627-641, September.
  • Handle: RePEc:cup:jfinqa:v:9:y:1974:i:04:p:627-641_01
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