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The trade-off theory revisited: on the effect of operating leverage

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  • Kristoffer J. Glover
  • Gerhard Hambusch

Abstract

Purpose - – The purpose of this paper is to investigate the effect of operating leverage, and the subsequent abandonment option available to managers, on the relationship between corporate earnings and optimal financial leverage, thereby providing an alternative (rational) explanation for the observed negative relationship between these two quantities. Design/methodology/approach - – Working in a dynamic capital structure setting, where corporate earnings are modelled as an exogenous stochastic process, the paper explicitly adds fixed operating costs to the firm's value optimisation. This introduces a degree of operating leverage (DOL) and a non-zero value to the implicit abandonment option of the firm's manager. Solving for the firm's optimal timing and financing decisions the paper is able to derive the relationship between current corporate earnings and optimal financial leverage for a large class of earnings uncertainty assumptions. The theoretical implications are then tested empirically using a large selection of S&P 500 firms. Findings - – The analysis reveals that the manager's flexibility to abandon the project introduces nonlinearities into the valuation that are sufficient to reconcile the trade-off theory with the empirically observed negative earnings/financial leverage relationship. The paper further finds theoretical and empirical evidence of a positive relationship between operating and financial leverage. Originality/value - – Previous studies have used mean-reverting earnings as an explanation for the observed negative earnings/financial leverage relationship in a trade-off theory setting. The paper shows that the relationship does not need to be process specific. Instead, it is a direct result of the financial flexibility of managers.

Suggested Citation

  • Kristoffer J. Glover & Gerhard Hambusch, 2014. "The trade-off theory revisited: on the effect of operating leverage," International Journal of Managerial Finance, Emerald Group Publishing, vol. 10(1), pages 2-22, January.
  • Handle: RePEc:eme:ijmfpp:v:10:y:2014:i:1:p:2-22
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    References listed on IDEAS

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    1. Murray Z. Frank & Vidhan K. Goyal, 2009. "Capital Structure Decisions: Which Factors Are Reliably Important?," Financial Management, Financial Management Association International, vol. 38(1), pages 1-37, March.
    2. Kane, Alex & Marcus, Alan J & McDonald, Robert L, 1984. " How Big Is the Tax Advantage to Debt?," Journal of Finance, American Finance Association, vol. 39(3), pages 841-853, July.
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    5. Kristoffer Glover & Gerhard Hambusch, 2012. "Leveraged Investments and Agency Conflicts When Prices Are Mean Reverting," Research Paper Series 314, Quantitative Finance Research Centre, University of Technology, Sydney.
    6. Ivo Welch, 2004. "Capital Structure and Stock Returns," Journal of Political Economy, University of Chicago Press, vol. 112(1), pages 106-131, February.
    7. Sudipto Sarkar & Fernando Zapatero, 2003. "The Trade-off Model with Mean Reverting Earnings: Theory and Empirical Tests," Economic Journal, Royal Economic Society, vol. 113(490), pages 834-860, October.
    8. Titman, Sheridan & Wessels, Roberto, 1988. " The Determinants of Capital Structure Choice," Journal of Finance, American Finance Association, vol. 43(1), pages 1-19, March.
    9. Nevins D. Baxter, 1967. "Leverage, Risk Of Ruin And The Cost Of Capital," Journal of Finance, American Finance Association, vol. 22(3), pages 395-403, September.
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    Cited by:

    1. Jamie A. Anderson-Parson & Terrill R. Keasler & Robin T. Byerly, 2015. "Bond Indenture Consent Solicitations as a Debt Management Tool," International Journal of Financial Studies, MDPI, Open Access Journal, vol. 3(3), pages 1-14, July.
    2. Irene Wei Kiong Ting & Hooi Hooi Lean & Qian Long Kweh & Noor Azlinna Azizan, 2016. "Managerial overconfidence, government intervention and corporate financing decision," International Journal of Managerial Finance, Emerald Group Publishing, vol. 12(1), pages 4-24, February.
    3. Correia, Ricardo & Población, Javier, 2015. "A structural model with Explicit Distress," Journal of Banking & Finance, Elsevier, vol. 58(C), pages 112-130.
    4. Glover, Kristoffer J. & Hambusch, Gerhard, 2016. "Leveraged investments and agency conflicts when cash flows are mean reverting," Journal of Economic Dynamics and Control, Elsevier, vol. 67(C), pages 1-21.

    More about this item

    Keywords

    Abandonment option; Financial leverage; Operating leverage; Trade-off theory;

    JEL classification:

    • G32 - Financial Economics - - Corporate Finance and Governance - - - Financing Policy; Financial Risk and Risk Management; Capital and Ownership Structure; Value of Firms; Goodwill
    • G13 - Financial Economics - - General Financial Markets - - - Contingent Pricing; Futures Pricing
    • D21 - Microeconomics - - Production and Organizations - - - Firm Behavior: Theory

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