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Learning, Termination, and Payout Policy in Dynamic Incentive Contracts

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  • Peter M. Demarzo
  • Yuliy Sannikov

Abstract

We study a principal–agent setting in which both sides learn about future profitability from output, and the project can be abandoned/terminated if profitability is too low. With learning, shirking by the agent both reduces output and lowers the principal’s estimate of future profitability. The agent can exploit this belief discrepancy and earn information rents, reducing his incentives to exert effort. The optimal contract controls information rents to improve incentives by distorting the termination decision. Our results capture the transition from a young, financially constrained firm to a mature firm that pays dividends. For young firms, poor performance permanently raises the termination threshold, as doing so lowers information rents. Mature firms pay smoothed dividends and have a fixed termination threshold. Dividend smoothing occurs because earnings surprises are used to adjust financial slack in line with profitability. When profitability only reflects the agent’s private ability, a simple equity contract is optimal.

Suggested Citation

  • Peter M. Demarzo & Yuliy Sannikov, 2017. "Learning, Termination, and Payout Policy in Dynamic Incentive Contracts," Review of Economic Studies, Oxford University Press, vol. 84(1), pages 182-236.
  • Handle: RePEc:oup:restud:v:84:y:2017:i:1:p:182-236.
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    File URL: http://hdl.handle.net/10.1093/restud/rdw029
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    References listed on IDEAS

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    1. Peter M. DeMarzo & Michael J. Fishman, 2007. "Agency and Optimal Investment Dynamics," Review of Financial Studies, Society for Financial Studies, vol. 20(1), pages 151-188, January.
    2. Lars Ljungqvist & Thomas J. Sargent, 2004. "Recursive Macroeconomic Theory, 2nd Edition," MIT Press Books, The MIT Press, edition 2, volume 1, number 026212274x, January.
    3. Jensen, Michael C, 1986. "Agency Costs of Free Cash Flow, Corporate Finance, and Takeovers," American Economic Review, American Economic Association, vol. 76(2), pages 323-329, May.
    4. Fernandes, Ana & Phelan, Christopher, 2000. "A Recursive Formulation for Repeated Agency with History Dependence," Journal of Economic Theory, Elsevier, vol. 91(2), pages 223-247, April.
    5. Borys Grochulski & Yuzhe Zhang, 2017. "Market‐Based Incentives," International Economic Review, Department of Economics, University of Pennsylvania and Osaka University Institute of Social and Economic Research Association, vol. 58, pages 331-382, May.
    6. Yuliy Sannikov, 2008. "A Continuous-Time Version of the Principal-Agent Problem," Review of Economic Studies, Oxford University Press, vol. 75(3), pages 957-984.
    7. Daniel F. Garrett & Alessandro Pavan, 2012. "Managerial Turnover in a Changing World," Journal of Political Economy, University of Chicago Press, vol. 120(5), pages 879-925.
    8. Bart M. Lambrecht & Stewart C. Myers, 2012. "A Lintner Model of Payout and Managerial Rents," Journal of Finance, American Finance Association, vol. 67(5), pages 1761-1810, October.
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    Cited by:

    1. Markus K. Brunnermeier & Yuliy Sannikov, 2016. "Macro, Money and Finance: A Continuous Time Approach," NBER Working Papers 22343, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
    2. repec:aea:aejmic:v:10:y:2018:i:2:p:152-89 is not listed on IDEAS
    3. repec:eee:macchp:v2-1497 is not listed on IDEAS

    More about this item

    Keywords

    Real options; inside information; moral hazard; dynamic contracts; payout policy; information rents;

    JEL classification:

    • D86 - Microeconomics - - Information, Knowledge, and Uncertainty - - - Economics of Contract Law
    • G32 - Financial Economics - - Corporate Finance and Governance - - - Financing Policy; Financial Risk and Risk Management; Capital and Ownership Structure; Value of Firms; Goodwill
    • G35 - Financial Economics - - Corporate Finance and Governance - - - Payout Policy
    • J33 - Labor and Demographic Economics - - Wages, Compensation, and Labor Costs - - - Compensation Packages; Payment Methods
    • J41 - Labor and Demographic Economics - - Particular Labor Markets - - - Labor Contracts
    • M52 - Business Administration and Business Economics; Marketing; Accounting; Personnel Economics - - Personnel Economics - - - Compensation and Compensation Methods and Their Effects

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