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Dividend Policy, Agency Costs, and Earned Equity

  • Harry DeAngelo
  • Linda DeAngelo
  • Rene Stulz

Why do firms pay dividends? If they didn't their asset and capital structures would eventually become untenable as the earnings of successful firms outstrip their investment opportunities. Had they not paid dividends, the 25 largest long-standing 2002 dividend payers would have cash holdings of $1.8 trillion (51% of total assets), up from $160 billion (6% of assets), and $1.2 trillion in excess of their collective $600 billion in long-term debt. Their dividend payments prevented significant agency problems since the retention of earnings would have given managers command over an additional $1.6 trillion without access to better investment opportunities and with no additional monitoring. This logic suggests that firms with relatively high amounts of earned equity (retained earnings) are especially likely to pay dividends. Consistent with this view, the fraction of publicly traded industrial firms that pays dividends is high when the ratio of earned equity to total equity (total assets) is high, and falls with declines in this ratio, becoming near zero when a firm has little or no earned equity. We observe a highly significant relation between the decision to pay dividends and the ratio of earned equity to total equity or total assets,controlling for firm size, profitability, growth, leverage, cash balances, and dividend history. In our regressions, earned equity has an economically more important impact than does profitability or growth. Our evidence is consistent with the hypothesis that firms pay dividends to mitigate agency problems.

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File URL: http://www.nber.org/papers/w10599.pdf
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Paper provided by National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc in its series NBER Working Papers with number 10599.

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Date of creation: Jul 2004
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Publication status: published as DeAngelo, Harry, Linda DeAngelo and Rene Stulz. “Dividend policy and the earned/contributed capital mix: a test of the life-cycle theory.” Journal of Financial Economics 81, 2 (2006): 227-254.
Handle: RePEc:nbr:nberwo:10599
Note: CF AP
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  1. Myers, Stewart C. & Majluf, Nicolás S., 1945-, 1984. "Corporate financing and investment decisions when firms have information that investors do not have," Working papers 1523-84., Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT), Sloan School of Management.
  2. Eugene F. Fama & Kenneth R. French, . "Disappearing Dividends: Changing Firm Characteristics or Lower Propensity to Pay?."," CRSP working papers 509, Center for Research in Security Prices, Graduate School of Business, University of Chicago.
  3. DeAngelo, Harry & DeAngelo, Linda & Skinner, Douglas J., 2004. "Are dividends disappearing? Dividend concentration and the consolidation of earnings," Journal of Financial Economics, Elsevier, vol. 72(3), pages 425-456, June.
  4. Shlomo Benartzi & Roni Michaely & Richard Thaler, 1997. "Do Changes in Dividends Signal the Future or the Past?," CRSP working papers 455, Center for Research in Security Prices, Graduate School of Business, University of Chicago.
  5. Feldstein, Martin & Green, Jerry, 1983. "Why Do Companies Pay Dividends?," Scholarly Articles 3204679, Harvard University Department of Economics.
  6. Jensen, Michael C. & Meckling, William H., 1976. "Theory of the firm: Managerial behavior, agency costs and ownership structure," Journal of Financial Economics, Elsevier, vol. 3(4), pages 305-360, October.
  7. Myers, Stewart C. & Majluf, Nicholas S., 1984. "Corporate financing and investment decisions when firms have information that investors do not have," Journal of Financial Economics, Elsevier, vol. 13(2), pages 187-221, June.
  8. Gustavo Grullon & Roni Michaely & Bhaskaran Swaminathan, 2002. "Are Dividend Changes a Sign of Firm Maturity?," The Journal of Business, University of Chicago Press, vol. 75(3), pages 387-424, July.
  9. Jensen, Michael C, 1986. "Agency Costs of Free Cash Flow, Corporate Finance, and Takeovers," American Economic Review, American Economic Association, vol. 76(2), pages 323-29, May.
  10. Opler, Tim & Pinkowitz, Lee & Stulz, Rene & Williamson, Rohan, 1999. "The determinants and implications of corporate cash holdings," Journal of Financial Economics, Elsevier, vol. 52(1), pages 3-46, April.
  11. Stulz, ReneM., 1990. "Managerial discretion and optimal financing policies," Journal of Financial Economics, Elsevier, vol. 26(1), pages 3-27, July.
  12. Stewart C. Myers & Nicholas S. Majluf, 1984. "Corporate Financing and Investment Decisions When Firms Have InformationThat Investors Do Not Have," NBER Working Papers 1396, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
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