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As Certain as Debt and Taxes: Estimating the Tax Sensitivity of Leverage from Exogenous State Tax Changes

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  • Florian Heider
  • Alexander Ljungqvist

Abstract

We use a natural experiment in the form of 121 staggered changes in corporate income tax rates across U.S. states to show that tax considerations are a first-order determinant of firms' capital structure choices. Over the period 1990-2011, firms increase long-term leverage by 104 basis points on average (or $32.5 million in extra debt) in response to an average tax increase of 131 basis points. Contrary to static trade-off theory, the tax sensitivity of leverage is asymmetric: firms do not reduce leverage in response to tax cuts. Using treatment reversals, we find this to be true even within-firm: tax increases that are later reversed nonetheless lead to permanent increases in a firm's leverage - an unexpected and novel form of hysteresis. Our findings are robust to various confounds such as unobserved variation in local business conditions, union power, or unemployment risk. Treatment effects are heterogeneous and confirm the tax channel: tax sensitivity is greater among profitable and investment-grade firms which respectively have a greater marginal tax benefit and lower marginal cost of issuing debt.

Suggested Citation

  • Florian Heider & Alexander Ljungqvist, 2012. "As Certain as Debt and Taxes: Estimating the Tax Sensitivity of Leverage from Exogenous State Tax Changes," NBER Working Papers 18263, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
  • Handle: RePEc:nbr:nberwo:18263 Note: CF
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    Citations

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    Cited by:

    1. Juan Carlos Suárez Serrato & Owen Zidar, 2016. "Who Benefits from State Corporate Tax Cuts? A Local Labor Markets Approach with Heterogeneous Firms," American Economic Review, American Economic Association, pages 2582-2624.
    2. Anat R. Admati & Peter M. DeMarzo & Martin F. Hellwig & Paul Pfleiderer, 2013. "The Leverage Ratchet Effect," Discussion Paper Series of the Max Planck Institute for Research on Collective Goods 2013_13, Max Planck Institute for Research on Collective Goods, revised Sep 2017.
    3. C, Loran & Eckbo, Espen & Lu, Ching-Chih, 2014. "Does Executive Compensation Reflect Default Risk?," UiS Working Papers in Economics and Finance 2014/11, University of Stavanger.
    4. Alexander Ljungqvist & Michael Smolyansky, 2014. "To Cut or Not to Cut? On the Impact of Corporate Taxes on Employment and Income," NBER Working Papers 20753, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
    5. repec:eee:corfin:v:45:y:2017:i:c:p:428-466 is not listed on IDEAS
    6. Colonnello, Stefano & Curatola, Giuliano & Hoang, Ngoc Giang, 2017. "Direct and indirect risk-taking incentives of inside debt," Journal of Corporate Finance, Elsevier, pages 428-466.
    7. Quoc-Anh Do & Yen-Teik Lee & Bang Dang Nguyen, 2013. "Political Connections and Firm Value: Evidence from the Regression Discontinuity Design of Close Gubernatorial Elections," Sciences Po publications 15, Sciences Po.
    8. Falato, Antonio & Sim, Jae W., 2014. "Why Do Innovative Firms Hold So Much Cash? Evidence from Changes in State R&D Tax Credits," Finance and Economics Discussion Series 2014-72, Board of Governors of the Federal Reserve System (U.S.).
    9. Joan Farre-Mensa & Alexander Ljungqvist, 2016. "Do Measures of Financial Constraints Measure Financial Constraints?," Review of Financial Studies, Society for Financial Studies, vol. 29(2), pages 271-308.
    10. Temimi, Akram & Zeitun, Rami & Mimouni, Karim, 2016. "How does the tax status of a country impact capital structure? Evidence from the GCC region," Journal of Multinational Financial Management, Elsevier, pages 71-89.
    11. Daniel Velázquez Orihuela & Diana Xóchitl González Gómez, 2016. "Impuestos y deuda pública: una relación paradójica," REVISTA FACULTAD DE CIENCIAS ECONÓMICAS, UNIVERSIDAD MILITAR NUEVA GRANADA, vol. 24(2), pages 7-28, October.
    12. Francis A. Longstaff & Ilya A. Strebulaev, 2014. "Corporate Taxes and Capital Structure: A Long-Term Historical Perspective," NBER Working Papers 20372, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.

    More about this item

    JEL classification:

    • G0 - Financial Economics - - General
    • G32 - Financial Economics - - Corporate Finance and Governance - - - Financing Policy; Financial Risk and Risk Management; Capital and Ownership Structure; Value of Firms; Goodwill

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