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Why High Leverage is Optimal for Banks

  • Harry DeAngelo
  • René M. Stulz

Liquidity production is a central role of banks. We show that, under idealized conditions, high leverage is optimal for banks when there is a market premium for (socially valuable) liquid financial claims and no deviations from Modigliani and Miller (1958) due to agency problems, deposit insurance, taxes, or any other distortions. Our model can explain (i) why bank leverage increased over the last 150 years or so, (ii) why high bank leverage per se does not necessarily cause systemic risk, and (iii) why limits on the leverage of regulated banks impede their ability to compete with unregulated shadow banks. Our model indicates that MM's debt-equity neutrality principle is inapplicable to banks. Because debt-equity neutrality assigns zero weight to the social value of liquidity, it is an inappropriately equity-biased baseline for assessing whether the high leverage ratios of real-world banks are excessive.

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Paper provided by National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc in its series NBER Working Papers with number 19139.

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Date of creation: Jun 2013
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Handle: RePEc:nbr:nberwo:19139
Note: CF
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  1. Diamond, Douglas W & Dybvig, Philip H, 1983. "Bank Runs, Deposit Insurance, and Liquidity," Journal of Political Economy, University of Chicago Press, vol. 91(3), pages 401-19, June.
  2. Douglas W. Diamond & Raghuram G. Rajan, 2001. "Liquidity Risk, Liquidity Creation, and Financial Fragility: A Theory of Banking," Journal of Political Economy, University of Chicago Press, vol. 109(2), pages 287-327, April.
  3. Franklin Allen & Elena Carletti, 2013. "Deposits and Bank Capital Structure," Working Papers 477, IGIER (Innocenzo Gasparini Institute for Economic Research), Bocconi University.
  4. Miller, Merton H., 1995. "Do the M & M propositions apply to banks?," Journal of Banking & Finance, Elsevier, vol. 19(3-4), pages 483-489, June.
  5. Gorton, Gary & Pennacchi, George, 1990. " Financial Intermediaries and Liquidity Creation," Journal of Finance, American Finance Association, vol. 45(1), pages 49-71, March.
  6. Nicola Gennaioli & Andrei Shleifer & Robert Vishny, 2011. "A Model of Shadow Banking," Working Papers 576, Barcelona Graduate School of Economics.
  7. Bengt Holmstrom & Jean Tirole, 1998. "Private and Public Supply of Liquidity," Journal of Political Economy, University of Chicago Press, vol. 106(1), pages 1-40, February.
  8. Gorton, Gary B., 2010. "Slapped by the Invisible Hand: The Panic of 2007," OUP Catalogue, Oxford University Press, number 9780199734153.
  9. Miller, Merton H, 1977. "Debt and Taxes," Journal of Finance, American Finance Association, vol. 32(2), pages 261-75, May.
  10. Jeremy C. Stein, 2012. "Monetary Policy as Financial Stability Regulation," The Quarterly Journal of Economics, Oxford University Press, vol. 127(1), pages 57-95.
  11. Arvind Krishnamurthy & Annette Vissing-Jorgensen, 2012. "The Aggregate Demand for Treasury Debt," Journal of Political Economy, University of Chicago Press, vol. 120(2), pages 233 - 267.
  12. Samuel G. Hanson & Anil K. Kashyap & Jeremy C. Stein, 2011. "A Macroprudential Approach to Financial Regulation," Journal of Economic Perspectives, American Economic Association, vol. 25(1), pages 3-28, Winter.
  13. Merton H. Miller & Franco Modigliani, 1961. "Dividend Policy, Growth, and the Valuation of Shares," The Journal of Business, University of Chicago Press, vol. 34, pages 411.
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