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A Century of Capital Structure: The Leveraging of Corporate America

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  • John Graham
  • Mark T. Leary
  • Michael R. Roberts

Abstract

Unregulated U.S. corporations dramatically increased their debt usage over the past century. Aggregate leverage - low and stable before 1945 - more than tripled between 1945 and 1970 from 11% to 35%, eventually reaching 47% by the early 1990s. The median firm in 1946 had no debt, but by 1970 had a leverage ratio of 31%. This increase occurred in all unregulated industries and affected firms of all sizes. Changing firm characteristics are unable to account for this increase. Rather, changes in government borrowing, macroeconomic uncertainty, and financial sector development play a more prominent role. Despite this increase among unregulated firms, a combination of stable debt usage among regulated firms and a decrease in the fraction of aggregate assets held by regulated firms over this period resulted in a relatively stable economy-wide leverage ratio during the 20th century.

Suggested Citation

  • John Graham & Mark T. Leary & Michael R. Roberts, 2014. "A Century of Capital Structure: The Leveraging of Corporate America," NBER Working Papers 19910, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
  • Handle: RePEc:nbr:nberwo:19910
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    References listed on IDEAS

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    Cited by:

    1. Zhou, Qing & Tan, Kelvin Jui Keng & Faff, Robert & Zhu, Yushu, 2016. "Deviation from target capital structure, cost of equity and speed of adjustment," Journal of Corporate Finance, Elsevier, vol. 39(C), pages 99-120.
    2. Ayturk, Yusuf, 2017. "The effects of government borrowing on corporate financing: Evidence from Europe," Finance Research Letters, Elsevier, vol. 20(C), pages 96-103.
    3. Jensen, Henrik & Ravn, Søren Hove & Santoro, Emiliano, 2018. "Changing credit limits, changing business cycles," European Economic Review, Elsevier, vol. 102(C), pages 211-239.
    4. repec:eee:moneco:v:87:y:2017:i:c:p:13-33 is not listed on IDEAS
    5. Perez, M. Fabricio & Shkilko, Andriy & Sokolov, Konstantin, 2015. "Factor models for binary financial data," Journal of Banking & Finance, Elsevier, vol. 61(S2), pages 177-188.
    6. Dzhamalova, Valeriia, 2016. "Capital Structure of Borrowers and Lenders: An Empirical Analysis," Knut Wicksell Working Paper Series 2016/1, Lund University, Knut Wicksell Centre for Financial Studies.
    7. 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, vol. 37, pages 71-89.
    8. Michaely, Roni & Popadak, Jillian & Vincent, Christopher, 2015. "The Deleveraging of U.S. Firms and Institutional Investors’ Role," MPRA Paper 66128, University Library of Munich, Germany.
    9. Belkhir, Mohamed & Maghyereh, Aktham & Awartani, Basel, 2016. "Institutions and corporate capital structure in the MENA region," Emerging Markets Review, Elsevier, vol. 26(C), pages 99-129.
    10. John Graham & Mark T. Leary & Michael R. Roberts, 2014. "How Does Government Borrowing Affect Corporate Financing and Investment?," NBER Working Papers 20581, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
    11. 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:

    • E44 - Macroeconomics and Monetary Economics - - Money and Interest Rates - - - Financial Markets and the Macroeconomy
    • E62 - Macroeconomics and Monetary Economics - - Macroeconomic Policy, Macroeconomic Aspects of Public Finance, and General Outlook - - - Fiscal Policy
    • 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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