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Corporate Taxes and Capital Structure: A Long-Term Historical Perspective

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  • Francis A. Longstaff
  • Ilya A. Strebulaev

Abstract

We study the relation between leverage and corporate tax rates using an extensive data set constructed from all corporate income tax returns filed with the IRS from 1926 to 2009. This data set includes financial statement data from millions of private and public corporations of all sizes. We show that corporate leverage has increased significantly over the past century. We find strong evidence that changes in corporate leverage are directly related to changes in corporate tax rates for all but the smallest firms. These results are robust to the inclusion of control variables for the costs of financial distress, corporate liquidity, and capital market and macroeconomic conditions. The adjustment of leverage to changes in corporate tax rates is slower for smaller firms facing financial constraints. We find that the capital structures of the smallest firms are driven much more by external shocks than is the case for larger firms.

Suggested Citation

  • 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.
  • Handle: RePEc:nbr:nberwo:20372
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    References listed on IDEAS

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    1. Givoly, Dan, et al, 1992. "Taxes and Capital Structure: Evidence from Firms' Response to the Tax Reform Act of 1986," Review of Financial Studies, Society for Financial Studies, vol. 5(2), pages 331-355.
    2. Goldstein, Robert & Ju, Nengjiu & Leland, Hayne, 2001. "An EBIT-Based Model of Dynamic Capital Structure," The Journal of Business, University of Chicago Press, vol. 74(4), pages 483-512, October.
    3. Giesecke, Kay & Longstaff, Francis A. & Schaefer, Stephen & Strebulaev, Ilya, 2011. "Corporate bond default risk: A 150-year perspective," Journal of Financial Economics, Elsevier, vol. 102(2), pages 233-250.
    4. Eugene F. Fama, 2002. "Testing Trade-Off and Pecking Order Predictions About Dividends and Debt," Review of Financial Studies, Society for Financial Studies, vol. 15(1), pages 1-33, March.
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    9. Harjoat S. Bhamra & Lars-Alexander Kuehn & Ilya A. Strebulaev, 2010. "The Aggregate Dynamics of Capital Structure and Macroeconomic Risk," Review of Financial Studies, Society for Financial Studies, vol. 23(12), pages 4187-4241, December.
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    Cited by:

    1. repec:bla:acctfi:v:57:y:2017:i:5:p:1315-1347 is not listed on IDEAS
    2. 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.
    3. Bofinger, Peter & Schnabel, Isabel & Feld, Lars P. & Schmidt, Christoph M. & Wieland, Volker, 2015. "Zukunftsfähigkeit in den Mittelpunkt. Jahresgutachten 2015/16," Annual Economic Reports / Jahresgutachten, German Council of Economic Experts / Sachverständigenrat zur Begutachtung der gesamtwirtschaftlichen Entwicklung, volume 127, number 201516.
    4. repec:eee:jbfina:v:101:y:2019:i:c:p:270-295 is not listed on IDEAS

    More about this item

    JEL classification:

    • G32 - Financial Economics - - Corporate Finance and Governance - - - Financing Policy; Financial Risk and Risk Management; Capital and Ownership Structure; Value of Firms; Goodwill
    • G38 - Financial Economics - - Corporate Finance and Governance - - - Government Policy and Regulation

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