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Tax Policy and the Dividend Puzzle

  • B. Douglas Bernheim

This paper offers a new explanation of the dividend puzzle, based upon a model in which firms attempt to signal profitability by distrubuting cash to shareholders. I assume that dividends and repurchases are identical, except that dividends are taxed more heavily. Nevertheless, I demonstrate that, under certain plausible conditions, corporations will pay dividends. Indeed, some firms will actually pay dividends, and then retrieve a portion of these payments by issuing new equity (perhaps through a dividend reinvestment plan), despite the fact that this appears to create gratuitous tax liabilities. In addition to providing an explanation for the dividend puzzle, I also derive a number of strong results concerning corporate payout decisions and government tax policy. Some of these results are surprising. For example, the relationship between repurchases and firm quality is hump-shaped. Moreover, despite the fact that a higher dividend tax rate depresses dividend payments, it does not affect either government revenue or welfare.

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File URL: http://www.nber.org/papers/w3434.pdf
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Paper provided by National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc in its series NBER Working Papers with number 3434.

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Date of creation: Sep 1990
Date of revision:
Publication status: published as Rand Journal of Economics, Volume 22, No. 4, pp. 455-476, Winter 1991.
Handle: RePEc:nbr:nberwo:3434
Note: PE
Contact details of provider: Postal: National Bureau of Economic Research, 1050 Massachusetts Avenue Cambridge, MA 02138, U.S.A.
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  1. Asquith, Paul & Mullins, David Jr., 1986. "Equity issues and offering dilution," Journal of Financial Economics, Elsevier, vol. 15(1-2), pages 61-89.
  2. Bagwell, Laurie Simon & Shoven, John B, 1989. "Cash Distributions to Shareholders," Journal of Economic Perspectives, American Economic Association, vol. 3(3), pages 129-40, Summer.
  3. James M. Poterba & Lawrence H. Summers, 1981. "Dividend Taxes, Corporate Investment, and "Q"," NBER Working Papers 0829, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
  4. John, Kose & Williams, Joseph, 1985. " Dividends, Dilution, and Taxes: A Signalling Equilibrium," Journal of Finance, American Finance Association, vol. 40(4), pages 1053-70, September.
  5. Constantinides, George M & Scholes, Myron S, 1980. " Optimal Liquidation of Assets in the Presence of Personal Taxes: Implications for Asset Pricing," Journal of Finance, American Finance Association, vol. 35(2), pages 439-49, May.
  6. James M. Poterba & Lawrence H. Summers, 1985. "The Economic Effects of Dividend Taxation," NBER Working Papers 1353, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
  7. Paul R. Milgrom & John Roberts, 1984. "Price and Advertising Signals of Product Quality," Cowles Foundation Discussion Papers 709, Cowles Foundation for Research in Economics, Yale University.
  8. Sudipto Bhattacharya, 1979. "Imperfect Information, Dividend Policy, and "The Bird in the Hand" Fallacy," Bell Journal of Economics, The RAND Corporation, vol. 10(1), pages 259-270, Spring.
  9. Ambarish, Ramasastry & John, Kose & Williams, Joseph, 1987. " Efficient Signalling with Dividends and Investments," Journal of Finance, American Finance Association, vol. 42(2), pages 321-43, June.
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