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Corporate Financial Policy, Taxation, and Macroeconomic Risk

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  • Mark Gertler
  • R. Glenn Hubbard

Abstract

This paper develops a simple model of corporate financial structure intended to formalize the macroeconomic concern over excessive leverage. In particular, we attempt to rationalize why firms designing an optimal capital structure would choose a level of debt that leaves them heavily exposed to macroeconomic risk. Our starting point is a variant of the "corporate control" model often used to motivate debt as the optimal financial contract. We modify this framework in two ways. First, we include common risks, interpretable as business cycle risks, as well as idiosyncratic risks. Second, we include corporate and investor-level taxes, and consider the implications of a net tax bias against equity finance. The tax distortion confronts firms with a tradeoff ex ante between the costs of equity finance and the costs of increased exposure to macroeconomic risk accompanying debt finance. In this regard, an equilibrium with "excessive leverage" is possible. Further, despite the possibility of renegotiation, debt is in general less effective than equity in insulating the firm against aggregate risk. Our model leads to the prediction that individual firm dividends may vary with macroeconomic conditions, even after controlling for the effects of relevant firm-specific performance measures, such as earnings. We present some formal econometric evidence in support of this prediction, using a panel of individual corporations. Evidence on some related predictions is also presented.

Suggested Citation

  • Mark Gertler & R. Glenn Hubbard, 1991. "Corporate Financial Policy, Taxation, and Macroeconomic Risk," NBER Working Papers 3902, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
  • Handle: RePEc:nbr:nberwo:3902
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    1. Michael C. Jensen, 2010. "Active Investors, LBOs, and the Privatization of Bankruptcy," Journal of Applied Corporate Finance, Morgan Stanley, vol. 22(1), pages 77-85.
    2. Richard Cantor, 1990. "A panel study of the effects of leverage on investment and employment," Research Paper 9011, Federal Reserve Bank of New York.
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    6. Mark J. Warshawsky, 1991. "Is There a Corporate Debt Crisis? Another Look," NBER Chapters,in: Financial Markets and Financial Crises, pages 207-230 National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
    7. Miller, Merton H & Rock, Kevin, 1985. " Dividend Policy under Asymmetric Information," Journal of Finance, American Finance Association, vol. 40(4), pages 1031-1051, September.
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    11. James M. Poterba, 1987. "Tax Policy and Corporate Saving," Brookings Papers on Economic Activity, Economic Studies Program, The Brookings Institution, vol. 18(2), pages 455-516.
    12. Easterbrook, Frank H, 1984. "Two Agency-Cost Explanations of Dividends," American Economic Review, American Economic Association, vol. 74(4), pages 650-659, September.
    13. repec:fth:harver:1489 is not listed on IDEAS
    14. 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.
    15. Benjamin M. Friedman, 1986. "Increasing indebtedness and financial stability in the United States," Proceedings - Economic Policy Symposium - Jackson Hole, Federal Reserve Bank of Kansas City, pages 27-61.
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