It is well known that firms are more likely to issue equity when their market values are high, relative to book and past market values, and to repurchase equity when their market values are low. We document that the resulting effects on capital structure are very persistent. As a consequence, current capital structure is strongly related to historical market values. The results suggest the theory that capital structure is the cumulative outcome of past attempts to time the equity market.
“Equity market timing” refers to the practice of issuing shares at high prices and repurchasing shares at low prices. Equity market timing appears to be an important aspect of real corporate financial policy. In this paper, B&W ask how equity market timing effects capital structure and whether it has a short-run or long-run impact. The variation in market-to-book ratio is a proxy for manager’s perceptions of misevaluation. The main finding is that low leverage firms are those that raised funds when their market valuations were high (measured by the book-to-market ratio), while high leverage firms are those that raised funds when their market valuations were low. The influence of past market valuations in capital structure is economically significant and statistically robust. The influence of past market valuations on capital structure is also quite persistent, this means that they have a long-run impact.
The tradeoff theory predicts that temporary fluctuations in the market-to-book ratio or any other variable should have temporary effects. The evidence however indicates long-term effects as well. The standard pecking-order theory implies that periods of high investment will push leverage higher toward a debt capacity, not lower as the results in this paper suggest. The theory of entrenched managers suggests that managers exploit existing investors ex post by not rebalancing the capital structure with debt, this may be an explanation of the findings in this paper.
1. Capital structure and past market valuations
Individual financing decisions depend on market-to-book ratios. Does market-to-book affects capital structure through net equity issues as market timing implies? And does market-to-book has persistent effects that help to explain the cross section of leverage?
Data and summary statistics
Table I shows that book leverage decreases sharply following the IPO. Over the next 10 years, it rises slightly, while market value leverage rises more strongly. The book leverage trend is an age effect, not a survival effect. Most notable is the sharp switch to debt finance in the year following in the IPO. Under B&W’s definitions for financing activity, the change in assets is equal to the sum of net debt issues, net equity issues, and newly retained earnings. The concurrent increase in equity issues is suggestive of market timing.
Determinants of annual changes in leverage
B&W document the net effect of market-to-book on the annual change in leverage. Then they decompose the change in leverage to examine whether the effects comes through net equity issues, as market timing implies. Three control variables are used that have been found to be correlated to leverage: Asset tangibility, profitability, and firm size.
B&W regress each component (equity issues, debt issues, and newly retained earnings) of changes in leverage on the market-to-book ratio and other independent variables. This allows them to determine whether market-to-book affects leverage through net equity issues, as market timing implies. The effect of market-to-book on changes in leverage does indeed come through equity issues.
Panel C shows that market-to-book is not strongly related to retained earnings, ruling out the possibility that market-to-book affects leverage because it forecasts earnings. The effect of profitability on changes in leverage arises primarily because of retained earnings. Firm size plays an...
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