Equity-Debtholder Conflicts and Capital Structure
Swedish House of Finance
Stockholm School of Economics
February 17, 2010
AFA 2011 Denver Meetings Paper
We use an important legal event as a natural experiment to examine equity-debt conflicts in the vicinity of financial distress. A 1991 Delaware bankruptcy ruling changed the nature of corporate directors’ fiduciary duties in that state. This change limited incentives to take actions favoring equity over debt. We show that, as predicted, this increased the likelihood of equity issues, increased investment, and reduced risk taking. The changes are isolated to indebted firms (where the legal change applied). These reductions in agency costs were followed by an increase in average leverage and a reduction in interest costs. Finally, we can estimate the welfare implications of agency costs, because firm values increased when the rules were introduced. We conclude that equity-bond holder conflicts are economically important, determine capital structure choices, and affect welfare.
Number of Pages in PDF File: 30
Keywords: Bankruptcy, Costs of Financial Distress, Capital Structure
JEL Classification: G32, G33, L2
Date posted: March 17, 2010
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