The Share Price Effects of Dividend Taxes and Tax Imputation Credits
Trevor S. Harris
Columbia University - Columbia Business School
R. Glenn Hubbard
Columbia Business School - Finance and Economics; National Bureau of Economic Research (NBER)
Tulane University - Accounting & Taxation
September 17, 1998
The relation between shareholder-level taxes and firm value has fundamental implications for understanding why firms pay dividends and how taxes influence capital structure choices. Despite its importance, however, several underlying problems have hampered existing research on the specific question of dividend tax capitalization. We take a new approach, directly testing the relationship between dividend taxes and the valuation of common equity and earnings. Retained earnings are subject to dividend taxes upon distribution, but paid-in equity can be returned to shareholders as a tax-free return of capital. Therefore we test the prediction that dividend taxes result in a lower value for retained earnings than for paid-in equity, after controlling for the predictable influence of dividend taxes on the valuation of earnings.
We strengthen this research design by repeating the basic test in several different tax regimes. In the United States, we perform tests for five tax regimes in the 1975-1994 period corresponding to five different levels of dividend taxation. We also conduct tests for the 1984 1994 period for Australia, France, Germany, Japan, and the United Kingdom. The non-U.S. settings allow for comparisons of empirical results across different levels of dividend tax relief provided by tax imputation credits.
Our investigation results in three principal findings. First, firm-level results for the United States indicate that accumulated retained earnings are valued less per unit than contributed capital. This finding is consistent with the capitalization of future dividend taxes in retained earnings, and it is robust to inclusion of a variety of control variables and tests for possible alternative explanations. Second, we find that differences in dividend tax rates across U.S. tax regimes are associated with predictable differences in the implied tax discount for retained earnings. Third, cross-country variation in dividend tax rates is associated with predictable variation in the implied tax discount. Furthermore, the difference in dividend tax rates across two different tax regimes in the United Kingdom is associated with predictable differences in the value discount.
Number of Pages in PDF File: 49
JEL Classification: G12, G35, H25
Date posted: September 22, 1998