Does Asymmetric Information Drive Capital Structure Decisions?
Posted: 5 Aug 2009
Date Written: August 2009
Using a novel information asymmetry index based on measures of adverse selection developed by the market microstructure literature, we test whether information asymmetry is an important determinant of capital structure decisions, as suggested by the pecking order theory. Our index relies exclusively on measures of the market's assessment of adverse selection risk rather than on ex ante firm characteristics. We find that information asymmetry does affect the capital structure decisions of U.S. firms over the sample period 1973-2002. Our findings are robust to controlling for conventional leverage factors (size, tangibility, Q ratio, profitability), the sources of firms' financing needs, and such firm attributes as stock return volatility, stock turnover, and intensity of insider trading. For example, we estimate that on average, for every dollar of financing deficit to cover, firms in the highest adverse selection decile issue 30 cents of debt more than firms in the lowest decile. Overall, this evidence explains why the pecking order theory is only partially successful in explaining all of firms' capital structure decisions. It also suggests that the theory finds support when its basic assumptions hold in the data, as should reasonably be expected of any theory.
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