The Risk Anomaly Tradeoff of Leverage

47 Pages Posted: 15 Mar 2015

See all articles by Malcolm P. Baker

Malcolm P. Baker

Harvard Business School; National Bureau of Economic Research (NBER)

Jeffrey Wurgler

NYU Stern School of Business; National Bureau of Economic Research (NBER)

Multiple version iconThere are 3 versions of this paper

Date Written: March 13, 2015

Abstract

The “low risk anomaly” refers to the empirical pattern that apparently high-risk equities do not earn commensurately high returns. In this paper, we consider the possibility that the risk anomaly represents mispricing, not a misspecification of risk, and develop the implications for corporate capital structure. The risk anomaly generates a simple tradeoff model: Starting at zero leverage, the overall cost of capital initially falls as leverage increases equity risk. As debt becomes risky, however, the marginal benefit of increasing equity risk declines. The optimum is reached at lower leverage for firms with high asset risk. Consistent with a risk anomaly tradeoff, firms with low-risk assets choose higher leverage. In addition, leverage is inversely related to systematic risk, holding constant total risk; a large number of firms maintain small or zero leverage despite high marginal tax rates; and many others maintain high leverage despite little tax benefit.

Keywords: leverage, capital structure, anomaly, risk, tradeoff, corporate finance

JEL Classification: G3, G32, G12

Suggested Citation

Baker, Malcolm P. and Wurgler, Jeffrey A., The Risk Anomaly Tradeoff of Leverage (March 13, 2015). Available at SSRN: https://ssrn.com/abstract=2577948 or http://dx.doi.org/10.2139/ssrn.2577948

Malcolm P. Baker

Harvard Business School ( email )

Boston, MA 02163
United States
617-495-6566 (Phone)

HOME PAGE: http://www.people.hbs.edu/mbaker

National Bureau of Economic Research (NBER)

1050 Massachusetts Avenue
Cambridge, MA 02138
United States

Jeffrey A. Wurgler (Contact Author)

NYU Stern School of Business ( email )

Stern School of Business
44 West 4th Street, Suite 9-190
New York, NY 10012-1126
United States
212-998-0367 (Phone)
212-995-4233 (Fax)

HOME PAGE: http://www.stern.nyu.edu/~jwurgler/

National Bureau of Economic Research (NBER)

1050 Massachusetts Avenue
Cambridge, MA 02138
United States

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