The Non-Neutrality of Debt in Investment Timing: A New NPV Rule

20 Pages Posted: 7 May 2019

Date Written: April 8, 2005


Limited liability debt financing of irreversible investments can affect investment timing through an entrepreneur’s option value, even after compensating a lender for expected default losses. This non-neutrality of debt arises from an entrepreneur’s unique investment opportunity, and it is shown in a standard model of irreversible investment that is enhanced in a straightforward manner to include the equilibrium effect of a competitive lending sector. The analysis is partial, in that it takes as exogenously given an entrepreneur’s use of debt. Intuitively, limited liability lowers downside risk for the entrepreneur by truncating the lower tail of risks, thereby lowering the investment threshold. Compensating the lender for expected default losses reduces project profitability to the entrepreneur, thereby increasing the investment threshold. The net effect is negative, because lower downside risk has an additional impact on the option value of delaying investment. The standard NPV rule in real options theory implicitly assumes debt to be neutral. With non-neutrality of debt, an investment threshold is higher than investment cost, but lower than the standard NPV rule. Comparisons with other standard investment thresholds show similar relationships.

Keywords: Debt, Default, Limited Liability, Investment, NPV, Option Value

JEL Classification: G00, D92, E50

Suggested Citation

Sabarwal, Tarun, The Non-Neutrality of Debt in Investment Timing: A New NPV Rule (April 8, 2005). Available at SSRN: or

Tarun Sabarwal (Contact Author)

University of Kansas ( email )

Lawrence, KS 66045
United States

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