Diversity and Determinants of Corporate Financing Decisions: Survey Evidence
28 Pages Posted: 15 Jul 2004
Date Written: March 2004
Despite theoretical developments in recent years, our understanding of corporate capital structure remains incomplete. Prior empirical research has been dominated by archival regression studies which are limited in their ability to fully reflect the diversity found in practice. The present paper reports on a comprehensive survey of corporate financing decision-making in 192 UK listed companies.
A key finding is that firms are heterogeneous in their capital structure policies. About half of the firms seek to maintain a target debt level, consistent with trade-off theory, but 60% claim to follow a financing hierarchy, consistent with pecking order theory. These two theories are not viewed by respondents as either mutually exclusive or exhaustive, since some firms adopt (at least partially) both strategies, while a significant number of firms do not appear to follow either of these strategies. Such observations raise concerns about the usefulness of large-scale regression modelling of capital structure determinants. In normal usage, these models can only describe whether a particular theory is consistent with the observed capital structure of the 'average firm' in the population. They are not typically used to model the diversity of capital structure practice.
As found in many regression-based determinant studies, there is clear evidence here that company size affects corporate financing decisions. For example, large companies are more likely to adopt a target debt level and to maintain financial slack (though not more likely to follow a hierarchy of finance). Similarly, current high levels of gearing encourage a greater focus on particular issues, such as projected cash flows, loan covenants and non-interest tax shields. This contingency on debt levels suggests that empirical studies of capital structure dynamics may be particularly fruitful.
Investigation of debt level determinants shows that many of the theoretical arguments are widely accepted by respondents, in particular the importance of interest tax shield, financial distress, agency costs and also, at least implicitly, information asymmetry.
Keywords: Capital structure, survey, trade-off theory, pecking order theory
JEL Classification: G32
Suggested Citation: Suggested Citation