Dividend Policy and the Earned/Contributed Capital Mix: A Test of the Lifecycle Theory
37 Pages Posted: 2 Aug 2005
Date Written: May 2005
Consistent with a lifecycle theory of dividends, the fraction of publicly traded industrial firms that pays dividends is high when retained earnings are a large portion of total equity (and of total assets) and falls to near zero when most equity is contributed rather than earned. We observe a highly significant relation between the decision to pay dividends and the earned/contributed capital mix, controlling for profitability, growth, firm size, leverage, cash balances, and dividend history, a relation that also holds for dividend initiations and omissions. In our regressions, the mix of earned/contributed capital has a quantitatively greater impact than measures of profitability and growth opportunities. We document a massive increase in firms with negative retained earnings (from 11.8% of industrials in 1978 to 50.2% in 2002). Controlling for the earned/contributed capital mix, firms with negative retained earnings show virtually no change in their propensity to pay dividends from the mid-1970s to 2002, while those whose earned equity makes them reasonable candidates to pay dividends have a propensity reduction that is twice the overall reduction in Fama and French (2001). All our evidence supports the lifecycle theory of dividends, in which a firm's stage in that cycle is well-proxied by its mix of internal and external capital.
Keywords: Dividends, payout policy, corporate lifecycle, agency costs
JEL Classification: G35, G32, G31
Suggested Citation: Suggested Citation