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Asset risk and leverage under information asymmetry

Pascal Nguyen (Universite Catholique de Lyon, Lyon, France)

Journal of Risk Finance

ISSN: 1526-5943

Publication date: 15 May 2017

Abstract

Purpose

The purpose of this paper is to investigate whether higher asset risk can be associated with higher leverage and to provide a rationale for the relatively low debt ratios displayed by many firms.

Design/methodology/approach

A game is modeled between an informed firm and uninformed lenders. The firm knows the risk of its assets, while lenders only know the minimum level of risk. The author solves for the signaling equilibrium and derive explicit formulas for the firm’s cost of debt and optimal leverage.

Findings

In contrast to the tradeoff theory of capital structure, it is found that asset risk and leverage are positively (instead of negatively) related. Furthermore, leverage is lower than when lenders are informed about the firm’s risk. These results are illustrated with a numerical example.

Practical implications

Low-risk firms can choose a lower leverage to signal their lower risk and reduce their cost of debt. High-risk firms may prefer to pay higher interest rates and use higher leverage.

Originality/value

The paper is able to explain why some firms use surprisingly low leverage and do not appear to take advantage of their debt tax shields.

Keywords

Citation

Nguyen, P. (2017), "Asset risk and leverage under information asymmetry", Journal of Risk Finance, Vol. 18 No. 3, pp. 303-310. https://doi.org/10.1108/JRF-11-2016-0143

Publisher

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Emerald Publishing Limited

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