How Important is Financial Risk?

April 30, 2010 @ 2:00 pm – 3:30 pm America/New York Timezone
Georgia State University
35 Broad Street Northwest, Atlanta, GA 30303

RCB 1100 – from 2:00 – 3:30pm

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This paper examines the determinants of equity price risk for a large sample of non-financial corporations in the United States from 1964 to 2008. We estimate both structural and reduced form models to examine the endogenous nature of corporate financial characteristics such as total debt, debt maturity, cash holdings, and dividend policy. We find that the observed levels of equity price risk are explained primarily by operating and asset characteristics such as firm age, size, asset tangibility, as well as operating cash flow levels and volatility. In contrast, implied measures of financial risk are generally low and more stable than debt-to-equity ratios. Our measures of financial risk have declined over the last 30 years even as measures of equity volatility (e.g. idiosyncratic risk) have tended to increase. Consequently, documented trends in equity price risk are more than fully accounted for by trends in the riskiness of firms’ assets. Taken together, the results suggest that the typical U.S. firm substantially reduces financial risk by carefully managing financial policies. As a result, residual financial risk now appears negligible relative to underlying economic risk for a typical non-financial firm.