An empirical analysis of zero-leverage firms: New evidence from the UK

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This paper examines why some firms have no debt in their capital structures despite the potential benefits of debt financing. It adds new insights to this zero-leverage phenomenon by addressing two unexplored questions: Does a firm have zero leverage as a consequence of financial constraints or because of a strategic decision to mitigate underinvestment incentives and preserve financial flexibility? Is the decision to follow a zero-leverage policy affected by macroeconomic conditions? Analyzing a new sample of UK firms over the period 1980-2007, we show that the zero-leverage policy is prevalent but that zero-leverage firms are not homogeneous. There are two distinct groups of unlevered firms with different levels of constraints as measured by their dividend policy, namely payers and non-payers. Importantly, we find new evidence that these groups have different motives for eschewing debt. Firms in the second group (non-payers) have zero leverage mainly due to financial constraints. Firms in the first group (payers) deliberately eschew debt to mitigate investment distortions, as predicted by the underinvestment and financial flexibility hypotheses. Macroeconomic conditions have a significant effect on the zero-leverage decision, especially for this less constrained group. © 2013 Elsevier Inc.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)189-202
Number of pages13
JournalInternational Review of Financial Analysis
Publication statusPublished - Dec 2013


  • Capital structure
  • Financial constraints
  • Financial flexibility
  • Low leverage
  • Underinvestment


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