Capital Structure Instability

17 Pages Posted: 20 Jan 2017

See all articles by Harry DeAngelo

Harry DeAngelo

University of Southern California - Marshall School of Business - Finance and Business Economics Department

Richard Roll

California Institute of Technology

Multiple version iconThere are 2 versions of this paper

Date Written: Fall 2016


This article summarizes the evidence from the authors’ recent study published in the Journal of Finance that documented the extent of the variation in the capital structures of individual public companies over long time horizons. It also reports the results of an exploratory investigation into the sources of variation over time in leverage ratios — an investigation that included case analyses of leverage instability at 24 U.S. companies that were included in the Dow Jones Industrial Average at some point in their histories. The main finding of the authors’ study is that substantial instability in leverage has been the norm at publicly held nonfinancial companies. “Episodic” cases of leverage stability were observed from time to time, but they were the exception, not the rule. Such cases almost always involved companies with low leverage ratios, and they invariably proved to be short‐lived, rarely exceeding a decade or two. Leverage was found to be “sticky” during periods lasting just a few years, but a company's currently high (or low) leverage became an increasingly poor predictor of whether its future leverage would be high (or low) as the amount of time between leverage observations lengthened. When attempting to explain company specific changes in leverage after extended periods of stability, the authors found a strong connection with company expansion and investment. At the same time, they found no systematic relations between company‐specific leverage changes and changes in industry leverage, company profitability, or other determinants of leverage that have been emphasized in previous academic studies. The authors' case analyses reinforced their finding that capital structure changes were often linked to the funding of company expansions, but such changes were also sometimes designed to support established payout policies while preserving financing flexibility.

Suggested Citation

DeAngelo, Harry and Roll, Richard W., Capital Structure Instability (Fall 2016). Journal of Applied Corporate Finance, Vol. 28, Issue 4, pp. 38-52, 2016, Available at SSRN: or

Harry DeAngelo (Contact Author)

University of Southern California - Marshall School of Business - Finance and Business Economics Department ( email )

Marshall School of Business
Los Angeles, CA 90089
United States
213-740-6541 (Phone)
213-740-6650 (Fax)

Richard W. Roll

California Institute of Technology ( email )

1200 East California Blvd
Mail Code: 228-77
Pasadena, CA 91125
United States
626-395-3890 (Phone)
310-836-3532 (Fax)

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