The Capital Structure of Swiss Companies:
Analysis Using Dynamic Panel Data
GAUD - HEC-University of Geneva
Elion JANI - HEC-University of Geneva
HOESLI - HEC-University of Geneva, FAME and University of Aberdeen
André BENDER - HEC-University of Geneva and FAME
This paper has now been published and is no longer available as
a part of our Research Paper Series. The published text can be found with the following reference:
M., Gaud, P., Jani, E., Bender, A., "The capital structure of Swiss companies: an empirical analysis
using dynamic panel data", 2005, European Financial Management, vol. 11, issue 1, pp. 51-69.
this paper, we analyze the determinants of the capital structure for a panel of 106 Swiss companies
listed in the Swiss stock exchange. Both static and dynamic tests are performed for the period 1991-2000.
It is found that the size of companies, the importance of tangible assets and business risk are positively
related to leverage, while growth and profitability are negatively associated with leverage. The sign
of these relations suggest that both the pecking order theory and trade off hypothesis are at work in
explaining the capital structure of Swiss companies, although more evidence exists to validate the latter
theory. Our analysis also shows that Swiss firms adjust toward a target debt ratio, but the adjustment
process is much slower than in most other countries. It is argued that reasons for this can be found
in the institutional context.
of the most important decisions in the field of corporate finance pertains to financial policy. Using
debt financing can have both positive and negative effects on the value of the firm. On the one hand,
debt financing is value-enhancing for the firm because it provides a tax shield. Furthermore, debt allows
to reduce the conflicts of interest between managers and shareholders. On the other hand, the use of
debt may increase bankruptcy costs and may lead the managers of firms with growth opportunities to accept
sub-optimal investment opportunities. In addition, debt often does not constitute an appropriate solution
to finance highly innovative start-up companies. Empirical research in this area has mainly focused
on the U.S market, and less evidence exists for European countries. The aim of this paper is to contribute
to the empirical literature by analyzing the determinants of the capital structure of Swiss companies.
We analyze a panel of 106 firms for the period 1991-2000.
structure decisions of firms can be explained by two alternative theories: the trade off theory (TOT)
and the pecking order theory (POT). The TOT posits that there exists a trade off between the costs and
benefits of debt financing that leads to an optimal capital structure.
In order to maximize
the value of the firm, managers should determine the optimal level and then aim at reaching that level.
In contrast, according to the POT, firms adopt a pecking order behavior: they first use internal financing,
then debt and issue equity as a last resort only. This is because of informational asymmetries between
managers and outside investors. The debate as to which theory better explains the capital structure
choices of firms is unresolved. Empirical research has shown that managers have a preference for internal
sources of financing, but this does not imply that an optimal capital structure does not exist.
from a dynamic perspective, the preference for internal financing can be viewed as a slowing factor
in the adjustment process towards an optimal capital structure.
decisions are dynamic by nature and any empirical study, which hypothesizes that firms aim at a debt-to-equity
target, must take into account the adjustment process towards that target. We investigate the determinants
of a target capital structure for Swiss firms and the role of the adjustment process, which is a trade
off between the adjustment costs towards a target ratio and the costs of being in disequilibrium. The
method used allows us to consider that the observed debt-to-equity ratio is not the optimal level and
that the latter can change over time. Our results are often in contradiction with pecking order theory.
First, according to this theory, firms with few tangible assets should be more sensitive to informational
asymmetries. However, we observe a positive relationship between tangible assets and leverage which
may suggest that firms use tangible assets as collateral when issuing debt. Second, according to the
POT, informational asymmetries should be more severe for small size firms, but we observe a positive
correlation between size and leverage. This leads us to reject the hypothesis that size acts as an inverse
proxy for informational asymmetries, but rather that size is an inverse proxy for the probability of
bankruptcy which is consistent with the TOT. Third, in our sample, growth firms are less levered than
non-growth firms, which suggests that equity is preferred to debt to avoid bankruptcy costs.
our sample, we find a negative relationship between profitability and debt level. This result is usually
interpreted as evidence for the pecking order theory (POT). However, such a relationship is also consistent
with the TOT in the short run. For example, according to the TOT, despite the fact that the contemporaneous
profitability is a determinant of leverage, the cash-flow generated during the year can be used partly
to decrease the level of debt. Overall, our results suggest that both the pecking order theory and trade
off hypothesis are at work in explaining the capital structure of Swiss companies, although more evidence
exists to validate the latter theory. Our analysis shows that Swiss firms adjust toward a target debt
ratio, but the adjustment process is much slower than in most other countries. A possible explanation
for this is that being in disequilibrium is not costly for Swiss firms. It is argued that reasons for
this can be found in the characteristics of Swiss firms, which are mature firms, and the institutional
context that favored easy credit. In particular, Swiss companies experienced rather low growth during
the 1990s, which implied that internal financing was sufficient to cover new capital expenditures. In
such circumstances, firms did not aim towards their target ratio.