The Cost of Financial Distress and the Timing of Default
50 Pages Posted: 4 Feb 2009 Last revised: 26 May 2009
Date Written: May 12, 2009
At any point in time, most firms are not in financial distress. This implies that they must suffer value losses unrelated to their leverage--economic shocks--before becoming financially distressed. We show that if estimates of ex-ante financial distress costs are not filtered from the effects of future economic shocks, they are significantly biased upward, as far as an order of magnitude. Filtered from economic shocks, pure ex-ante distress costs average less than 1% of current firm value. We also estimate sensitivities of ex-ante distress costs to leverage that are generally far too small to offset the expected tax benefits. Extending our analysis to the cross section and time series, we confirm that ex-ante distress costs are highest: i) when the risk premium in debt markets is high, and ii) among firms with high systematic risk. Overall, our results suggest that most firms use debt too conservatively, but we characterize conditions under which they do not.
Keywords: financial distress costs, default probabilities
JEL Classification: G32, G33
Suggested Citation: Suggested Citation