OECD Journal: Financial Market Trends

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The articles in Financial Market Trends focus on trends, structural issues and developments in financial markets and the financial sector.


Long-term investment, the cost of capital and the dividend and buyback puzzle

The paper argues that interest rates are at extremely low levels to support banks, and the search for yield has pushed the liquidity driven speculative bubble from real estate, derivatives and structured products markets into the corporate debt market. Equities have rallied strongly too. This asset cycle is certainly helping banks reduce hidden losses on illiquid securities and could also help reduce the cost of equity. But for this to occur at current bond yields would require an unrealistic bubble in equities. Markets are assuming that this transition from low to higher rates (more in line with nominal GDP) can be handled smoothly by policy makers, when in fact this may not be so. Extreme volatility would risk new financial fragility problems. The paper presents a panel model using more than 4 000 global companies and shows that the Capex decision in general depend on the cost of equity, the accelerator and uncertainty, whereas buybacks are driven mainly by the gap between the cost of equity and debt. Right now the incentive structure implied by very low interest rates, which may be sustained for a long time, together with tax incentives, works directly against longterm investment. Debt finance is cheap, while the cost of equity capital needed for risky long-term investment is still high. This combination provides a direct incentive for borrowing to carry out buybacks (de-equitisation). Noting that weak investment reduces potential GDP, the paper makes some policy suggestions.

JEL Classification: G15, G32, G28, E52.

Keywords: Long-term investment, interest rates, de-equitisation, cost of capital, dividend and buybacks, monetary policy.


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