Article | Journal of Financial Economics | August 2013

Corporate Ownership Structure and the Choice Between Bank Debt and Public Debt

by Chen Lin, Yue Ma, Paul Malatesta and Yuhai Xuan

Abstract

This paper examines the relation between a borrowing firm's ownership structure and its choice of debt source using a novel, hand-collected data set on corporate ownership, control, and debt structures for 9,831 firms in 20 countries from 2001 to 2010. We find that the divergence between control rights and cash-flow rights of a borrowing firm's largest ultimate owner has a significant impact on the firm's choice between bank debt and public debt. A one-standard-deviation increase in the divergence reduces the borrowing firm's reliance on bank debt financing as measured by the ratio of bank debt to total debt by approximately 23% and increases its reliance on public debt financing as measured by the ratio of public debt to total debt by approximately 18%. The effect of the control-ownership divergence on borrowing firms' debt choice is more pronounced for firms with high financial distress risk, firms that are informationally opaque, and firms that are family controlled. Moreover, this effect is weakened by the presence of multiple large owners and in countries with strong shareholder rights. Overall, our results are consistent with the hypothesis that firms controlled by large shareholders with excess control rights choose public debt financing over bank debt as a way of avoiding scrutiny and insulating themselves from bank monitoring.

Keywords: Governance; Ownership; Borrowing and Debt; Corporate Finance;

Citation:

Lin, Chen, Yue Ma, Paul Malatesta, and Yuhai Xuan. "Corporate Ownership Structure and the Choice Between Bank Debt and Public Debt." Journal of Financial Economics 109, no. 2 (August 2013): 517–534.