Assistant Professor of Business Administration
Bo Becker is an assistant professor in the Finance Unit and has taught in the MBA curriculum and in executive programs. He currently teaches creating value through corporate restructuring in the second year of the MBA program. His research, which has been published in The Journal of Finance and the Journal of Financial Economics and other journals examines corporate credit markets and corporate ownership structure. His recent work on credit markets has concerned institutions such as credit ratings and bankruptcy law. His work on ownership concerns the determinants of payout policy and the role of large owners. Professor Becker is a Faculty Research Fellow in the National Bureau of Economic Research’s Corporate Finance program.
Professor Becker received a Ph.D. from the University of Chicago Booth School of Business and an undergraduate degree from the Stockholm School of Economics. He has taught at the University of Illinois. Before beginning his doctoral studies, he worked as a consultant and as an advisor to the prime minister of Sweden.
Payout Taxes and the Allocation of Investment
When corporate payout is taxed, internal equity (retained earnings) is cheaper than external equity (share issues). If there are no perfect substitutes for equity finance, payout taxes may therefore have an effect on the investment of firms. High taxes will favor investment by firms who can finance internally. Using an international panel with many changes in payout taxes, we show that this prediction holds well. Payout taxes have a large impact on the dynamics of corporate investment and growth. Investment is “locked in” in profitable firms when payout is heavily taxed. Thus, apart from any level effects, payout taxes change the allocation of capital.
Fiduciary Duties and Equity-debtholder Conflicts
We use an important legal event to examine the effect of managerial fiduciary duties on equity-debt conflicts. A 1991 legal ruling changed corporate directors’ fiduciary duties in Delaware firms, limiting managers’ incentives to take actions that favor equity over debt for distressed firms. After this, affected firms responded by increasing equity issues and investment and by reducing risk. The ruling was also followed by an increase in leverage, reduced reliance on covenants, and higher values. Fiduciary duties appear to affect equity-bondholder conflicts in a way that is economically important, has impact on ex ante capital structure choices, and affects welfare.
Reaching for Yield in the Bond Market
Reaching-for-yield — the propensity to buy riskier assets in order to achieve higher yields — is believed to be an important factor contributing to the credit cycle. This paper analyses this phenomenon in the corporate bond market. Specifically, we show evidence for reaching for yield among insurance companies, the largest institutional holders of corporate bonds. Insurance companies have capital requirements tied to the credit ratings of their investments. Conditional on ratings, insurance portfolios are systematically biased toward higher yield, higher CDS bonds. This behavior appears to be related to the business cycle, being most pronounced during economic expansions. It is also more pronounced for the insurance firms for which regulatory capital requirements are more binding. The results hold both at issuance and for trading in the secondary market and are robust to a series of bond and issuer controls, including issuer fixed effects as well as liquidity and duration. Comparison of the ex-post performance of bonds acquired by insurance companies does not show outperformance, but higher volatility of realized returns.