NATIONAL BUREAU OF ECONOMIC RESEARCH
NATIONAL BUREAU OF ECONOMIC RESEARCH
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Optimal Financing for R&D-Intensive Firms

Richard T. Thakor, Andrew W. Lo

NBER Working Paper No. 23831
Issued in September 2017
NBER Program(s):Corporate Finance, Health Economics, Productivity, Innovation, and Entrepreneurship

We develop a theory of optimal financing for R&D-intensive firms that uses their unique features—large capital outlays, long gestation periods, high upside, and low probabilities of R&D success—that explains three prominent stylized facts about these firms: their relatively low use of debt, large cash balances, and underinvestment in R&D. The model relies on the interaction of the unique features of R&D-intensive firms with three key frictions: adverse selection about R&D viability, asymmetric information about the upside potential of R&D, and moral hazard from risk shifting. We establish the optimal pecking order of securities with direct market financing. Using a tradeoff between tax benefits and the costs of risk shifting for debt, we establish conditions under which the firm uses an all-equity capital structure and firms raise enough financing to carry excess cash. A firm may use a limited amount of debt if it has pledgeable assets in place. However, market financing still leaves potentially valuable R&D investments unfunded. We then use a mechanism design approach to explore the potential of intermediated financing, with a binding precommitment by firm insiders to make costly ex post payouts. A mechanism consisting of put options can be used in combination with equity to eliminate underinvestment in R&D relative to the direct market financing outcome. This optimal intermediary-assisted mechanism consists of bilateral “insurance” contracts, with investors offering firms insurance against R&D failure and firms offering investors insurance against very high R&D payoffs not being realized.

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Document Object Identifier (DOI): 10.3386/w23831

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