Are Corporate Payouts Abnormally High in the 2000s?

Kathleen Kahle, René M. Stulz

NBER Working Paper No. 26958
Issued in April 2020
NBER Program(s):Corporate Finance

Adjusting for inflation, the annual amount paid out through dividends and share repurchases by public non-financial firms is three times larger in the 2000s than from 1971 to 1999. We find that an increase in aggregate corporate income explains 38% of the increase in the average of aggregate annual payouts from 1971-1999 to the 2000s, while an increase in the aggregate payout rate explains 62%. At the firm level, changes in firm characteristics explain 71% of the increase in average payout rate for the population and 49% of the increase in the average payout rate of firms with payouts. Though there is a negative relation between payouts and investment, most of the increase in payouts is unrelated to the decrease in investment. Models estimated over 1971-1999 underpredict the payout rate of firms with payouts in the 2000s. These models perform better when we forecast non-debt-financed payouts for a sample of larger firms, but not for the sample as a whole. Payouts are more responsive to firm characteristics in the 2000s than before, which is consistent with management having stronger payout incentives.

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Document Object Identifier (DOI): 10.3386/w26958

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