Some Examples of the Conflict

Existing bondholders can be made worse off by increases in borrowing, especially if these increases are large and affect the default risk of the firm, and these bondholders are unprotected. The stockholders' wealth increases concurrently. This effect is dramatically illustrated in the case of acquisitions funded primarily with debt, where the debt ratio increases and the bond rating drops significantly. The prices of existing bonds fall to reflect the higher default risk.16

Dividend policy is another issue on which a conflict of interest may arise between stockholders and bondholders. The effect of higher dividends on stock prices can be debated in theory, with differences of opinion on whether it should increase or decrease prices, but the empirical evidence is clear. Increases in dividends, on average, lead to higher stock prices, while decreases in dividends lead to lower stock prices. Bond prices, on the other hand, react negatively to dividend increases and positively to dividend cuts. The reason is simple. Dividend payments reduce the cash available to a firm, thus making debt more risky.

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