Residual theory of dividends

Residual theory of dividends purports that dividends must only be distributed after firm undertakes all acceptable investments. To determine whether any retained earnings are left to be distributed to shareholders, the three steps described below are undertaken.

Step 1 – The optimal level of capital expenditures is determined by finding the intersection between the investment opportunities schedule and the weighted marginal cost of capital schedule.

Step 2 – Taking into account the optimal capital structure proportions, the amount of financing that must come from equity is determined.

Step 3 – Retained earnings are used to cover necessary expenditures in proportion to a company’s capital structure equity percentage. If retained earnings do not cover the portion that must come from equity then new stock is issued.

The dividends are only distributed if retained earnings were enough to cover the equity portion of the investment (the second portion of investment is covered by debt) and only if there are any funds left in the retained earnings after investment expenditure is covered.

The residual theory of dividends also implies that if companies do not have investments with internal rate of returns (IRR) higher than weighted marginal cost of capital (WMCC) or Net present value (NPV) higher than zero than all retained earnings should be distributed as dividends.

Test yourself:

ABC Company has a capital structure of 35% of debt and 65% of equity. ABC’s retained earnings in this financial period are $2,000,000. The new investment required, which were determined by the intersection of IOS and WMCC, is $2,400,000. Determine if ABC will be able to distribute any dividends.

Solution:

The funds required to cover new investment is $2,400,000. The amount that must come from equity is $2,400,000*.65=$1,560,000. The rest of the amount, which is $840,000 (2,400,000-1,560,000) will come from debt. The ABC Company has $2,000,000 of retained earnings. Since only $1,560,000 is required to cover portion of funds that must come from equity, $440,000 (=$2,000,000-$1,560,000) is left in the retained earnings and can be distributed to shareholders as dividends.

Test yourself:

BCD Company has a capital structure of 35% of debt and 65% of equity. BCD’s retained earnings in this financial period are $1,000,000. The new investment required, which were determined by the intersection of IOS and WMCC, is $2,400,000. Determine if BCD Company will be able to distribute any dividends in this financial period.

Solution:

The funds required to cover new investment is $2,400,000. The amount that must come from equity is $2,400,000*.65=$1,560,000. The rest of the amount, which is $840,000 (2,400,000-1,560,000), will come from debt. The firm has $1,000,000 in retained earnings. The additional common stock needs to be issued to the amount of $560,000 to obtain enough funds that must come from equity. Since retained earnings were completely used to cover the expenditures associated with investment, there can be no dividends that BCD Company can distribute to shareholders during this financial period.

From the above two examples it is evident how under the residual theory of dividends, dividends are only distributed if there is any money left in the retained earnings after all acceptable investments are undertaken.

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