Dividend irrelevance theory

This theory was proposed by two Noble Laureates, Merton H. Miller and Franco Modigliani, and is also commonly called the M and M theorem. The theory was proposed in their article “Dividend Policy, Growth, and the Valuation of Shares,” which was published in the Journal of Business in October of 1961, pp. 411-433.

The theory suggests that, in a perfect world, dividends are irrelevant when the value of the stock and, therefore, of the firm is determined.

The theory implies that retained earnings belong to the shareholders of the company and shareholders are not concerned whether money is used to pay out dividends or for investment purposes because they benefit either way by receiving dividends or via share price appreciation.

If investors will require cash, they can always sell a few of the shares which increased in value due to investments.

Miller and Modigliani also suggest that the clientele effect exists. This refers to the tendency for investors to hold stocks which are in line with their dividend payment preferences.

Investors who prefer regular dividends hold stocks of the companies which provide such dividends and investors who prefer for funds to be reinvested and to be reflected in the share appreciation hold those stocks that are aligned with such preferences.

The clientele effect further supports the proposition that the dividend policy does not affect the value of the stock because investors obtain income from the shares in their preferred way.

Miller and Modigliani also suggest that if dividends affect stock price than it is because of the informational content in changes in dividends. Investors see changes in dividends as signals. Increases in dividends are seen as a positive signal pointing out that management expects earnings of the firm to increase in the future. Decrease in dividends is seen as negative signal which points out that management expects earnings to decrease in the future.

Overall, the dividend irrelevance theory suggests that firm do not require a dividend policy because it does not affect the value of the firm.



Declaring and payment of dividends

The board of directors determines whether or not dividends will be declared for the current financial period. Such decisions are made during semi-annual or quarterly meetings of the board of directors.

If a decision to distribute dividends is made, it will be paid to all shareholders whose names are listed as shareholders on the record date.

Due to time that it takes for new shareholders to be listed, dividends are only paid out to those shareholders who acquired shares of the firm earlier than two business days before the record date.

Two business days prior to record date, along with usual fluctuations of the market, the stock price starts selling as ex dividend and drops by an amount close to the declared dividend. The payment date of the dividend usually occurs few weeks after the record date.

Test yourself:

ABC Company declared a quarterly dividend of $0.5 per share on 15th of November. You purchased 800 shares of ABC on 1st of November and 15% tax is applicable to any dividends received. Determine whether you are eligible to receive dividends and, if so, how much will you receive after tax is taken into account.


The dividends were declared on 15th of November. Since you purchased stock on 1st of November, you are eligible to receive the dividends. Your before tax dividends amount to $400 (=800*$0.5). Your after-tax dividends amount to $340 (=$400*(1-.15)).

Dividend reinvestment plans (DRIPs) – many firms offer dividend reinvestment plans which allow current stockholders to use dividends to acquire more shares at about five percent below the market price of the firm’s shares.

This allows company to avoid under pricing and flotation costs involved in issuing new shares and shareholders also benefit due to lower prices per share. This arrangement makes obtainment of additional shares more attractive for current stockholders.

Dividend relevance and irrelevance

Whether dividend policy affects the share price and, therefore, a value of the firm is still an unresolved issue. Residual theory of dividends, the dividend irrelevance theory proposed by Merton H. Miller and Franco Modigliani, and dividend relevance theory proposed by Myron J. Gordon and John Lintner, provide different viewpoints on the issue and are briefly discussed in the next set of articles.


Capital structure decisions

Capital structure decisions refer to the decisions businesses have to make with regards to the mix of financing they use. The mix consists of debt and/or equity as sources of capital. In other words, it is a structure of the liabilities and equity side of the balance sheet, excluding current liabilities. Enterprises usually try to maintain a certain optimal mix of financing (debt and equity), referred to as the target capital structure.

The modern approach to capital structures is largely influenced by the work of Franco Modigliani and Merton H. Miller. This is also known as the M and M, or MM work. Their work published in 1958 in American Economic Review (June 1958) entitled “The Cost of Capital, Corporation Finance, and the Theory of Investment” suggests that under condition of perfect markets, capital structure decisions do not affect the value of the firm. Any increase in Return on Equity goes hand in hand with increase in risk. Therefore, weighted average cost of capital (WACC) stays constant.

In their later work, Franco Modigliani and Merton H. Miller introduced taxes into the model. Their further conclusion was that if corporate taxes are present then the value of the enterprise will increase continuously as more debt is added to capital structure.

This is possible because debt interest payments are tax deductible. However, it is evident that personal taxes will decrease the advantage gained. As a result, it is still profitable to use debt financing. However, the advantage gained is lessened by the existence of personal taxes versus existence of just corporate taxes.

Theoretically, enterprises can increase the value of the firm by finding the optimum capital structure (mix of equity and debt). The optimum capital structure refers to capital structure decisions according to which the weighted average cost of capital is at its minimum value and, as a result, the value of the firm is maximized.

Therefore, the optimum capital structure is in line with the main objective of the business, which is the maximization of wealth of the owners of the business. However, it is important to note that the optimal capital structure exists only in theory.

Sources of capital

Sources of capital include debt and equity. Equity is further subdivided into preferred stock and common stock. In turn, common stock is even further subdivided into new common stock and retained earnings.

When making capital structure decisions, it is important to keep in mind that generally debt is the least expensive source of capital. This is due to the fact that the lender takes much less risk than suppliers of the equity capital. This is occurs because:

(1) Debt has obligatory scheduled payments. Whereas, equity suppliers, especially in case of common stock, will only be paid when company can afford to do so.

(2) In case of liquidation, lenders have priority claim on assets of the company over equity suppliers.

(3) If firm misses obligatory interest or principal payments, lenders can force the firm into bankruptcy. Therefore, lenders have more power in ensuring that payments will be made on time.

Moreover, interest on debt is tax deductible, which makes it an even cheaper source of capital for the firm. Overall, and as stated above, debt is generally the cheapest source of capital for the firm.

How capital structure decisions affect the risk of a company?

Enterprises deal with three types of risks: financial risk, business risk and total risk. The capital structure directly affects the financial and total risk of the firm.

FINANCIAL RISK – a chance that firm will not be able to meet its financial obligations, which can result in bankruptcy. Financial risk is directly affected by the firm’s capital structure (its mix of debt and equity financing). The more debt the firm uses in its capital structure mix, the higher the financial risk.

BUSINESS RISK – a chance that firm will not be able to cover its operating costs. There are three factors that affect business risk. These are an increase in the degree of operating leverage, revenue instability and cost instability. Capital structure decisions do not affect business risk.

TOTAL RISK – a combination of financial and business risk. Since capital structure decisions affect financial risk, the total risk is also affected.

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