Title

Severance agreements and the cost of debt

Document Type

Article

Abstract

Upon examining the language used in recent SEC filings, we find that severance agreements are often paid whether or not the CEO leaves the firm due to a change in control. We hypothesize that since severance agreements compensate CEOs in the event of termination, CEOs with these agreements will have an incentive to increase firm risk and decrease effort. Consistent with this hypothesis, we document a significant positive relation between the use of severance agreements and the cost of debt (10% higher yield spreads for firms with severance agreements). The results hold after controlling for the probability of takeover, the probability of CEO turnover, and whether the firm has investment or non-investment grade debt. These results can be explained by an increase in firm risk and a higher likelihood of CEO turnover associated with severance agreements. Overall, the evidence suggests that the effects of severance agreements extend beyond takeovers, and that these additional implications are primarily negative for the firm and for debt holders in particular. © 2016 Elsevier B.V.

Keywords

CEO turnover; Cost of debt; Firm risk; Severance agreements; Takeover probability

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