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What factors determine dividend smoothing by US and EU banks?

Nicos Koussis and Michalis Makrominas

Journal of Business Finance & Accounting, 2019, vol. 46, issue 7-8, 1030-1059

Abstract: Using a relatively large sample of European and US banks for the period 1998–2016, we investigate the determinants of bank dividend smoothing based on agency, asymmetric information and risk‐shifting theories. We show that dividend payout ratio smoothing practices were implemented on both continents before and after the crisis of 2007 and were more strongly pronounced for EU banks. Our findings mostly support agency‐based explanations of bank dividend behavior as evidenced by higher payout ratio smoothing for banks with higher (initial) dividend payouts, lower ownership concentration, public banks, and banks with lower growth opportunities and weaker investor protection. Evidence in favor of asymmetric information explanations is stronger for EU countries, where smaller (more opaque) banks appear to smooth more. In both continents, banks that rely more heavily on equity issuances are found to smooth dividend payout ratios more, suggesting that banks aim at improving access to equity markets. We also provide evidence in support of risk‐shifting, as evidenced by the persistence of dividend payout ratio smoothing in the crisis years and higher dividend smoothing for banks under greater regulatory pressure. Additional analysis using a time series partial adjustment model for dividend levels provides evidence supporting the prevalence of dividend smoothing and the suggested theoretical explanations.

Date: 2019
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