The inverse relation between leverage and profitability is widely regarded as a serious defect of the trade-off theory. We show that the defect is not with the theory but with the use of a leverage ratio in which profitability affects both the numerator and the denominator. Profitability directly increases the value of equity. Firms do take the predicted offsetting actions. They issue debt and repurchase equity when profitability rises, and retire debt and issue equity when profitability falls. Consistent with variable transactions costs, the adjustment is not generally sufficient to fully undo the profitability shocks. Accordingly, on average the leverage ratio falls as profitability rises.
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© The Authors 2014. Published by Oxford University Press on behalf of the European Finance Association.