Leverage and Acquisition Performance

Matthew Hart, Derek Oler, Jeffrey Harrison

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

16 Scopus citations


From an agency perspective, leverage may have a positive effect on firm performance by limiting managers’ ability to allocate resources to unproductive uses, as well as increasing pressure on them to perform well. Consequently, we might expect leverage to have a positive impact on acquisition performance. However, the increased risks associated with higher leverage, combined with the other risks inherent in an acquisition, could also cause managers to take actions to reduce risk even if doing so is contrary to value maximization. High debt levels might also limit managerial discretion over how resources are allocated during the acquisition process, which can have a negative impact on performance. We investigate the effect of leverage on post-acquisition stock performance and find that post-acquisition performance is decreasing in leverage brought by the target firm and in additional leverage taken on to execute the acquisition. This negative performance is clustered among acquirers who are already financially constrained. Our results are robust to various returns measurement methodologies and to the inclusion of several controls known to predict future returns. Our results also represent viable investment strategies, and suggest that the market underestimates difficulties that arise from acquisition-related increases in leverage.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)571 - 603
Number of pages33
JournalReview of Quantitative Finance and Accounting
Issue number3
StatePublished - Oct 2014


  • Acquisitions
  • Capital structure
  • Leverage
  • Post-acquisition performance


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