Testing the Modigliani-Miller theorem directly in the lab: a general equilibrium approach
In this paper, we experimentally test the Modigliani-Miller theorem. Applying a general equilibrium approach and not allowing for arbitrage among firms with different capital structure, we are able to address a question fundamental to the valuation of firms: does capital structure affect the value of the firm? If so, how? We find that, consistent with the Modigliani-Miller theorem, experimental subjects well recognized the increased systematic risk of the equity with increasing leverage and accordingly demanded higher rate of return. Yet, this adjustment was not perfect: subjects underestimated the systematic risk of low leveraged equity whereas overestimated the systematic risk of high leveraged equity, resulting in a U shape weighted average cost of capital.
In this paper, we directly test the Modigliani-Miller theorem in the lab. Applying a general equilibrium approach and not allowing for arbitrage among firms with different capital structures, we are able to address this issue without making any assumptions about individuals' risk attitudes and initial wealth positions. We find that, consistent with the Modigliani-Miller theorem, experimental subjects well recognized the increased systematic risk of equity with increasing leverage and accordingly demanded higher rate of return. Furthermore, the correlation between the value of the debt and equity is -0.94, which is surprisingly comparable with the -1 predicted by the Modigliani-Miller theorem. Yet, a U shape cost of capital seems to organize the data better.
The Modigliani-Miller Theorem, Experimental Study, Decision Making under Uncertainty, General Equilibrium
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