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Cash Holdings and Credit Risk

by Viral V. Acharya of New York University,
Sergei A. Davydenko of University of Toronto, and
Ilya A. Strebulaev of Stanford University

October 23, 2012

Abstract: Intuition suggests that firms with higher cash holdings are safer and should have lower credit spreads. Yet empirically the correlation between cash and spreads is robustly positive, and higher for lower credit ratings. This puzzling finding can be explained by the precautionary motive for saving cash. In our model endogenously determined optimal cash reserves are positively related to credit risk, resulting in a spurious positive correlation between cash and spreads. By contrast, spreads are negatively related to the "exogenous" component of cash holdings independent of credit risk factors. Similarly, although firms with higher cash reserves are less likely to default over short horizons, longer term endogenously determined liquidity may be positively related to the probability of default. Our empirical analysis confirms these predictions, suggesting that endogenous precautionary savings are central to understanding the effects of cash on credit risk.

JEL Classification: G32, G33.

Keywords: Credit risk, Default, Liquidity, Cash holdings, Precautionary savings.

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