Target Capital Structure
The ultimate question for the financial manager is: What
is the mix of debt on equity used to finance the income producing assets of my business which produces
the lowest cost of capital ? The cost of capital is critical since the difference between the return produced
by the assets of the business, and the overall cost of those assets, is the residual profit that
increases the value of the shareholder interest. To put it another way, there is a combination of debt
and equity in every company, which produces the lowest weighted average cost of the money which can be
used to acquire new income producing capital assets, such as buildings and equipment. This combination
is called the "target capital structure" since it is the goal of the financial manager to achieve and
To understand this concept we visualize the right side of
the balance sheet, "Liabilities" as a risk and cost ladder, with the lowest risk, lowest cost obligations
on the top rung, and the highest risk, highest cost obligations at the bottom. Each of these items represent
a percentage of the total amount at the bottom ,which must equal the sum of the "Assets" held by the company
on the left side of the balance sheet. In addition, each of these items has a cost, except the items "accounts
payable" and "accruals" which are free of explicit cost.
This "cost" increases for each item as the risk of that obligation
increases. For example, the item "notes payable" which may represent bank obligations, and is high on
the risk ladder might have a gross cost of 8% while the corporate bond item farther down the ladder might
have a gross cost or 10%. These costs represent what the company has to pay to receive the money represented
by the obligation since that obligation, because of its nature of duration, is a higher risk to the investor
than one higher up the ladder. Thus, in many companies there is a substantial mix of obligations outstanding
and used to finance the assets of the business, the overall cost of which is called the "cost of capital".
Such a mix necessarily evolves from general economic conditions, dividend policies, short and long term
interest rates, and other economic and company specific factors impacting the history of the company.
Therefore, every company has a combination of obligations, at a mixed overall weighted cost, which has
to be continually evaluated by the financial manager.
This evaluation starts with a determination of a target capital
structure, that is, the establishment of an ideal arrangement of debt and equity, under current market
conditions, which will produce the lowest possible overall cost of capital for assets which the company
now has, but more particularly, for those which it will acquire as it attempts to grow its business. This
ideal target structure, which could involve swapping bond obligations for stocks, for example, is an ongoing
process geared to changes in market conditions and has as its goal the optimization of stock value.