Introduction to Capital Structure and Leverage

Capital Structure

  • A firm’s capital structure represents its mix of capital sources, i.e. its mix of debt financing and equity financing.
  • In theory, companies should seek an optimal capital structure with the objective of minimizing the cost of capital.
  • The cost of capital is typically its weighted average cost of capital (WACC), applying the marginal cost of debt financing and equity financing.  Since interest is typically a tax deductible expense, the WACC calculation will incorporate the after tax cost of debt.


  • Leverage is the utilization of fixed costs by a company.
  • Leverage can be operating (fixed assets that depreciate) or financial (debt).
  • While financial leverage and operating leverage can amplify earnings during periods of growth, they can also increase the risk of financial distress during periods of economic decline.
  • Financial leverage exposes a company to financial risk.
  • The degree of financial leverage (DFL) can be calculated as:

DFL = EBIT/EBTWhen a firm has no debt, EBIT = EBT, so DFL will = 1.  Upon assuming debt, a firm’s DFL will increase above 1.

  • Another method of considering financial leverage is a company’s debt to equity ratio.
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