Date of Completion


Embargo Period



Loan loss provision, Underwriting standards, Distress anomaly, Failure risk, External financing, Market efficiency, Takeovers

Major Advisor

Shantaram P. Hegde

Associate Advisor

Assaf Eisdorfer

Associate Advisor

George Plesko

Field of Study

Business Administration


Doctor of Philosophy

Open Access

Open Access


This dissertation consists of three essays examining issues related to financial distress and its impact on stock prices and future firm performance. In the first essay, we explore the impact of economic conditions on the valuation of bank discretionary loan loss provisions and expect to find a strong conditional effect. Driven by fluctuations in lending standards over the business cycle, we show that during “good times” increases in discretionary loan loss provisions are used to support loan growth strategies and are associated with higher stock returns. In contrast, during periods of economic turmoil discretionary loan loss provisions are expected to indicate deeper problems in the loan portfolio and are negatively valued by the market.

In the second essay, I identify an external financing channel capable of generating significant overvaluation among distressed firms’ stocks and explaining their puzzlingly low returns (i.e., the distress anomaly). Specifically, the decision of a distressed firm to raise external capital generates a large dispersion of investor beliefs. Consistent with predictions that prices will only reflect optimists’ valuations in the presence of short-sale constraints, I find distressed firms’ stocks earn comparable returns to healthy firms’ stocks when prior year external financing activity is low but underperform significantly when external financing activity is high. This underperformance is concentrated around earnings announcements, as optimistic investors are disappointed on average upon observing actual performance outcomes.

The third essay examines the relation between takeover activity and the performance of distressed company stocks while exploring two competing explanations. The risk-based explanation predicts distressed firms with a high probability of being acquired will earn lower returns, because the possibility of acquisition makes them less risky. Conversely, the managerial alignment explanation predicts low returns for distressed firms with low probability of being acquired, because without the disciplining effect of a possible takeover, self-interested managers have an incentive to “play it safe” and avoid risky investments. I find evidence consistent with the latter hypothesis, as distressed firms with low takeover exposure earn lower future returns while investing less, reducing leverage, and earning lower profits.