Sustainability Performance and Capital Structure : An analysis of the relationship between ESG rating and debt ratio

University essay from Umeå universitet/Företagsekonomi; Umeå universitet/Företagsekonomi

Abstract: This thesis investigates the relationship between sustainability performance and capital structure, measured using the ESG (environmental, social and governance) rating and the debt ratio. In the pursuit of analysing the relationship between the ESG rating and the debt ratio, this study investigates publicly listed companies within the EU/EEA due to its mutual legislative framework on sustainable finance. This research has the intention of shedding light upon if a company can use sustainability ratings to alter their optimal debt levels, operate at higher efficiency with access to cheaper capital, and help the manager maximize firm value. This could help them in decision making processes of financing their business through receiving a better understanding of how the ESG rating affects the capital structure. This knowledge would allow management to better understand how the investments necessary in acquiring the ESG rating affect firm value as well as how they affect the dynamics of financing the firm. This is a deductive and quantitative research based on secondary data, gathered using Thomson Reuters (Eikon) database. Furthermore, this research is a cross-sectional study analysing companies in year 2019. No clear relationship between the two concepts has been found, arriving at the conclusion that the optimal capital structure is not influenced by sustainability initiatives. However, sustainability initiatives should always be encouraged since these generate other beneficial effects. Finally, this research contributes to the current field of knowledge on the topic through analysing the results using the Trade-off Theory, Pecking Order Theory, Agency Theory, Legitimacy Theory and Stakeholder Theory. The results are somewhat aligned with the Trade-off Theory of capital structure and the Pecking Order Theory as well as other more traditional financial theories. One can conclude that sustainability performance is not of importance when it comes to the firm's ability to raise capital or the firm’s capital structure. This tells us that there is still a long way to go and that action needs to be taken before sustainability becomes an essential and well-integrated factor considered in investment decisions. The results may be undesirable, but they also give a fair picture of the financial sector’s priorities as of now and highlight the need for sustainable objectives to align with financial profitability.

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