It is not necessary to purchase assets in order to use them. Railroad and airline companies in the United States, for instance, have acquired much of their equipment by leasing it. Whether leasing is advantageous depends—aside from tax advantages—on the firm’s access to funds. Leasing provides an alternative method of financing. A lease contract, however, being a fixed obligation, is similar to debt and uses some of the firm’s debt-carrying ability. It is generally advantageous for a firm to own its land and buildings, because their value is likely to increase, but the same possibility of appreciation does not apply to equipment.
The statement is frequently made that leasing involves higher interest rates than other forms of financing, but this need not always be true. Much depends on the firm’s standing as a credit risk. Moreover, it is difficult to separate the cash costs of leasing from the other services that may be embodied in a leasing contract. If the leasing company can perform nonfinancial services (such as maintenance of the equipment) at a lower cost than the lessee or someone else could perform them, the effective cost of leasing may be lower than other financing methods.
Although leasing involves fixed charges, it enables a firm to present lower debt-to-asset ratios in its financial statements. Many lenders, in examining financial statements, give less weight to a lease obligation than to a loan obligation.
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