Applying a “co-search" algorithm to Internet traffic at the SEC's EDGAR web- site, we develop a novel method for identifying economically-related peer firms and for measuring their relative importance. Our results show that firms appearing in chronologically adjacent searches by the same individual (Search-Based Peers or SBPs) are fundamentally similar on multiple dimensions. In direct tests, SBPs dominate GICS6 industry peers in explaining cross-sectional variations in base firms' out-of-sample: (a) stock returns, (b) valuation multiples, (c) growth rates, (d) R&D expenditures, (e) leverage, and (f) profitability ratios. We show that SBPs are not constrained by standard industry classification, and are more dynamic, pliable, and concentrated. We also show that co-search intensity captures the degree of similarity between firms. Our results highlight the potential of the collective wisdom of investors ― extracted from co-search patterns ― in addressing long-standing benchmarking problems in finance.
We provide a tractable model of firm-level expected holding period returns using two firm fundamentals – book-to-market ratio and ROE – and study the cross-sectional properties of the model-implied expected returns. We find that: 1) firm level expected returns and expected profitability are time-varying, but highly persistent; 2) forecasts of holding period returns strongly predict the cross section of future returns up to three years ahead. We document a highly significant predictive pooled regression slope for future quarterly returns of 0.86, whereas the popular factor-based expected return models have either an insignificant or a significantly negative association with future returns. In supplemental analyses, we show that these forecasts are also informative of the time-series variation in aggregate conditions: 1) for a representative firm, the slope of the conditional expected return curve is more positive in good times, when expected short-run returns are relatively low; 2) the model-implied forecaster of aggregate returns exhibits modest predictive ability. Collectively, we provide a simple, theoretically-motivated, and practically useful approach to estimating multi-period ahead expected returns.
Golden parachutes have attracted much debate and substantial attention from investors and public officials for more than two decades, and the Dodd-Frank Act mandated a shareholder vote on any future adoption of a golden parachute by public firms. We analyze the relationship that golden parachutes have with expected acquisition premia and with firm value. Integrating into our analysis both the effects on acquisition likelihood and on premia conditional on an acquisition, we find that golden parachutes are associated with higher expected acquisition premia, and that this association is at least partly due to the effect of golden parachutes on incentives. We also find that firms that adopt a golden parachute experience a reduction in their industry-adjusted Tobin’s Q, as well as negative abnormal stock returns both during the inter-volume period of adoption and subsequently.
The well-established negative correlation between staggered boards (SBs) and firm value could be due to SBs leading to lower value or a reflection of low-value firms' greater propensity to maintain SBs. We analyze the causal question using a natural experiment involving two Delaware court rulings ― separated by several weeks and going in opposite directions ― that affected the antitakeover force of SBs. We contribute to the long-standing debate on staggered boards by presenting empirical evidence consistent with the market viewing SBs as leading to lower firm value for the affected firms.
Firms with central boards of directors earn superior risk-adjusted stock returns. A long (short) position in the most (least) central firms earns average annual returns of 4.68%. Firms with central boards also experience higher future return-on-assets growth and more positive analyst forecast errors. Return prediction, return-on-assets growth, and analyst errors are concentrated among high growth opportunity firms or firms confronting adverse circumstances, consistent with boardroom connections mattering most for firms standing to benefit most from information and resources exchanged through boardroom networks. Overall, our results suggest that director networks provide economic benefits that are not immediately reflected in stock prices.
In an important and influential work, Gompers, Ishii, and Metrick (2003) show that a trading strategy based on an index of 24 governance provisions (G-Index) would have earned abnormal returns during the 1991-1999 period, and this intriguing finding has attracted much attention ever since it was reported. We show that the G-Index (as well as the E-Index based on a subset of the six provisions that matter the most) was no longer associated with abnormal returns during the period of 2000-2008, or any sub- periods within it, and we provide evidence consistent with the hypothesis that the disappearance of the governance-returns association was due to market participants’ learning to appreciate the difference between firms scoring well and poorly on the governance indices. Consistent with the learning hypothesis, we document that (i) attention to corporate governance from the media, institutional investors, and researchers has exploded in the beginning of the 2000s and remained on a high level since then, and (ii) until the beginning of the 2000s, but not subsequently, market participants were more positively surprised by the earning announcements of good-governance firms than by those of poor-governance firms. Our results are robust to excluding new economy firms or to focusing solely on firms in non- competitive industries. While the G and E indices could no longer generate abnormal returns in the 2000s, their negative association with Tobin’s Q persists and they thus remain valuable tools for researchers, policymakers, and investors.
We study how a stock index can affect corporate behavior by serving as a source of prestige. After decades of low corporate profitability in Japan, the JPX-Nikkei400 index was introduced in 2014. The index selected 400 large and liquid firms deemed to be best performing in terms of annual profitability; membership was considered highly prestigious. We document that index-inclusion incentives led firms to increase return on equity (ROE) proportionally by 35% on average through higher margins, efficiency, or shareholder payouts, depending on where firms had “slack,” but not through changing investments or accruals. These incentives are driven by the prestige associated with the index rather than capital market benefits. Back-of-envelope estimates suggest that the index accounted for 23% of the average increase in aggregate annual earnings over our sample period and a 3% increase in aggregate market capitalization. These findings highlight a novel mechanism through which long-standing corporate behaviors can be transformed.
During the period 2005–2014, S&P 500 firms distributed to shareholders more than $3.95 trillion via stock buybacks and $2.45 trillion via dividends—$6.4 trillion in total. These shareholder payouts amounted to over 93% of the firms' net income. Academics, corporate lawyers, asset managers, and politicians point to such shareholder-payout figures as compelling evidence that “short-termism" and “quarterly capitalism" are impairing firms' ability to invest, innovate, and provide good wages. We explain why S&P 500 shareholder-payout figures provide a misleadingly incomplete picture of corporate capital flows and the financial capacity of U.S. public firms. Most importantly, they fail to account for offsetting equity issuances by firms. We show that, taking into account issuances, net shareholder payouts by all U.S. public firms during the period 2005–2014 were in fact only about $2.50 trillion, or 33% of their net income. Moreover, much of these net shareholder payouts were offset by net debt issuances, and thus effectively recapitalizations rather than firm-shrinking distributions. After excluding marginal debt capital inflows, net shareholder payouts by public firms during the period 2005–2014 were only about 22% of their net income. In short, S&P 500 shareholder-payout figures are not indicative of actual capital flows in public firms, and thus cannot provide much basis for the claim that short-termism is starving public firms of needed capital. We also offer three other reasons why corporate capital flows are unlikely to pose a problem for the economy.
Relative TSR (rTSR) is increasingly used by market participants to judge and incentivize managerial performance. We evaluate the efficacy, reasons, and implications of firms' benchmarks in rTSR-based contracts. Although compensation consultants suggest that a primary objective of rTSR is to filter shocks unrelated to managerial performance, following the informativeness principle, we document that a significant subset of firms that choose index-based benchmarks do not adequately achieve this objective. Further, the index-benchmark selection is associated with governance-related frictions and is not driven by plausible alternative theories. Both structural calibration and reduced-form estimates reveal significant negative performance implications from suboptimal peer-selection.
We study the effect of staggered boards on long-run firm value, using a natural experiment: a 1990 law that imposed a staggered board on all firms incorporated in Massachusetts. We find a significant and positive average increase in Tobin's Q among the Massachusetts treated firms, suggesting that staggered boards can be beneficial for early-life-cycle firms, which exhibit greater information asymmetries between insiders and investors. These results are validated using a larger sample of firms from the Investor Responsibility Research Center. In exploring possible channels for these effects, we find that the effects are stronger among innovating Massachusetts firms, particularly those facing greater Wall Street scrutiny. The evidence is consistent with staggered boards improving managers' incentives to make long-term investments.
In the presence of managerial short-termism and asymmetric information about skill and effort provision, firms may opportunistically shift earnings from uncertain to more certain times. We document empirically that when financial markets are less certain about a firm's future value, the firm reports more negative discretionary accruals. Stock-price responses to earnings surprises are moderated when firm-level uncertainty is high, consistent with performance being attributed more to luck rather than skill and effort, which can create incentives to shift earnings toward lower-uncertainty periods. We document that the resulting opportunistic earnings management is concentrated in CEOs, firms, and periods where such incentives are likely to be strongest: (1) where CEO wealth is sensitive to change in the share price, (2) where announced earnings are particularly likely to be an important source of information about managerial ability and effort, and (3) before implementation of Sarbanes-Oxley made opportunistic earnings management more challenging. Our evidence highlights a novel channel through which uncertainty affects managerial decision making in the presence of agency conflicts.
We argue, from an extensive literature review, that in the vast majority of research settings, biases in alternative expected-return proxies (ERPs) are irrelevant. Therefore, in most settings, the choice between alternative ERPs should be based on an evaluation of their relative measurement-error variances. We develop a parsimonious evaluation framework that empirically estimates a given ERP’s cross-sectional and time-series measurement-error variances. We then apply this framework to five classes of firm-level ERPs nominated by recent studies, including factor-based ERPs from finance and implied costs of capital (ICC) estimates from accounting. Our analyses show ICCs are particularly useful in tracking time-series variations in expected returns. We also find broad support for a “fitted” or “characteristic-based” approach to ERP estimation.
Despite their popularity as proxies of expected returns, the implied cost of capital's (ICC) measurement error properties are relatively unknown. Through an in-depth analysis of a popular implementation of ICCs by Gebhardt, Lee, and Swaminathan (2001) (GLS), I show that ICC measurement errors can be not only nonrandom and persistent, but can also be associated with firms' risk or growth characteristics, implying that ICC regressions are likely confounded by spurious correlations. Moreover, I document that biases in GLS' measurement errors are driven not only by analysts' systematic forecast errors but also by functional form assumptions, so that correcting for the former - a primary focus of the ICC literature - is insufficient by itself. From these findings, I argue that the choice between ICCs and realized returns involves a tradeoff between bias and efficiency, and suggest that realized returns should be used in conjunction with ICCs to make more robust inferences about expected returns.
This paper explores a natural experiment setup from the 2003-2004 mutual fund scandals to evaluate the effectiveness of implicit regulation on financial markets behavior. On average, buy-and-hold investors lost 218 basis points annually from 1998 to 2002 to market timers. Buy-and-hold investors suffered further economic losses from higher cash holdings, portfolio turnover, fund fees, and substantially lower fund performance that resulted from market timing fund churn. Intensified threat of regulation from the 2003-2004 scandals resulted in the industry's self-regulation by, among other things, voluntary adoption of fair value pricing. I find strong evidence that their self-regulation reduced the market timing motive as well as fund churn in international mutual funds in the post-2004 period, and reduced dilution by 93%.
Under fairly general assumptions, expected stock returns are a linear combination of two accounting-based characteristics—book to market and ROE. Empirical estimates based on this relation predict the cross section of out-of-sample returns in 26 of 29 international equity markets, with a highly significant average slope coefficient of 1.05. In sharp contrast, standard factor-model-based proxies fail to exhibit predictive power internationally. We show analytically and empirically that the importance of ROE in forecasting returns depends on the quality of accounting information. Overall, a tractable accounting-based valuation model provides a unifying framework for obtaining reliable proxies of expected returns worldwide.
We compare the performance of a comprehensive set of alternative peer identification schemes. Our results show the peer firms identified from aggregation of informed agents' revealed choices in Lee, Ma, and Wang (2014) perform best, followed by peers with the highest overlap in analyst coverage. Conversely, peers firms identified by Google and Yahoo Finance, as well as product market competitors gleaned from 10-K disclosures, turned in consistently worse performances. We contextualize these results in a simple model that predicts when information aggregation across heterogeneously informed individuals is likely to lead to improvements in dealing with the problem of economic benchmarking.