Category Archives: Academic Research

Pro Forma Compensation

David Larcker is Professor of Accounting at Stanford University. This post is based on an article authored by Professor Larcker; Brian Tayan, Researcher with the Corporate Governance Research Initiative at Stanford University; and Youfei Xiao of the Stanford Graduate School of Business.

In recent years, companies have begun to voluntarily disclose supplemental calculations of executive compensation beyond those required by the Securities and Exchange Commission in the annual proxy. Our paper, Pro Forma Compensation: Useful Insight or Window-Dressing?, which was recently made publicly available on SSRN, examines the motivation to disclose adjusted compensation and the prevalence of this practice.

Corporate disclosure of executive compensation is regulated by the SEC and is reported in the annual proxy Compensation Discussion & Analysis section and various summary compensation tables. These figures are widely cited by corporate observers, and in many cases used to rank (and criticize) corporations for their pay practices.

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Forty-Four U.S. Senators Support the Rulemaking Petition for Transparency in Corporate Political Spending

Lucian Bebchuk is Professor of Law, Economics, and Finance at Harvard Law School. Robert J. Jackson, Jr. is Professor of Law at Columbia Law School. Bebchuk and Jackson served as co-chairs of the Committee on Disclosure of Corporate Political Spending, which filed a rulemaking petition requesting that the SEC require all public companies to disclose their political spending. Bebchuk and Jackson are also co-authors of Shining Light on Corporate Political Spending, published in the Georgetown Law Journal. A series of posts in which Bebchuk and Jackson respond to objections to an SEC rule requiring disclosure of corporate political spending is available here. All posts related to the SEC rulemaking petition on disclosure of political spending are available here.

We are pleased to report that this week a group of forty-four U.S. Senators sent a letter to SEC Chair Mary Jo White expressing support for the rulemaking petition on corporate political spending submitted by the committee of corporate and securities law experts that we co-chaired. We are delighted that forty-four Senators have added their voices to the unprecedented support that the petition has already received.

In July 2011, we co-chaired a committee on the disclosure of corporate political spending and served as the principal draftsmen of the rulemaking petition that the committee submitted. The petition urged the SEC to develop rules requiring public companies to disclose their spending on politics. To date, the SEC has received more than 1.2 million comments on the proposal—more than any rulemaking petition in the Commission’s history.

The forty-four Senators’ letter begins by stating that they “write to express [their] support” for the rulemaking petition. They go on to state their belief that the disclosure rules advocated by the petition are “consistent with the SEC’s requirement for public companies to disclose meaningful financial information to the public.” They express appreciation to the SEC Chair’s “willingness to strongly consider the importance of this rulemaking.” They conclude by asking that the SEC Chair make the petition “a top priority for the SEC in the near term, and inform [the Senators] of the basis for [the SEC Chair’s] decision should [the SEC Chair] not plan to include it on the Commission’s agenda for the upcoming year.”

The Senators’ letters refers to a prior letter in support of the rulemaking petition that was sent to the SEC by a bipartisan group of former SEC officials. In this letter, former SEC Chairmen Arthur Levitt and William Donaldson and former Commissioner Bevis Longstreth stated that the rulemaking proposed in the petition is a “slam dunk” and that the SEC’s failure to act “flies in the face of the primary mission of the Commission, which since 1934 has been the protection of investors.”

As we have discussed in previous posts on the Forum, the case for rules requiring disclosure of corporate political spending is compelling. Unfortunately, the Commission has so far chosen to delay consideration of rules in this area. The delay is unfortunate and unwarranted in light of the strong arguments for disclosure put forward in the rulemaking petition and the remarkable and broad support that the petition has received. Moreover, as we showed in our article Shining Light on Corporate Political Spending, a close examination of the objections that opponents of such rules have raised indicates that these objections, both individually and in combination, fail to provide an adequate basis for opposing rules that would make disclose corporate political spending to investors.

The letter of the forty-four Senators highlights the remarkable level of support that the rulemaking petition has received. The SEC should proceed with rulemaking in this area without further delay.

The forty-four U.S. Senators who signed the letter supporting the rulemaking petition are:

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Why University Endowments are Large and Risky

Thomas Gilbert is an Assistant Professor of Finance & Business Economics at the University of Washington. This post is based on an article authored by Professor Gilbert and Christopher Hrdlicka, Assistant Professor of Finance & Business Economics at the University of Washington.

Universities as perpetual ivory towers, though often meant as a pejorative, describes well universities’ special place in society as centers of learning with a mission distinct from that of businesses. Universities create new knowledge via research while preserving and spreading that knowledge through teaching. The social good aspect of universities makes donations critical to funding their mission. But rather than investing these donations internally to build the metaphorical towers higher and shine the light of learning more widely, universities have built large endowments invested heavily in risky financial assets.

In our paper, Why Are University Endowments Large and Risky?, forthcoming at The Review of Financial Studies, we model how universities’ objectives, investment opportunities (internal and external) and public policy, specifically the Uniform Prudent Management of Institutional Funds Act (UPMIFA), interact to create this behavior. Our findings suggest a reevaluation of UPMIFA’s ability to achieve its goal of maintaining donor intent in light of the costs it imposes on universities.

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Corporate Risk-Taking and Public Duty

Steven L. Schwarcz is the Stanley A. Star Professor of Law & Business at Duke University School of Law. This post is based on a draft article by Professor Schwarcz, available here.

Although corporate risk-taking is economically necessary and even desirable, it can also be harmful. There is widespread agreement that excessive corporate risk-taking was one of the primary causes of the systemic collapse that caused the 2008-09 financial crisis. To avoid another devastating collapse, most financial regulation since the crisis is directed at reducing excessive corporate risk-taking by systemically important firms. Often that regulation focuses on aligning managerial and investor interests, on the assumption that investors generally would oppose excessively risky business ventures.

My article, Misalignment: Corporate Risk-Taking and Public Duty, argues that assumption is flawed. What constitutes “excessive” risk-taking depends on the observer; risk-taking is excessive from a given observer’s standpoint if, on balance, it is expected to harm that observer. As a result, the law inadvertently allows systemically important firms to engage in risk-taking ventures that are expected to benefit the firm and its investors but, because much of the systemic harm from the firm’s failure would be externalized onto other market participants as well as onto ordinary citizens impacted by an economic collapse, harm the public.

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Do Takeover Defenses Deter Takeovers?

Jonathan Karpoff is Professor of Finance at the University of Washington. This post is based on an article authored by Professor Karpoff; Robert Schonlau, Assistant Professor of Finance at Brigham Young University; and Eric Wehrly, Finance Instructor at Seattle University. Related research from the Program on Corporate Governance includes What Matters in Corporate Governance? by Lucian Bebchuk, Alma Cohen and Allen Ferrell (discussed on the Forum here), The Costs of Entrenched Boards by Lucian Bebchuk and Alma Cohen, and The Case Against Board Veto in Corporate Takeovers by Lucian Bebchuk.

The G-index and E-index are workhorses of empirical corporate finance research. Each counts the number of takeover defenses a firm has and is often used as a summary measure of the firm’s protection from unsolicited takeover bids. But do these indices actually measure takeover deterrence?

This is an important question because a substantial number of empirical findings and their interpretations are based on the assumption that takeover defense indices do indeed measure takeover deterrence. For example, researchers have used the G-index and E-index to examine whether takeover defenses are associated with various firm outcomes including low stock returns, low firm value, acquisition returns, takeover premiums, increased risk taking, internal capital markets, credit risk and pricing, operating performance, the value and use of cash holdings, and corporate innovation. Researchers also have used takeover indices to examine whether takeover defenses serve primarily to entrench managers at shareholders’ expense, or to increase firm value through bargaining or contractual bonding.

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Unfinished Reform in the Global Financial System

Lewis B. Kaden is John Harvey Gregory Lecturer on World Organizations, Harvard Law School, and Senior Fellow of the Mossavar-Rahmani Center on Business and Government, Harvard Kennedy School of Government. This post is based on Mr. Kaden’s paper, which was adapted from remarks delivered at Cambridge University on February 27, 2015 and at the Kennedy School of Government, Harvard University on April 9, 2015. The full paper is available for download here.

This paper offers a perspective on the challenges that the global financial system will face in the course of the next decade. While there has been significant progress since the financial crisis of 2007-2009 and the slow and uneven pressure of recovery and reform, a great deal of important work lies ahead. Part I briefly reviews, for the purpose of general background, the context and causes of the financial crisis. Part II identifies the key lessons to be learned from the crisis, and Part III outlines the major reforms adopted to date in the United States, Europe and the G-20. Finally, Part IV highlights what I regard as the principal ongoing issues affecting the financial system and suggests some approaches for dealing with them.

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Understanding the US Listing Gap

René Stulz is Professor of Finance at Ohio State University. This post is based on an article authored by Professor Stulz; Craig Doidge, Associate Professor of Finance at the University of Toronto; and Andrew Karolyi, Professor of Finance at Cornell University.

The number of publicly-listed firms in the U.S. peaked in 1996 at 8,025. In that year, the U.S. had 30 listings per million inhabitants. By 2012, it had only 13, or 56% less. Importantly, the decrease in listings occurred in all industries and across both the NYSE and Nasdaq. In our new working paper, entitled The U.S. Listing Gap, which was recently made publicly available on SSRN, we show that this evolution is specific to the U.S. Listings in the rest of the world, in fact, increased over the same period. The U.S. has developed a “listing gap” relative to other countries with similar investor protection, economic growth, and overall wealth. The listing gap arises in the late 1990s and widens over time. It is statistically significant, economically large, and robust to different measurement approaches. We also find that the U.S. has a listing gap when compared to its own recent history and after controlling for changing capital market conditions.

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Institutional Investors and Corporate Short-Termism

Robert C. Pozen is a Senior Lecturer at MIT Sloan School of Management and a Senior Fellow at the Brookings Institution. This post is based on an article forthcoming in the Financial Analysts Journal. Related research from the Program on Corporate Governance includes The Long-Term Effects of Hedge Fund Activism by Lucian Bebchuk, Alon Brav, and Wei Jiang (discussed on the Forum here), and The Myth that Insulating Boards Serves Long-Term Value by Lucian Bebchuk (discussed on the Forum here).

Across the world, a clamor is rising against corporate short-termism—the undue attention to quarterly earnings at the expense of long-term sustainable growth. In one survey of chief financial officers, the majority of respondents reported that they would forgo current spending on profitable long-term projects to avoid missing earnings estimates for the upcoming quarter.

Critics of short-termism have singled out a set of culprits—activist hedge funds that acquire 1% or 2% of a company’s stock and then push hard for measures designed to boost the stock price quickly but unsustainably. The typical activist program involves raising dividends, increasing stock buybacks, or spinning off corporate divisions—usually accompanied by a request for board seats.

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Do Women Stay Out of Trouble?

Anup Agrawal is Professor of Finance at the University of Alabama. This post is based on an article authored by Professor Agrawal; Binay Adhikari, Visiting Assistant Professor of Finance at Miami University; and James Malm, Assistant Professor of Finance at the College of Charleston.

Does the presence of women in a firm’s top management team affect the risk of the firm being sued? A large literature in economics and psychology finds that women tend be more risk-averse, less overconfident, and more law-abiding than men. As more women reach top management positions, these gender differences have implications for firms’ policies and performance. As Neelie Kroes, then European Competition Commissioner provocatively asked in a speech at the World Economic Forum, “If Lehman Brothers had been Lehman Sisters, would the financial crisis have happened like it did?” (see New York Times, February 1, 2009).

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Corporate Governance and Diversity

Aaron A. Dhir is an Associate Professor of Law at Osgoode Hall Law School in Toronto, Canada. The post is based on Professor Dhir’s book, Challenging Boardroom Homogeneity: Corporate Law, Governance, and Diversity (Cambridge University Press, 2015).

Earlier this year, Germany joined the ranks of countries such as Norway, France, Italy, Belgium, and Iceland by enacting a quota to increase the number of women in its corporate boardrooms. Starting in 2016, both genders must make-up at least 30 percent of specified German companies’ supervisory boards.

The news from Germany provoked decidedly negative reactions in major media outlets. In the New York Times, the Washington Post, and the Economist, critics questioned the soundness of pursuing positive discrimination in the corporate governance arena. The reality, however, is that we actually know very little about how corporate quotas have worked in practice. Advocates and detractors each suggest that these measures will alter the effectiveness and dynamics of firms in some way—whether for better or worse. But the speculation remains largely uncorroborated and our knowledge is incomplete at best.
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  • Programs Faculty & Senior Fellows

    Lucian Bebchuk
    Alon Brav
    Robert Charles Clark
    John Coates
    Alma Cohen
    Stephen M. Davis
    Allen Ferrell
    Jesse Fried
    Oliver Hart
    Ben W. Heineman, Jr.
    Scott Hirst
    Howell Jackson
    Robert J. Jackson, Jr.
    Wei Jiang
    Reinier Kraakman
    Robert Pozen
    Mark Ramseyer
    Mark Roe
    Robert Sitkoff
    Holger Spamann
    Guhan Subramanian

  • Program on Corporate Governance Advisory Board

    William Ackman
    Peter Atkins
    Joseph Bachelder
    John Bader
    Allison Bennington
    Richard Breeden
    Daniel Burch
    Richard Climan
    Jesse Cohn
    Isaac Corré
    Scott Davis
    John Finley
    Daniel Fischel
    Stephen Fraidin
    Byron Georgiou
    Larry Hamdan
    Carl Icahn
    David Millstone
    Theodore Mirvis
    James Morphy
    Toby Myerson
    Barry Rosenstein
    Paul Rowe
    Rodman Ward