Category Archives: Empirical Research

The Real Effects of Share Repurchases

Mathias Kronlund is Assistant Professor of Finance at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign. This post is based on an article authored by Professor Kronlund; Heitor Almeida, Professor of Finance at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign; and Vyacheslav Fos, Assistant Professor of Finance at Boston College.

Companies face intense pressure from activist shareholders, institutional investors, the government, and the media to put their cash to good use. Existing evidence suggests that share repurchases are a good way for companies to return cash to investors, since cash-rich companies tend to generate large abnormal returns when announcing new repurchase programs. However, some observers argue that the cash that is spent on repurchase programs should instead be used to increase research and employment, and that the recent increase in share repurchases is undermining the recovery from the recent recession and hurting the economy’s long-term prospects. Repurchases have also been cited as an explanation for why the increase in corporate profitability in the years after the recession has not resulted in higher growth in employment, and overall economic prosperity.

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2015 Year-End Activism Update

Barbara L. Becker is partner and co-chair of the Mergers and Acquisitions Practice Group at Gibson, Dunn & Crutcher LLP, and Eduardo Gallardo is a partner focusing on mergers and acquisitions, also at Gibson Dunn. The following post is based on a Gibson Dunn M&A Client Alert. The full publication, including charts and survey of settlement agreements, is available here.

This post provides an update on shareholder activism activity involving domestically traded public companies with market capitalizations above $1 billion during the second half of 2015, together with a look back at shareholder activism throughout 2015. While many pundits have suggested shareholder activism peaked in 2015, shareholder activism continues to be a major factor in the marketplace, involving companies of all sizes and activists new and old. Activist funds managed approximately $122 billion as of September 30, 2015 (vs. approximately $32 billion as at December 31, 2008). [1] In 2015 as compared to 2014, we saw a significant uptick in the total number of public activist actions (94 vs. 64), involving both a higher number of companies targeted (80 vs. 59) and a higher number of activist investors (56 vs. 34). [2]

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Corporate Governance Survey—2015 Proxy Season

David A. Bell is partner in the corporate and securities group at Fenwick & West LLP. This post is based on portions of a Fenwick publication titled Corporate Governance Practices and Trends: A Comparison of Large Public Companies and Silicon Valley Companies (2015 Proxy Season); the complete survey is available here.

Since 2003, Fenwick has collected a unique body of information on the corporate governance practices of publicly traded companies that is useful for Silicon Valley companies and publicly-traded technology and life science companies across the U.S. as well as public companies and their advisors generally. Fenwick’s annual survey covers a variety of corporate governance practices and data for the companies included in the Standard & Poor’s 100 Index (S&P 100) and the high technology and life science companies included in the Silicon Valley 150 Index (SV 150). [1]

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Executive Pay, Share Buybacks, and Managerial Short-Termism

Ira Kay is a Managing Partner at Pay Governance LLC. This post is based on a Pay Governance memorandum by Mr. Kay, Blaine Martin, and Chris Brindisi. 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), The Myth that Insulating Boards Serves Long-Term Value by Lucian Bebchuk (discussed on the Forum here), and Paying for Long-Term Performance by Lucian Bebchuk and Jesse Fried (discussed on the Forum here).

The past year has seen extensive criticism of share buybacks as an example of “corporate short-termism” within the business press, academic literature, and political community. The critics of share buybacks claim that corporate managers, motivated by flawed executive incentive plans (stock options, bonus plans based on EPS, etc.) and supported by complacent boards, behave myopically and undertake value-destroying buybacks to mechanically increase their own reward. In turn, so the criticism goes, the cash used for share buybacks directly cannibalizes long-term value-enhancing strategies such as capital investment, research and development, and employment growth, thereby damaging long-term stock price performance and the value of US markets. [1]

Pay Governance has conducted unique research using a sample of S&P 500 companies over the 2008-2014 period that brings additional perspective to this debate.

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Corporate Control and Idiosyncratic Vision

Zohar Goshen is the Alfred W. Bressler Professor of Law, Columbia Law School and Professor of Law at Ono Academic College. Assaf Hamdani is the Wachtell, Lipton, Rosen & Katz Professor of Corporate Law, Hebrew University of Jerusalem. This post is based on an article authored by Professor Goshen and Professor Hamdani.

Prominent technology firms such as Google, Facebook, LinkedIn, Groupon, Yelp, and Alibaba have gone public with the controversial dual-class structure to allow their controlling shareholders to preserve their indefinite, uncontestable control over the corporation. Similarly, in the concentrated ownership structure, a person or entity—the controlling shareholder—holds an effective majority of the firm’s voting and equity rights to preserve control. Indeed, most public corporations around the world have controlling shareholders, and concentrated ownership has a significant presence in the United States as well. Unlike diversified minority shareholders, a controlling shareholder bears the extra costs of being largely undiversified and illiquid. Why, then, does she insist on holding a control block?

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Political Values, Culture, and Corporate Litigation

Danling Jiang is Associate Professor of Finance at Florida State University. This post is based on an article authored by Professor Jiang; Irena Hutton, Associate Professor of Finance at Florida State University; and Alok Kumar, Professor of Finance at the University of Miami.

In our paper, Political Values, Culture, and Corporate Litigation, published in the latest issue of Management Science, we examine whether the political culture of a firm defines its ethical and legal boundaries as observed by the propensity for corporate misconduct. Using one of the largest samples of litigation data to date, we show that firms with Republican culture are more likely to be the subject of civil rights, labor, and environmental litigation than Democratic firms, consistent with the Democratic ideology that emphasizes equal rights, labor rights, and environmental protection. However, firms with Democratic culture are more likely to be the subject of litigation related to securities fraud and intellectual property rights violations than Republican firms whose Party ideology stresses self-reliance, property rights, market discipline, and limited government regulation.

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The Cost of Supermajority Target Shareholder Approval

Audra Boone is a senior financial economist at the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission in the Division of Economic and Risk Analysis. This post is based on an article authored by Dr. Boone, Brian Broughman, Associate Dean for Research and Professor of Law at Indiana University, and Antonio Macias, Assistant Professor of Finance at Baylor University. The views expressed in the post are those of Dr. Boone and do not necessarily reflect those of the Securities and Exchange Commission, the Commissioners, or the Staff. This post is part of the Delaware law series; links to other posts in the series are available here.

Acquisitions via a tender offer can be significantly faster than a traditional merger, but this benefit is only available if the bidder can conduct a short-form merger following the tender, which avoids the need for a proxy statement filing and formal shareholder vote. Until recently this structure was only available if the bidder could convince a supermajority (90%) of shareholders to participate in the tender offer. In August 2013, however, Delaware’s legislature passed a new code provision, section 251(h) of the Delaware General Corporation Law (the DGCL), that allows bidders of targets incorporated in Delaware to conduct a short-form merger after achieving only 50% ownership as opposed to 90% that is required in almost all other states. We use this legal change to investigate how the required level of shareholder support affects acquisition outcomes.

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A New Measure of Disclosure Quality

Shuping Chen is Professor of Accounting at the University of Texas at Austin. This post is based on an article authored by Professor Chen; Bin Miao, Assistant Professor of Accounting at the National Singapore University; and Terry Shevlin, Professor of Accounting at UC Irvine.

In our paper, A New Measure of Disclosure Quality: The Level of Disaggregation of Accounting Data in Annual Reports, recently featured in the Journal of Accounting Research, we develop a new measure of disclosure quality (DQ), which captures the level of disaggregation of accounting line items in firms’ annual reports, with greater disaggregation indicating higher disclosure quality. This measure is based on the premise that more detailed disclosure gives investors and lenders more information for valuation (Fairfield et al., 1996; Jegadeesh and Livnat 2006) and a higher level of disaggregation enhances the credibility of firms’ financial reports (Hirst et al. 2007; D’Souza et al. 2010).

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Private Equity Portfolio Company Fees

Ludovic Phalippou is an Associate Professor of Finance at Saïd Business School, University of Oxford. This post is based on an article authored by Professor Phalippou; Christian Rauch, Barclays Career Development Fellow in Entrepreneurial Finance at Saïd Business School, University of Oxford; and Marc Umber, Assistant Professor of Corporate Finance at Frankfurt School of Finance & Management.

When private equity firms sponsor a takeover, they may charge fees to the target company while some of the firm’s partners sit on the company’s board of directors. In the wake of the global financial crisis, such potential for conflicts of interest became a public policy focus. On July 21st 2015, thirteen state and city treasurers wrote to the SEC to ask for private equity firms to reveal all of the fees that they charge investors. The SEC announced on October 7th 2015, that it “will continue taking action against advisers that do not adequately disclose their fees and expenses” following a settlement by Blackstone for $39 million over accelerated monitoring fees.

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Economic Downsides and Antitrust Liability Risks from Horizontal Shareholding

Einer Elhauge is the Petrie Professor of Law at Harvard Law School. This post is based on Professor Elhauge’s recent article, forthcoming in the Harvard Law Review.

In recent decades, institutional investors have grown and become more active in influencing corporate management. While this development has often been viewed as salutary from a corporate governance perspective, the implications for product market competition have become deeply troubling. As I show in a new article called Horizontal Shareholding (forthcoming in the Harvard Law Review), this growth in institutional investors means that a small group of institutions has acquired large shareholdings in horizontal competitors throughout our economy, causing them to compete less vigorously with each other.

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