Tag: Risk-taking


Executive Optimism, Option Exercise, and Share Retention

Robert Tumarkin is Senior Lecturer of Finance at the University of New South Wales. This post is based on an article authored by Professor Tumarkin and Rik Sen, Assistant Professor of Finance at the Hong Kong University of Science and Technology.

Optimism shows up as a pervasive bias in experimental and real-life settings. In the business world, executive optimism is believed to influence a wide range of corporate decisions and policies. However, determining whether an executive is optimistic is not straightforward. Corporate communications featuring key executives can be heavily rehearsed, with words carefully chosen to hide any biases. Interviews with executives may reveal the biases of journalists more than that of the executives.

In our paper, Stocking Up: Executive Optimism, Option Exercise, and Share Retention, recently featured in the Journal of Financial Economics, we propose a robust empirical measure of executive optimism. This measure, which we call Share retainer, is based on observing an executive’s stock transactions that coincide with option exercise. It is motivated by our examination of the optimal option exercise and portfolio choice problem of an optimistic executive who faces a short-sale constraint on company stock.
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Executive Overconfidence and Compensation Structure

Ling Lisic is Associate Professor of Accounting at George Mason University. This post is based on an article authored by Professor Lisic; Mark Humphery-Jenner, Senior Lecturer at UNSW Business School; Vikram Nanda, Professor of Finance and Managerial Economics at University of Texas at Dallas; and Sabatino Silveri, Assistant Professor of Finance at the University of Memphis. Related research from the Program on Corporate Governance includes The CEO Pay Slice by Lucian Bebchuk, Martijn Cremers and Urs Peyer (discussed on the Forum here).

In our paper “Executive Overconfidence and Compensation Structure,” forthcoming in the Journal of Financial Economics, we investigate whether overconfidence affects the compensation structure of CEOs and other senior executives. There is a burgeoning literature on the impact of CEO overconfidence on corporate policies. Overconfident CEOs are prone to overestimate returns to investments and to underestimate risks. Little is known, however, about the nature of incentive contracts offered to overconfident managers or even whether firms “fine-tune” compensation contracts to match a manager’s personality traits. We help fill this gap.

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Regulatory Competition in Global Financial Markets

Wolf-Georg Ringe is Professor of International Commercial Law at Copenhagen Business School and at the University of Oxford. This post is based on an article authored by Professor Ringe.

The decades-long discussion on the merits of regulatory competition appears in a new light on the global financial market. There are a number of strategies that market participants use to avoid the reach of regulation, in particular by virtue of shifting trading abroad or else relocating activities or operations of financial institutions to other jurisdictions. Where this happens, such arbitrage can trigger regulatory competition between jurisdictions that may respond to the relocation of financial services (or threats to relocate) by moderating regulatory standards. Both arbitrage and regulatory competition are a reality in today’s global financial market, and the financial sector is different from their traditional fields of application: the ease of arbitrage, the fragility of banking and the risks involved are exceptional. Most importantly, regulatory arbitrage does not or only rarely occurs by actually relocating the financial institution itself abroad: rather, banking groups tend to shift trading to foreign affiliates.

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The Failure of Liability in Modern Markets

Yesha Yadav is an Associate Professor of Law of Vanderbilt Law School. This post is based on an article authored by Professor Yadav.

In April 2015, the Justice Department indicted Navinder Sarao—a 36 year-old trader operating out of his parents’ basement—for actions resulting in the Flash Crash in May 2010. [1] According to the complaint, Sarao’s use of fake or “spoof” orders was damaging enough to precipitate a near 1000-point plunge in in the Dow Jones Index. It is telling that, today, a single trader can stand accused of contributing to this extraordinary drop in the value of the stock market. The complaint draws into relief the central challenge facing securities trading. With markets approaching ever-fuller levels of automation and driven by complex algorithms, even small-time traders like Sarao can create costs far in excess of either the seriousness of their conduct—or their capacity to pay for what they do. As I argue in The Failure of Liability in Modern Markets, to be published in the Virginia Law Review, the liability framework anchoring modern, algorithmic markets struggles to both control harmful risks and to punish them satisfactorily. Where instances of mistake, carelessness and fraud can neither be reliably controlled nor adequately punished, the law’s capacity to create a fair, richly informed marketplace must come under serious doubt.

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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 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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Restraining Overconfident CEOs Through Improved Governance

Mark Humphery-Jenner is Senior Lecturer at the UNSW Business School. This post is based on the article Restraining overconfident CEOs through improved governance: Evidence from the Sarbanes-Oxley Act, authored by Mr. Humphery-Jenner, Suman Banerjee, Associate Professor in the Department of Economics and Finance at the University of Wyoming, and Vikram Nanda, Professor of Finance at Rutgers University.

In our recent paper, Restraining overconfident CEOs through improved governance: Evidence from the Sarbanes-Oxley Act, forthcoming in the Review of Financial Studies, we use the joint passage of the Sarbanes-Oxley Act and changes to the NYSE/NASDAQ listing rules to analyze the impact of improved governance in moderating the behavior of overconfident CEOs. Overconfidence can lead managers to overestimate returns and underestimate risk. The literature suggests that while some CEO overconfidence can benefit shareholders, a highly distorted view of risk-return profiles can destroy shareholder value. An intriguing question is whether there are ways to channel the drive and optimism of highly overconfident CEOs while curbing the extremes of risk-taking and over-investment associated with such overconfidence. We explore such a possibility in this paper. Specifically, we investigate whether appropriate restraints on CEO discretion and the introduction of diverse viewpoints on the board serve to moderate the actions of overconfident CEOs and, in the end, benefit shareholders.

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CEO Stock Ownership Policies—Rhetoric and Reality

The following post comes to us from Nitzan Shilon at Peking University School of Transnational Law. This post is based on his recent study, CEO Stock Ownership Policies—Rhetoric and Reality. He conducted this study while being a Fellow in Law and Economics and an S.J.D. (Doctor of Laws) candidate at Harvard Law School.

I recently published a study titled CEO Stock Ownership Policies—Rhetoric and Reality. This study is the first academic endeavor to analyze the efficacy and transparency of stock ownership policies (SOPs) in U.S. public firms. SOPs generally require managers to hold some of their firms’ stock for the long term. Although firms universally adopted these policies and promoted them as a key element in their mitigation of risk, no one has shown that such policies actually achieve the important goals that they have been established to achieve. My study shows that while SOPs are important in theory, they are paper tigers in practice. It also shows that firms camouflage the weakness of these policies in their public filings. Therefore I put forward a proposal to make SOPs transparent as a first step in improving their content. My findings have important implications for the ongoing policy debates on corporate governance and executive compensation.

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Corporate Risk-Taking and the Decline of Personal Blame

Steven L. Schwarcz is the Stanley A. Star Professor of Law & Business at Duke University School of Law.

Federal agencies and prosecutors are being criticized for seeking so few indictments against individuals in the wake of the 2008 financial crisis and its resulting banking failures. This article analyzes why—contrary to a longstanding historical trend—personal liability may be on the decline, and whether agencies and prosecutors should be doing more. The analysis confronts fundamental policy questions concerning changing corporate and social norms. The public and the media perceive the crisis’s harm as a “wrong” caused by excessive risk-taking. But that view can be too simplistic, ignoring the reality that firms must take greater risks to try to innovate and create value in the increasingly competitive and complex global economy. This article examines how law should control that risk-taking and internalize its costs without impeding broader economic progress, focusing on two key elements of that inquiry: the extent to which corporate risk-taking should be regarded as excessive, and the extent to which personal liability should be used to control that excessive risk-taking.

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