Tag: Stock returns


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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Trends in S&P 500 CEO Compensation

Aubrey E. Bout is a Partner in the Boston office of Pay Governance LLP. This post is based on a Pay Governance memorandum by Mr. Bout, Brian Wilby, and Steve Friedman.

Executive pay continues to be a hotly debated topic in the boardroom among investors and proxy advisors, and it routinely makes headlines in the media. As the U.S. was in the heart of the financial crisis in 2008-2009, CEO total direct compensation (TDC = base salary + actual bonus paid + grant value of long-term incentives) dropped for two consecutive years. As the U.S. stock market sharply rebounded and economy stabilized and started to slowly grow again, CEO TDC also rebounded. Large pay increases occurred in 2010 and they were primarily in the form of larger LTI grants. Since then, year-over-year increases have been fairly moderate—in the 3% to 6% range. While CEO pay increases have been higher than seen for the average employee population, they are well aligned with company stock price performance.

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Dividends as Reference Points

Malcolm Baker is Professor of Finance at Harvard Business School. This post is based on an article authored by Professor Baker; Brock Mendel of Harvard University; and Jeffrey Wurgler, Professor of Finance at New York University.

In our paper, Dividends as Reference Points: A Behavioral Signaling Model, which is forthcoming in the Review of Financial Studies, we use loss aversion, a feature of the prospect theory value function of Kahneman and Tversky (1979), to motivate a behavioral signaling model. A loss-averse value function has a kink at the reference point whereby marginal utility is discontinuously higher in the domain of losses. Loss aversion is supported by a considerable literature in psychology, finance and economics, as we briefly review later.

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Reply

Martijn Cremers is Professor of Finance at the University of Notre Dame; Erasmo Giambona is Associate Professor of Finance and Real Estate at the University of Amsterdam; Simone M. Sepe is Professor of Law and Finance at the College of Law at the University of Arizona; and Ye Wang is a PhD Candidate in the Department of Finance at Bocconi University. This post responds to a post, titled The Long-term Effects of Hedge Fund Activism: A Reply to Cremers, Giambona, Sepe, and Wang, by Lucian Bebchuk, Alon Brav, Wei Jiang, and Thomas Keusch (available on the Forum here). The post by Professors Bebchuk, Brav, Jiang and Keusch replied to the criticism of the study on The Long-Term Effects of Hedge Fund Activism by Lucian Bebchuk, Alon Brav, and Wei Jiang (discussed on the Forum here) that was put forward in a paper by Cremers, Giambona, Sepe and Wang discussed in this post.

In a December 10, 2015 post to the Harvard Corporate Governance Blog, Professors Lucian Bebchuk, Alon Brav, Wei Jiang, and Thomas Keusch (“BBJK”) suggest that a study the four of us have recently coauthored, Hedge Fund Activism and Long-Term Firm Value (the “CGSW study”), “overlooks prior opposing evidence on the subject, offers a flawed empirical analysis, and makes [contradictory] claims.” For these reasons—BBJK unequivocally conclude—the CGSW study’s claims “should be given no weight in the ongoing examination of hedge fund activism.” We are thankful to BBJK for the time spent analyzing our work and the occasion they have provided us to offer a few clarifications. Hopefully, those clarifications will add clarity to our attempt at better understanding the effects of hedge fund activism, which is what, ultimately, we should all care about.
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The Long-term Effects of Hedge Fund Activism: A Reply to Cremers, Giambona, Sepe, and Wang

Lucian Bebchuk is Professor of Law, Economics, and Finance at Harvard Law School; Alon Brav is Professor of Finance at Duke University; Wei Jiang is Professor of Finance at Columbia Business School; and Thomas Keusch is Assistant Professor at the Erasmus University School of Economics. This post relates to a recent article, Hedge Find Activism and Long-Term Firm Value, by Cremers, Giambona, Sepe, and Wang, which was recently made publicly available on SSRN. This post is related to the study on The Long-Term Effects of Hedge Fund Activism by Lucian Bebchuk, Alon Brav, and Wei Jiang (discussed on the Forum here).

This post replies to a study by Cremers, Giambona, Sepe, and Wang (“the CGSW Study”), Hedge Find Activism and Long-Term Firm Value. The CGSW study, which has recently been publicly released on SSRN and simultaneously announced in a Wachtell Lipton memorandum, aims at contesting existing evidence on the long-term effects of hedge fund activism. As we explain below, the paper overlooks prior opposing evidence on the subject, offers a flawed empirical analysis, and makes claims that are contradicted by its own reported evidence. Furthermore, the paper’s conclusions are inconsistent not just with our work, but with a large body of empirical studies by numerous researchers. CGSW’s claims, we show, should be given no weight in the ongoing examination of hedge fund activism.

In a paper titled The Long-Term Effects of Hedge Fund Activism, (“the LT Effects Study”), three of us tested empirically the “myopic activism claim” that has long been invoked by opponents of shareholder activism. According to this claim, hedge fund activism produces short-term benefits at the expense of long-term value. The LT Effects Study shows that the myopic activist claim is not supported by the data on targets’ Tobin’s Q, ROA, or long-term stock returns during the five years following the activist intervention.

CGSW focus on one part of the results of the LT Effects Study—those concerning Q (financial economists’ standard metric of firm valuation). Accepting that industry-adjusted Tobin’s Q improves in the years following activist interventions, CGSW assert that what has been missing is a comparison of how activist targets perform relative to a matched sample of similarly underperforming firms. CGSW claim that their matched sample analysis shows that the Q of activist targets improves less in the years following the intervention than the Q of matched control firms and that activism therefore decreases, rather than increases long-term value. Although CGSW do not look at stock returns, their conclusions imply that the announcement of an activist intervention represents “bad news” for investors that should be expected to be accompanied immediately or ultimately by negative stock returns for the shareholders of target companies.

Below we in turn comment on:

(i) Our obtaining different results than those reported by CGSW when applying CGSW’s empirical methodology to the same data;

(ii) The inconsistency of CGSW’s claims with some of their own reported results;

(iii) CGSW’s puzzling “discovery” of a well-known selection effect;

(iv) CGSW’s failure to engage with prior work conducting matched sample analysis and reaching opposite conclusions;

(v) CGSW’s flawed empirical methodology;

(vi) The inconsistency of CGSW’s conclusions with the large body of evidence on stock returns accompanying activist interventions; and

(vii) CGSW’s implausible claim that activist interventions have destroyed over 50% of the value of “innovative” target firms.

Although CGSW direct their fire at the Long-Term Effects Study, the discussion below explains that their conclusions are inconsistent not just with this study but with a large number of empirical studies by numerous researchers, including the many studies cited below.

CGSW’s Data and Results

The CGSW paper is based on a dataset of activist interventions that two of us collected and that the LT Effects Study used. Although we are still working with the data to produce additional papers, we agreed to provide the authors with our data to facilitate research in this area. To our surprise, the authors did not provide us an opportunity to comment on their paper before making their paper public, and we first learnt about the paper from Wachtell Lipton’s memorandum announcing it.

Although we view the empirical procedure used by CGSW as flawed, we have attempted to replicate their results using our data (which CGSW used), following the procedure described in their paper and making standard choices for elements of the procedure that the paper does not fully specify. Doing so, we have obtained results that are very different from those of CGSW.

We asked the authors to provide us with the list of the matched sample companies used in their tests. Even though their paper is based on data we shared with them, CGSW declined to provide us with the requested list and stated that they would not do so prior to the publication of their paper in a journal (which might be many months away).

Claims Inconsistent with CGSW’s Own Results

CGSW claim that their matched sample analysis shows that “firms targeted by activist hedge funds improve less in value … than similarly poorly performing firms that are not subject to hedge fund activism.” However, the patterns displayed in the authors’ key Figure 1 do not support this central claim.

This Figure 1, which we reproduce below, reports industry-adjusted Tobin’s Q for firms targeted by hedge funds (blue graph) and industry-adjusted Tobin’s Q for the matched control firms (paired with the target firms by CGSW) during the years before and after the year at which target firms became a target.

Although the authors state that the Figure “confirms” their conclusions, it does not appear to do so. The Figure vividly shows that targets’ valuation increases more sharply than that of matched control firms that are not subject to hedge fund activism during the years following time t (denoting the end of the intervention year).

CGSW might argue that, although target valuation increases more sharply relative to matched control firms from time t (the end of the intervention year) forward, the activist intervention is responsible for the short-term decrease in value relative to control firms that targets experience from time t-1 (the beginning of the year of the intervention) to time t (the end of the year of the intervention). However, this short-term decrease is likely to at least partly precede the intervention and thus be a potential cause rather than a product of it. Furthermore, while opponents of hedge fund activism have been seeking to ground their opposition in claims regarding long-term effects, we are unaware of any claims by such opponents that such activism decreases value in the short term, and the well-documented stock market gains accompanying announcements of activist interventions would make such a claim implausible.

Indeed, CGSW themselves explain that the view that is empirically supported by their paper is that hedge fund interventions pressure management to produce short-term gains that come “at the potential expense of long-term performance.” This view implies a short-term increase in valuation followed by a decline in valuation during the years following the intervention year. The clear improvement in target valuation (relative to control firms) from time t forward displayed in Figure 1 thus contradicts CGSW’s claims and conclusions.

Tobin’s Q around the start of activist hedge fund campaigns (sample of all hedge funds campaigns)

cremers1

Source: Cremers et al., November 2015, page 44.

Although the inconsistency of CGSW’s claims with their own Figure 1 is worth noting in assessing CGSW’s paper, we should stress that, due to the methodological problems noted below, we otherwise do not attach weight to the authors’ results, including those in Figure 1.

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Disclosure Standards and the Sensitivity of Returns to Mood

Henry Friedman is an Assistant Professor of Accounting at UCLA. This post is based on an article authored by Professor Friedman and Brian Bushee, Professor of Accounting at the University of Pennsylvania

In our paper, Disclosure Standards and the Sensitivity of Returns to Mood, forthcoming in the Review of Financial Studies, we provide evidence that high-quality disclosure standards are negatively associated with return-mood sensitivity (RMS). Using daily data, we estimate RMS for each country-year as the association between market returns and deseasonalized cloudiness in the city that hosts a country’s stock exchange. We interpret RMS as reflecting noise in returns because short-term moods are unlikely to convey fundamental information.

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Information, Analysts, and Stock Return Comovement

Allaudeen Hameed is a Professor of Finance at National University of Singapore. This post is based on an article authored by Professor Hameed; Randall Morck, Professor of Finance at the University of Alberta; Jianfeng Shen, Senior Lecturer in Finance at the University of New South Wales; and Bernard Yeung, Professor of Finance at National University of Singapore.

Stocks followed by more analysts should be priced more accurately, yet their returns are unusually prone to co-move with market and industry indexes. Stocks that co-move more are often thought to be related to herding. This is because more informed trading ought to make a firm’s stock price move with the changing fortunes of that specific firm, as well as with market and industry trends. More firm-specific price variation in less-followed stocks seems counterintuitive, yet this is what we observe.

In our paper, Information, Analysts, and Stock Return Comovement, forthcoming in The Review of Financial Studies, we resolve this seeming paradox. Stocks covered by more analysts co-move more precisely because they are priced more accurately and their price movements help investors update the prices of less-followed stocks. This “information spillover” makes most price movement in highly-followed stocks look like comovement with industry or market trends, but in fact investors are using information about highly-followed stocks to deduce how other stocks ought to move.

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The Product Market Effects of Hedge Fund Activism

Praveen Kumar is Professor of Finance at the University of Houston. This post is based on an article authored by Professor Kumar and Hadiye Aslan, Assistant Professor of Finance at Georgia State University, available here. 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), The Law and Economics of Blockholder Disclosure by Lucian Bebchuk and Robert J. Jackson Jr. (discussed on the Forum here), and Pre-Disclosure Accumulations by Activist Investors: Evidence and Policy by Lucian Bebchuk, Alon Brav, Robert J. Jackson Jr., and Wei Jiang.

Whether intervention by activist investors, such as hedge funds, is beneficial or detrimental to the shareholders of target firms remains controversial. Proponents marshal considerable empirical evidence that hedge fund activism (HFA) is associated with significant medium-to-long-run improvements in targets’ cost and investment efficiency, profitability, productivity, and shareholder returns. Opponents, however, insist that HFA forces management to take myopic decisions that weaken firms in the longer run. The debate rages in academia, media, and has already featured in the 2016 presidential campaign.

Despite this intense interest, however, the research on the effects HFA has typically focused only on its impact on the performance of target firms. But targets of HFA do not exist in vacuum; they have industry competitors, suppliers, and customers. It is by now well known that HFA has a broad scope that often—simultaneously or sequentially—touches on virtually every major aspect of company management, including changes in product market strategy, negotiation tactics with suppliers and customers, and knowledge-based technical advice of production organization. In particular, HFA that improves target’s cost efficiency and product differentiation, and generally redesigns its competitive strategy, should have a significant impact on the target’s competitors (or rival firms). This prediction follows from basic principles of strategic interaction among firms in oligopolistic interaction. Indeed, the received theory of industrial organization provides the effects of cost improvements and product differentiation on rivals’ equilibrium profits and market shares.

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Are Institutions Informed About News?

Norman Schürhoff is Professor of Finance at the Swiss Finance Institute. This post is based on an article authored by Professor Schürhoff; Terrence Hendershott, Professor of Finance at the University of California, Berkeley; and Dmitry Livdan, Associate Professor of Finance at the University of California, Berkeley.

Who is informed on the stock market? There are plenty of reasons to believe that institutional investors possess value-relevant information. Unlike retail investors, institutions often directly communicate with publicly traded firms as well as brokerage firms through their investment banking, lending, and asset management divisions. Most mutual funds and hedge funds employ buy-side analysts and enjoy better relationships with sell-side analysts. Their economies of scale allow institutions to monitor many sources of information. Last but not least, institutions employ professionals and technologies with superior information processing skills. Yet, the academic literature has struggled to identify the information channel in institutional trading. There is some evidence that institutional investors are informed, but studies examining institutional order flow around specific events provide mixed evidence.

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Active Ownership

Oğuzhan Karakaş is Assistant Professor of Finance at Boston College. This post is based on an article authored by Professor Karakaş; Elroy Dimson, Professor of Finance at London Business School; and Xi Li, Assistant Professor of Accounting at Temple University. Related research from the Program on Corporate Governance includes Socially Responsible Firms by Allen Ferrell, Hao Liang, and Luc Renneboog (discussed on the Forum here).

In our paper, Active Ownership, forthcoming in the Review of Financial Studies, we analyze highly intensive engagements on environmental, social, and governance (ESG) issues by a large institutional investor with a major commitment to responsible investment (hereafter “ESG activism” or “active ownership”). Given the relative lack of research on environmentally and socially themed engagements, we emphasize the environmental and social (ES) engagements throughout the paper and use the corporate governance (CG) engagements as a basis for comparison.

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