Corporate power

Kevin Lewis

July 17, 2019

Eyes on the Horizon? Fragmented Elites and the Short-Term Focus of the American Corporation
Richard Benton & Adam Cobb
American Journal of Sociology, May 2019, Pages 1631-1684

Recent scholarship expresses concerns that U.S. corporations are too focused on short-term performance, undermining their long-term competitiveness. The authors examine how short-term strategies and performance, or short-termism, results from the dissolution of the American corporate elite network. They argue that the corporate board interlock network traditionally served as a collective resource that helped corporate elites to preserve their autonomy and control, mitigating short-termism. In recent years, changing board-appointment practices have fractured the board network, undermining its usefulness as a platform for collective action and exposing corporate leaders to short-term pressures. The authors develop and apply a cohesion metric for network managerialism, derived from theory and evidence in social-network scholarship. Using three indicators that capture short-termism earnings management and shareholder returns, the authors identify a structural basis for short-termism that links network-based resources to managers’ decisions. The results highlight the benefits of the corporate elite network and illustrate unforeseen consequences of the network’s dissolution.

An ill wind? Terrorist attacks and CEO compensation
Yunhao Dai et al.
Journal of Financial Economics, forthcoming

Using multiple measures of attack proximity, we show that CEOs employed at firms located near terrorist attacks earn an average pay increase of 12% after the attack relative to CEOs at firms located far from attacks. CEOs at terrorist attack-proximate firms prefer cash-based compensation increases (e.g., salary and bonus) over equity-based compensation (e.g., options and stocks granted). The effect is causal and it is larger when the bargaining power of the CEO is high. Other executives and workers do not receive a terrorist attack premium.

The Changing Structure of American Innovation: Some Cautionary Remarks for Economic Growth
Ashish Arora et al.
NBER Working Paper, May 2019

A defining feature of modern economic growth is the systematic application of science to advance technology. However, despite sustained progress in scientific knowledge, recent productivity growth in the U.S. has been disappointing. We review major changes in the American innovation ecosystem over the past century. The past three decades have been marked by a growing division of labor between universities focusing on research and large corporations focusing on development. Knowledge produced by universities is not often in a form that can be readily digested and turned into new goods and services. Small firms and university technology transfer offices cannot fully substitute for corporate research, which had integrated multiple disciplines at the scale required to solve significant technical problems. Therefore, whereas the division of innovative labor may have raised the volume of science by universities, it has also slowed, at least for a period of time, the transformation of that knowledge into novel products and processes.

One Step Forward, Two Steps Back: How Negative External Evaluations Can Shorten Organizational Time Horizons
Mark DesJardine & Pratima Bansal
Organization Science, forthcoming

Researchers have endeavored to explain the causes of short organizational time horizons because of the organizational and societal costs of corporate short-termism. These explanations, however, tend to confound cognitive with behavioral explanations, which masks the importance of cognitive biases. We address this oversight by situating our work in prospect theory and organizational search, which underscores the importance of external evaluations on organizational time horizons and the asymmetry of positive and negative evaluations. Specifically, we argue that negative evaluations will shorten organizational time horizons more than positive evaluations will lengthen them. In our research context of financial analysts, this means that “sell” recommendations will shorten time horizons more than “buy” recommendations will lengthen them. Our main thesis can help to explain rising short-termism among some publicly traded companies. We operationalize organizational time horizons by the language managers use during 3,136 quarterly earnings conference calls. We test our main hypothesis and other timing-related moderating effects on 98 extractives firms from 2006 to 2013.

Institutional Shareholders and Corporate Social Responsibility
Tao Chen, Hui Dong & Chen Lin
Journal of Financial Economics, forthcoming

This study uses two distinct quasi-natural experiments to examine the effect of institutional shareholders on corporate social responsibility (CSR). We first find that an exogenous increase in institutional holding caused by Russell Index reconstitutions improves portfolio firms’ CSR performance. We then find that firms have lower CSR ratings when shareholders are distracted due to exogenous shocks. Moreover, the effect of institutional ownership is stronger in CSR categories that are financially material. Furthermore, we show that institutional shareholders influence CSR through CSR-related proposals. Overall, our results suggest that institutional shareholders can generate real social impact.

Symmetry in Pay for Luck
Naveen Daniel, Yuanzhi Li & Lalitha Naveen
Review of Financial Studies, forthcoming

In this study, we take a comprehensive look at asymmetry in pay for luck, which is the finding that CEOs are rewarded for good luck, but are not penalized to the same extent for bad luck. Our main takeaway, which is based on over 200 different specifications, is that there is no asymmetry in pay for luck. Our finding is important given that the literature widely accepts the idea of asymmetry in pay for luck and typically points to this as evidence of rent extraction.

The impact of top executive gender on asset prices: Evidence from stock price crash risk
Yiwei Li & Yeqin Zeng
Journal of Corporate Finance, forthcoming

We examine the implication of executive gender on asset prices. Using a large sample of US public firms during 2006–2015, we find a negative association between female CFOs and future stock price crash risk. However, the impact of female CEOs on crash risk is not statistically significant. The results support the notion that CFOs play a stronger role than CEOs in curbing bad news hoarding activities because CFOs' primary duties are financial reporting and planning. Our findings are robust to several econometric specifications controlling for potential endogeneity and to alternative measures of crash risk. At last, we show that the negative relation between female CFOs and future stock price crash risk is more pronounced among firms with weaker corporate governance, less market competition, lower analyst coverage, and higher financial leverage. Collectively, our evidence highlights the importance of CFO gender for firm financial decision making and stock return tail risk.

The Causal Effect of Market Transparency on Corporate Disclosure
Georg Rickmann
MIT Working Paper, May 2019

I study how increased market transparency affects firms’ disclosure incentives. For my main tests, I exploit the staggered introduction of TRACE, which made bond transactions and the resulting market prices publicly observable. My main result is that firms provide more guidance when their bonds’ trading becomes observable. I provide evidence that this effect is stronger for firms whose revealed bond trading contains more incremental information, and that the additional disclosures tend to contain bad news. I corroborate my main results using a small, randomized controlled experiment conducted by FINRA. My results are consistent with the notion that investors’ access to market information limits managers’ ability/incentives to withhold information.

The Impact of the Sarbanes-Oxley Act on the Dual-Class Voting Premium
Feng Gao & Ivy Xiying Zhang
Journal of Law and Economics, February 2019, Pages 181-214

We examine the impact of corporate governance laws on the private benefits of control, using the enactment of the Sarbanes-Oxley Act of 2002 (SOX) as a natural quasi experiment. We find a large decline in the average voting premium of US dual-class firms targeted by major SOX provisions that enhance boards’ independence, improve internal controls, and increase litigation risks. The targeted firms also improve the efficiency of investment, cash management, and chief executive officers’ compensation relative to firms not targeted by SOX. Overall, the evidence suggests that SOX is effective in curbing the private benefits of control.

Corporate Cash and Employment
Philippe Bacchetta, Kenza Benhima & Céline Poilly
American Economic Journal: Macroeconomics, July 2019, Pages 30-66

In the aftermath of the US financial crisis, both a sharp drop in employment and a surge in corporate cash have been observed. In this paper, based on US data, we argue that the negative relationship between the corporate cash ratio and employment is systematic, both over time and across firms. We develop a dynamic general equilibrium model where heterogenous firms need cash and external liquid funds in their production process. We analyze the dynamic impact of aggregate shocks and the cross-firm impact of idiosyncratic shocks. We show that external liquidity shocks generate a negative comovement between the cash ratio and employment, as documented in the data.

Corporate decision making in the presence of political uncertainty: The case of corporate cash holdings
William Hankins et al.
Financial Review, forthcoming

Using a quarterly panel of U.S. corporations over the period 1985–2014, we show that corporate managers respond to political uncertainty and economic policy uncertainty shocks in different ways. We proxy for political uncertainty using the Partisan Conflict Index and employ a prevalent empirical macroeconomic methodology to construct structural shocks that are orthogonal to shocks captured by the Economic Policy Uncertainty Index. Following a political uncertainty shock, corporations increase cash but do not adjust investment. Alternatively, following an economic policy uncertainty shock, firms appear to draw on cash and reduce capital spending to increase research and development spending.

How Much Do Directors Influence Firm Value?
Aaron Burt, Christopher Hrdlicka & Jarrad Harford
Review of Financial Studies, forthcoming

The value a director provides to a firm is empirically difficult to establish. We estimate that value by exploiting the commonality in idiosyncratic returns of firms linked by a director and show that, on average, a director's influence causes variation in firm value of almost 1% per year. The return commonality is not due to industry or other observable economic links. Variation in the availability of information on shared directors and a placebo test exploiting the timing of shared directors provide further identification. The results also imply that the directorial labor market does not fully assess directors in real time.

CEO-Board Dynamics
John Graham, Hyunseob Kim & Mark Leary
NBER Working Paper, June 2019

We examine CEO-board dynamics using a new panel dataset that spans 1920 to 2011. The long sample allows us to perform within-firm and within-CEO tests over a long horizon, many for the first time in the governance literature. Consistent with theories of bargaining or dynamic contracting, we find board independence increases at CEO turnover and falls with CEO tenure, with the decline stronger following superior performance. CEOs are also more likely to be appointed board chair as tenure increases, and we find evidence consistent with a substitution between board independence and chair duality. Other results suggest that these classes of models fail to capture important elements of board dynamics. First, the magnitude of the CEO tenure effect is economically small, much smaller for example than the strong persistence in board structure that we document. Second, when external CEOs are hired, board independence falls and subsequently increases. Third, event studies document a positive market reaction when powerful CEOs die in office, consistent with powerful CEOs becoming entrenched.

Placing their bets: The influence of strategic investment on CEO pay‐for‐performance
Wei Shi et al.
Strategic Management Journal, forthcoming

A number of studies examine the extent to which boards compensate CEOs for their firm's performance (i.e., pay‐for‐performance), but these studies typically do not incorporate what CEOs actually do to bring about those performance outcomes. We suggest that directors will make stronger internal attributions about firm performance when the CEO engages in high levels of corporate strategic investment. CEOs that invest in firm growth essentially “place their bets,” so the pay‐for‐performance relationship is stronger for them than it is for CEOs who do not invest as much in firm growth. We also theorize and find that directors make internal attributions about firm performance more for prestigious, but not less prestigious, CEOs and more when the directors collectively exhibit conservative, but not liberal, political ideologies.

Inventor CEOs
Emdad Islam & Jason Zein
Journal of Financial Economics, forthcoming

One in five U.S. high-technology firms are led by CEOs with hands-on innovation experience as inventors. Firms led by “Inventor CEOs” are associated with higher quality innovation, especially when the CEO is a high-impact inventor. During an Inventor CEO's tenure, firms file a greater number of patents and more valuable patents in technology classes where the CEO's hands-on experience lies. Utilizing plausibly exogenous CEO turnovers to address the matching of CEOs to firms suggests these effects are causal. The results can be explained by an Inventor CEO's superior ability to evaluate, select, and execute innovative investment projects related to their own hands-on experience.

Career Experience and Executive Performance: Evidence from Former Equity Research Analysts
Shawn Huang et al.
Arizona State University Working Paper, June 2019

This study examines CEOs and CFOs who have prior work experience as equity research analysts. Consistent with backgrounds in forecasting and valuation, we find these executives provide earnings guidance that is more accurate than that of other executives, and their merger and acquisition (M&A) transactions generate significantly higher announcement returns. For available CEOs and CFOs, we examine their track records as research analysts with respect to forecasting accuracy and stock recommendation profitability. We find a positive association between a record of past forecasting accuracy and more accurate earnings guidance, as well as a positive association between past stock recommendation profitability and M&A announcement returns. Beyond these traits, we find these executives provide greater certainty in their answers to analysts during conference calls, especially when answering forward-looking questions. Finally, these executives’ firms exhibit superior accounting and stock return performance. Overall, our evidence suggests that early career skill sets can shape top executive performance outcomes.

The impact of credit ratings on corporate behavior: Evidence from Moody's adjustments
Darren Kisgen
Journal of Corporate Finance, forthcoming

Moody's adjusts a firm's reported leverage across several dimensions to determine credit ratings. I find that changes to this adjustment methodology affect firm capital structure and investment decisions. In particular, in 2006, Moody's made several changes to its adjustment methodologies, which are arguably exogenous to changes in firm fundamentals. I show these changes significantly affect adjustments for firms in this year. I then show that these changes to adjustments in 2006 affect capital structure and investment decisions in 2007, especially for those firms with greatest exposure to the methodology changes. These results show that rating agencies have the power to affect corporate decisions.


from the


A weekly newsletter with free essays from past issues of National Affairs and The Public Interest that shed light on the week's pressing issues.


to your National Affairs subscriber account.

Already a subscriber? Activate your account.


Unlimited access to intelligent essays on the nation’s affairs.

Subscribe to National Affairs.