Good Capitalists

Kevin Lewis

May 30, 2023

Executive Partisanship and Corporate Investment
Anthony Rice
Journal of Financial and Quantitative Analysis, forthcoming 


I show that an alignment in partisan affiliation, between a firm’s management and the president, is associated with higher levels of investment. Using insider trading data, I find that managers become more optimistic about their companies’ prospects when their preferred party is in power. This optimism-driven increase in investment is amplified by herding and associated with both lower profitability and stock returns. Overall, managers’ political beliefs produce heterogeneous expectations about future cash flows and distort investment decisions.

Washing away their stigma? The ESG of “Sin” firms
Linda Du & Jianfei Sun
Finance Research Letters, forthcoming 


This study examines the Environment, Social, and Governance (ESG) of firms operating in the alcohol, tobacco, and gaming industries, which are referred to as “sin” firms. We find that “sin” firms have higher ESG scores than their “non-sin” counterparts. Our results also show that “sin” firms perform better than “non-sin” firms in the social category of ESG. Moreover, within the social category, sin firms perform better in the subcategories of employee and community. Overall, our evidence suggests that a firm providing harmful products does not necessarily have a low degree of sustainability.

The Influence of Short Selling on Negative Press Coverage of Firms
Robert Bushman & Jedson Pinto
Management Science, forthcoming 


We hypothesize that after a relaxation of short selling constraints, an escalation in short selling activity will heighten incentives for short sellers to accelerate price discovery by revealing their negative information. Consistent with this conjecture, we find that the overall sentiment of media coverage tilts significantly more negative for pilot relative to control firms following exogenous relief of short sale constraints. We find a more pronounced effect for media-initiated articles relative to firm-initiated press releases. Further, following abnormal increases in short interest, there is a significantly greater increase in negative news flow for pilot relative to nonpilot firms. Finally, we find that stock returns of firms with lower short selling constraints become significantly more sensitive to negative news reports.

Standing Out from the Crowd via CSR Engagement: Evidence from Non-Fundamental-Driven Price Pressure
Lei Gao, Jie (Jack) He & Juan (Julie) Wu
Journal of Financial and Quantitative Analysis, forthcoming 


We test the signaling view of corporate social responsibility (CSR) engagement using two complementary quasi-natural experiments that impose exogenous negative pressure on stock prices. Firms under such adverse price pressure increase CSR activities compared to otherwise similar firms. This effect concentrates among firms with stronger signaling incentives, namely, those facing greater information asymmetry, more product market competition, higher shareholder litigation risk, and higher stock price crash risk. Firms under the exogenous negative price pressure mainly improve CSR strengths, including costly environmental investments. We also find that CSR engagement attracts socially responsible investors and lowers cost of capital for signaling firms.

The Corporate Opportunity Structure for Shareholder Activism: How Activist Hedge Funds Exploit Board Demographic Diversity
Mark DesJardine, Wei Shi & Emilio Marti
Organization Science, forthcoming 


Inspired by research on social movements, we extend the idea that activists look for opportunities to target firms to the realm of financially motivated shareholder activists. Focusing on activist hedge funds, we argue that hedge fund campaigns are more likely to succeed when boards are slow and less united and that, compared with more homogeneous boards, demographically diverse boards tend to act more slowly and with less unity. Although these attributes make demographically diverse boards more effective under “normal” circumstances, they become a liability in confrontations with activist hedge funds. We, therefore, hypothesize that when subject to governance and performance problems, firms become more likely targets of activist hedge funds when they also have demographically diverse boards. To further probe our theory, we explore the opportunity recognition of activist hedge funds in two ways. First, we posit that this opportunity will be recognized and exploited primarily by experienced activist hedge funds. Second, we argue that activist hedge funds’ opportunity recognition is correct in so far that demographically diverse boards respond to activism campaigns in ways that are likely to benefit activist hedge funds. Using data on United States-based activism campaigns, we find support for our theory. By simultaneously studying problems and opportunities, this study establishes a foundation for examining when the disciplinary effect of shareholder activism may go awry and reveals why a strict business case for demographic diversity may be insufficient to align all shareholders behind board diversity.

The SEC revolving door and comment letters
Michael Shen & Samuel Tan
Journal of Accounting and Public Policy, forthcoming 


Government officials, advocacy groups, and the business press have raised concerns that former SEC employees may continue to influence the SEC after leaving the agency. Using hand-collected data on the characteristics of 1,384 lawyers who represented firms in responding to SEC comment letters between 2005 and 2016, we examine the impact of post-revolving SEC employees on the SEC comment letter process. Among other determinants, we find that older and larger firms with a history of litigation are more likely to hire former SEC lawyers over non-SEC lawyers. Relative to firms that involve only non-SEC lawyers, we find that firms that involve former SEC lawyers in responding to SEC comment letters negotiate to a greater extent with the SEC, and have a lower likelihood and number of amendment filings, after matching on lawyer, law firm, comment letter, and firm characteristics.

Deregulating Innovation Capital: The Effects of the JOBS Act on Biotech Startups
Craig Lewis & Joshua White
Review of Corporate Finance Studies, May 2023, Pages 240–290 


We examine real outcomes for biotech startups going public around the Jumpstart Our Business Startups (JOBS) Act. Reduced compliance costs associate with greater innovation capital formation as biotech IPO volume and proceeds increase after the JOBS Act. Biotechs, which conduct over 30% of IPOs since 2012, go public with products earlier in the FDA approval process and more frequently target rare diseases and cancer. Consistent with our survey evidence that managers use compliance savings to invest in R&D, we link the JOBS Act to post-IPO increases in project-level development, such as new patents, clinical trials, and staffing of laboratories. Post-JOBS Act product candidates are more likely to reach key milestones in the FDA approval process and these startups fail at lower rates. Benefits accrue to shareholders without sacrificing financial reporting quality. Our results demonstrate how tailoring regulations for startups can provide economic and societal benefits.

Does Shareholder Litigation Risk Cause Public Firms to Delist? Evidence from Securities Class Action Lawsuits
Jonathan Brogaard et al.
Journal of Financial and Quantitative Analysis, forthcoming 


Using three exogenous shocks to ex ante litigation risk, including federal judge ideology and two influential judicial precedents, we find that lower shareholder litigation risk reduces a firm’s propensity to delist from the U.S. stock markets. The effect is at least partially driven by indirect costs of litigation and that being a private firm can significantly reduce the threat of litigation. Overall, the results suggest that mitigating excessive litigation costs for public firms is crucial to ensure the continued vibrancy of the U.S. stock market.

Breaking it Down: Economic Consequences of Disaggregated Cost Disclosures
Philip Berger, Jung Ho Choi & Sorabh Tomar
Management Science, forthcoming


Motivated by the Financial Accounting Standards Board’s project on the disaggregation of income statement expenses, we study a Korean rule change that allowed firms to withhold a previously mandated disaggregation of cost of sales (CoS). We find that after withholding, firms’ profitability increases by 1.6 percentage points. Our industry-focused results suggest that withholding affects profitability by reducing the transfer of competitive information to peer firms. We then document a range of evidence consistent with the idea that firms withhold disaggregated CoS to protect cost innovations from rivals. First, we construct a novel measure of firms’ cost-innovative potential and show that it predicts withholding and subsequent profitability gains under the voluntary disclosure regime. Second, we document efficiency gains following the withholding of disaggregated CoS. Third, our survey experiment of 1,257 U.S. public firm managers shows that they would reduce investments in process/cost innovations if they were required to disaggregate CoS. Our study highlights to standard setters and academics that CoS disaggregation entails operational consequences for firms.

Do Insiders Hire CEOs with High Managerial Talent?
Jason Kotter & Yelena Larkin
Review of Finance, forthcoming 


We examine the effect of the composition of the board of directors on the firm’s CEO hiring decision. Using a novel measure of managerial talent, characterized by an individual’s ascent in the corporate hierarchy, we show that firms with non-CEO inside directors tend to hire CEOs with greater managerial skills. This effect obtains for both internal and external CEO hires; moreover, the effect is pronounced when inside directors have stronger reputational incentives and limited access to soft information about the candidate. Our findings demonstrate that boards with inside directors more effectively screen for managerial talent, thereby improving the CEO hiring process.


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