Finance: General Finance

87 Results

 

Banks as Patient Fixed-Income Investors

What is the business of banking? Do banks primarily create value on the liability side of the balance sheet as suggested in theories of banking emphasizing liquidity creation? Does the essence of banking reside on the asset side, as in theories emphasizing banks' ability to monitor borrowers? Or does the special nature of banks derive from some synergy between their assets and liabilities? This paper argues that the specialness of traditional banks comes from combining stable money creation on the liability side with assets that have relatively safe long-run cash flows but possibly volatile market values and limited liquidity. To make this business model work, banks rely on deposit insurance, and bear the associated costs of capital regulation. Some preliminary evidence supports the authors' argument. For traditional banks there is a critical synergy between the asset and liability sides of the balance sheet. Read More

CORe: HBS Powers Up Online Program on Business Fundamentals

Harvard Business School's new online primer on the fundamentals of business aims to translate some of the School's unique classroom teaching methods to the Web. Open for comment; 2 Comments posted.

Corporate Financial Policies in Misvalued Credit Markets

The potential for overvaluation to impact firm decision-making is a potent idea with a long history in economic scholarship from foundational works to modern day texts. However, virtually all work on this idea has considered the potential for equity overvaluation to have an impact. The impact of bond market overvaluation on firm policies has thus far received little attention. This limited focus on potential debt market overvaluation is surprising given its size and importance to the economy: the US corporate bond market comprised $7.7 trillion in assets in 2011. The authors begin to fill the gap in scholarship by introducing the idea that mistakes made by the rating agencies should be correlated with bond pricing mistakes. They then examine the correlation in bond rating mistakes with the issuance decisions of firms as well as their cash holding, investment, and acquisition decisions. Findings include evidence that firms take advantage of inaccuracies by issuing more debt and increasing leverage. The result goes beyond a wealth transfer and has real investment implications: approximately 75 percent of the debt issuance funds increased capital expenditures and cash acquisitions. Read More

The Use of Broker Votes to Reward Brokerage Firms’ and Their Analysts’ Research Activities

Broker votes are one of the most pervasive yet least understood reporting practices on Wall Street. The votes are essentially ratings of the value of brokers' investment research services. These ratings are produced by institutional investors (the "buy side") and solicited by broker dealers (the "sell side"). Little research to date, however, has examined the determinants of broker votes, their consequences, and their economic function. In this paper the authors use data gathered from a mid-sized investment bank for the years 2004 to 2007 in order to study how broker votes are related to institutional investors' commission payments and analysts' client services and compensation. Results overall suggest that broker votes help to facilitate implicit contractual relationships between sell-side brokers, their affiliated analysts, and their buy-side clients. Broker votes are neither mere popularity contests nor a simple reflection of trading in analysts' covered stocks. Instead, they appear to be a key component of the investment research industry's contracting technology, acting as the nexus for a set of relationships between sell-side brokers, their affiliated analysts, and their buy-side clients. The findings thus deepen our understanding of how information is exchanged on Wall Street and help to explain why the practice of collecting and aggregating client votes—a costly internal reporting procedure—has stood the test of time and has been replicated across countless sell-side research departments. Read More

When Will the Next Dot.com Bubble Burst?

Summing Up: Is that the sound of a dot.com bubble bursting? Could be, but is that a bad thing?, ask Jim Heskett's readers. Open for comment; 14 Comments posted.

Consequences to Directors of Shareholder Activism

Activism by hedge fund and other investors to improve governance and performance of companies has become a significant phenomenon in recent years. In this paper the authors examine a number of career consequences for directors when firms are subject to activist shareholder interventions. Examining 1,868 activism events—all publicly disclosed shareholder activism from 2004 to 2012 conducted by hedge funds or other major shareholders—the authors find that directors exit the board at a higher rate when their firms are targeted by activists. Even directors not specifically targeted by dissident shareholders are also likely to leave the board, as are directors at firms targeted by activism with no board-related demands, let alone a formal proxy fight. Overall, whether departure is voluntary, optimal, or otherwise, the evidence suggests that activism is associated with career consequences for directors. Read More

Is Top-Down Resource Allocation on the Rise?

Summing Up Respondents to this month's column provided Jim Heskett possible explanations for greater reliance on top-down resource allocation processes while arguing that a blend of influences from the top and bottom of an organization are still important for best results. Closed for comment; 14 Comments posted.

Missing the Wave in Ship Transport

Despite a repeating boom-bust cycle in the shipping industry, owners seem to make the same investment mistakes over time. Can other cyclical industries learn the lessons of the high seas? Research by Robin Greenwood and Samuel G. Hanson. Open for comment; 1 Comment posted.

The Disintermediation of Financial Markets: Direct Investing in Private Equity

As numerous news stories document, interest on the part of institutional investors in undertaking direct investments—and thus bypassing intermediaries—appears to have increased substantially. More generally, the impact of financial intermediation has also been a subject of considerable examination in the corporate finance literature. On the one hand, these middlemen should be able to overcome transaction cost and information problems; on the other, they may be prone to agency conflicts that affect their performance. In this paper, the authors focus on private equity, a setting in which disintermediation has become increasingly common. Private equity might appear to be a textbook case where the benefits from financial intermediation—in this case, specialized funds—would be substantial: not only are the transaction costs associated with structuring these investments large, but substantial information asymmetries surround the selection, monitoring, and nurturing of the investments, giving rise to potential information advantages for specialized investors. Using proprietary data covering 392 deals by a set of institutions, both co-investments and direct investments, between 1991 and 2011, the authors find a sharp contrast between the performance of solo deals and that of coinvestment deals. Outperformance of solo direct investments is due in part to their ability to exploit information advantages by investing locally and in settings where information problems are not too great, as well as to their relative outperformance during market peaks. The underperformance of coinvestments appears to be associated with the higher risk of deals available for coinvestments. Read More

Waves in Ship Prices and Investment

Dry bulk shipping is a highly volatile and cyclical industry in which earnings, investment, and returns on capital appear in waves. In this paper, the authors develop a model of industry capacity dynamics in which industry participants have trouble forecasting demand accurately and fail to fully anticipate the effect that endogenous supply responses will have on earnings. The authors estimate the model using data on earnings, secondhand prices, and investment in the dry bulk shipping industry between 1976 and 2011. Findings show that returns to owning and operating a ship are predictable and closely related to industry-wide investment in capacity. High current ship earnings are associated with higher ship prices and higher industry investment, but predict low future returns on capital. Conversely, high levels of ship demolitions-a measure of industry disinvestment-forecast high returns. Read More

Improving Store Liquidation

Store liquidation, defined as the time-constrained divestment of retail stores through an in-store sale of inventory, is a critical aspect of the retail industry for both defunct and going concerns. Store liquidation is important for firms and investors, affecting everything from retailer performance to how retailers are financed and how investors are compensated. Further, store liquidation is fundamental to innovation in the retail sector, since extracting value from defunct stores and firms is a key step in the process of creative destruction. In this paper, the authors introduce methods for increasing the efficiency of store liquidations operated by retail asset disposition firms, and they thus extend management science techniques to a consequential problem that has not yet been addressed by the literature. These methods were developed through a collaboration with GBG, a prominent liquidator, during the liquidation of over $3B of inventory. Read More

Expectations of Returns and Expected Returns

Much of modern asset pricing seeks to explain changes in stock market valuations using theories of investors' time-varying required returns. Although researchers have achieved considerable progress in developing proxies for expected returns, an important but often overlooked test of these theories is whether investors' expectations line up with these proxies. This paper shows that they do not. Read More

Funding the Design of Livable Cities

As a burgeoning global population migrates to the world's urban centers, it's crucial to design livable cities that function with scarce natural resources. John Macomber discusses the critical connection between real estate financing and innovative design in the built environment. Open for comment; 4 Comments posted.

Stop Talking About the Weather and Do Something: Three Ways to Finance Sustainable Cities

How do we ensure that our cities are resilient in the face of inevitable future weather events like Hurricane Sandy? John Macomber offers three ways that the private sector can take action. Open for comment; 6 Comments posted.

Liability Structure in Small-Scale Finance: Evidence from a Natural Experiment

Microfinance has exploded in popularity and coverage in recent years, particularly in meeting the large unmet demand for finance. But what is the optimal loan contract structure? This paper examines the relative merits of joint and individual liability contracts by analyzing the effect of contract structure on a group of borrowers who are willing to borrow with either individual or group liability. Findings show that group liability structure significantly improves repayment rates. Overall, these results provide the first credible evidence that group liability contracts improve upon individual liability, particularly in ensuring repayment and increasing savings discipline among clients. Read More

FIN Around the World: The Contribution of Financing Activity to Profitability

A basic premise of financial economics is that financial markets aid the flow of capital to its best use. In a frictionless world, every firm's return on equity (ROE) would equal the firm's cost of equity capital. However, numerous frictions at the firm and country level cause return on equity to vary considerably within and across countries. In this paper, the authors study one prominent friction―the availability of domestic credit from banks―and investigate how differences in the availability of domestic credit across countries influences the resulting leverage, spread, and the net financing contribution to firms' return on equity. Results show that the influence of domestic credit in a country, the rate that trade credit and financial credit substitute for each other, and how operating performance flows through to the financial performance, all depend critically on the relative size of the firm in its home economy. Read More

Financial vs. Strategic Buyers

What drives either financial or strategic buyers to have a more dominant position in mergers and acquisitions activity at different points in time? The question of competition matters not only because the economic magnitude of this activity is so large, but also because the balance of power between financial vs. strategic acquirers changes the ownership structure of assets and alters the incentives and governance mechanisms that surround the economic engine of our economy. This paper explores how the possibility of misvalued debt markets can both fuel merger activity and alter the balance between PE and strategic buyers. The authors use an approach based on a model of private equity (PE) and strategic merger activity in which all players in the model make value-maximizing decisions conditional on their information. Findings suggest that the possibility of misvalued debt may have important impacts on both firms and investors, on who buys whom, and for default levels in the economy. Read More

Trade Credit and Taxes

Economists have extensively analyzed the effects of taxation on many aspects of corporate financial policy, including borrowing and dividend distributions. But the effects of corporate income taxes on trade credit practices have been much less understood. Research by Mihir A. Desai, C. Fritz Foley, and James R. Hines, Jr. develops the idea that trade credit allows firms to reallocate capital in response to tax differences. Using detailed data on the foreign affiliates of US multinational firms, the authors are able to observe affiliates of the same firm operating in different countries and therefore facing different corporate income tax rates. Taken together, the findings illustrate that firms use trade credit to reallocate capital from low-tax jurisdictions to high tax jurisdictions to capitalize on tax-induced differences in pretax marginal products of capital. Their actions imply that tax rate differences across countries significantly affect capital allocation within firms, depressing investment levels in high tax jurisdictions and introducing differences between the productivity of capital deployed in different locations. Read More

Decoding Insider Information and Other Secrets of Old School Chums

Associate Professors Lauren H. Cohen and Christopher J. Malloy study how social connections affect important decisions and, ultimately, how those connections help shape the economy. Their research shows that it's possible to make better stock picks simply by knowing whether two industry players went to the same college or university. What's more, knowing whether two congressional members share an alma mater can help predict the outcome of pending legislation on the Senate floor. Open for comment; 1 Comment posted.

The Consequences of Financial Innovation: A Counterfactual Research Agenda

While financial innovation is often praised as a positive force for societal growth, it also takes much of the blame for the recent global financial crisis. In this paper, Harvard Business School professors Josh Lerner and Peter Tufano explore financial innovation and discuss how it differs from other types of innovation. Read More

Valuation When Cash Flow Forecasts Are Biased

The valuation of forecasted cash flows can be an inaccurate process, especially when the forecasts are created by optimists who neglect to consider worst-case scenarios. In this paper, Harvard Business School professor Richard S. Ruback has developed methods of valuating forecasted cash flow when the predictions are biased upward. Read More

HBS Faculty Debate Financial Reform Legislation

Harvard Business School professors Robert Steven Kaplan, David A. Moss, Robert C. Pozen, Clayton S. Rose and Luis M. Viceira share their perspectives on the Dodd-Frank Wall Street Reform and Consumer Protection Act, slated to be signed this week by U.S. President Barack Obama. Read More

Is Profit as a “Direct Goal” Overrated?

Summing Up: The word profit provoked a wide range of issues and emotions among respondents, says Jim Heskett. It also launched debates, and many readers argued for measures of success other than profit. (Online forum has closed; next forum opens August 5.) Closed for comment; 84 Comments posted.

Cyclicality of Credit Supply: Firm Level Evidence

Bank lending falls in economic recessions. In particular, it shrank considerably during the recent economic downturn. Does such cyclicality of bank lending reflect a decline in banks' willingness to lend (the "loan supply" effect) or reduced demand for loans from firms (the "loan demand" effect)? The considerable attention that is given to banks' financial health by the Federal Reserve, Congress, and other branches of government is only warranted if the answer is supply. Focusing on U.S. firms that raised new debt financing between 1990 and 2009, HBS professors Bo Becker and Victoria Ivashina demonstrate that many large U.S. firms turn to the bond market when banks are in poor financial health. When times are better, the same firms get bank loans. Becker and Ivashina argue that the substitution between bonds and loans at the firm-level is a good economic proxy for the bank credit supply. Read More

“An Unfair Advantage”? Combining Banking with Private Equity Investing

Does the combination of banking and private equity investing endow banks with superior information that allows them to identify good prospects and garner superior returns? Or does the combination bestow banks with an unfair ability to expand their balance sheets, capturing benefits within the bank at the expense of the overall market and ultimately the taxpayers? INSEAD's Lily Fang and Harvard Business School professors Victoria Ivashina and Josh Lerner examined nearly 8,000 unique private equity transactions between 1978 and 2009, looking in depth at the nature of the private equity investors, the structure of the investments, and the performance of the firms. Collectively, findings suggest that there are risks in combining banking and private equity investing. The results are consistent with many of the worries about these transactions articulated by policymakers. Read More

The Role of Institutional Development in the Prevalence and Value of Family Firms

Family firms dominate economic activity in most countries, and are significantly different from other companies in their behavior, structural characteristics, and performance. But what explains the significant variation in the prevalence and value of family firms around the world? The two leading explanations are legal investor protection and institutional development, but cross-country studies are unable to rule out the alternative explanation that cultural norms are what account for these differences. In contrast, China provides an excellent laboratory for addressing this question because it offers great variation in institutional efficiency across regions, yet the country as a whole shares cultural and social norms together with a common legal and regulatory framework. In this paper, HBS professor BelÚn Villalonga and coauthors study ownership data from a sample of nearly 1,500 publicly listed firms on the Chinese stock market. They conclude that institutional development plays a critical role in the prevalence and value of family firms, and that the differences observed across regions are not attributable to cultural factors. Read More

When Do Analysts Add Value? Evidence from Corporate Spinoffs

The impact of financial analysts on capital market efficiency has been much debated in academia and in practice. A large body of academic research finds that analysts act as important information intermediaries who contribute to the overall efficiency of capital markets. Other research, however, has identified contexts in which the value of analyst coverage may be relatively more limited, such as when analysts face possible conflicts of interest, or when the company or situation they are presented with is especially complex. Still other research questions the informativeness of analyst recommendations in light of regulatory changes. In this paper, HBS doctoral graduate Emilie Rose Feldman and professors Stuart C. Gilson and BelÚn Villalonga examine 1,793 analyst reports written at the time of corporate spinoffs to determine how much value analysts create as information intermediaries in this setting. Spinoffs provide an interesting context for this purpose because the degree of information asymmetry between corporate insiders and investors is especially high. The paper is one of the first to provide very fine-grained detail on the quantity and types of analyses included in analyst reports. Read More

Does Diversification Create Value in the Presence of External Financing Constraints? Evidence from the 2008-2009 Financial Crisis

The global financial crisis of 2008-2009 has led academics and practitioners to question many widely held beliefs about business and economics. One such belief relates to the value of corporate diversification. Popular views about diversification have swung like a pendulum over the past half-century, from a generally positive view in the 1960s and 1970s, when many large conglomerates were formed, to a generally negative view in the 1980s and early 1990s, when many such conglomerates were dismantled or at least fell out of the stock market's favor. In 2009, in the wake of the global financial crisis, a new view seems to be emerging that conglomerates are ready for a comeback. In this paper, HBS doctoral candidate Venkat Kuppuswamy and professor BelÚn Villalonga examine whether and why conglomerates have become more valuable during the 2008-2009 financial crisis. They find that they have, and that the increase does not simply reflect changes in investor perceptions but real differences in corporate finance and investment. Read More

Corporate Governance and Internal Capital Markets

What is the impact of corporate ownership on corporate diversification and on the efficiency of firms' internal capital markets? Corporate governance and internal capital markets are two topics closely intertwined in theoretical research; for example, agency problems—which corporate governance mechanisms seek to mitigate in a variety of ways—are at the heart of every theory of inefficient internal capital markets. Yet surprisingly few empirical studies have looked into the actual link between corporate governance and internal capital markets. This paper by University of Amsterdam professor Zacharias Sautner and HBS professor BelÚn Villalonga seeks to fill the gap by taking advantage of a natural experiment provided by a tax change in Germany in 2002. The researchers provide direct evidence of the effect of governance structures on how markets work, as well as new evidence about the benefits and costs of ownership concentration. Read More

Agency Costs, Mispricing, and Ownership Structure

Under what circumstances do firms access capital markets when the potential for agency costs is high? The prevailing view holds that controlling shareholders sell shares to outsiders only when internal capital is inadequate to fund attractive investment opportunities. While the role of market efficiency in corporate finance has attracted considerable research attention, the interaction of stock market mispricing with agency problems is not well understood. HBS doctoral graduate Sergey Chernenko and professors C. Fritz Foley and Robin Greenwood propose a new explanation—based on stock market mispricing—for why firms with a controlling shareholder raise outside equity, even when firms cannot commit not to expropriate minority shareholders. Read More

The Economic Crisis and Medical Care Usage

The global economic crisis has taken a historic toll on national economies and household finances around the world. What is the impact of such large shocks on individuals and their behavior, especially on their willingness to seek routine medical care? In this research, Annamaria Lusardi of Dartmouth College, Daniel Schneider of Princeton University, and Peter Tufano of Harvard Business School find strong evidence that the economic crisis—manifested in job and wealth losses—has led to large reductions in the use of routine medical care. Specifically, more than a quarter of Americans reported reducing their use of such care, as did between 5 and 12 percent of Canadian, French, German, and British respondents. Read More

Fiduciary Duties and Equity-Debtholder Conflicts

Managerial decisions influence the distribution of value between different parties. This can lead to conflicting interests among financial claimants, such as holders of equity and debt. The Credit Lyonnais v. Pathe Communications bankruptcy ruling of 1991 before the Delaware court—a case widely perceived to have created a new obligation for directors of Delaware‐incorporated firms—provides an interesting opportunity to assess whether and how equity-debt conflict affects firm behavior. HBS professor Bo Becker and Stockholm School of Economics professor Per Str÷mberg outline important changes in behavior after Credit Lyonnais. Read More

Labor Regulations and European Private Equity

Recent theoretical models predict that countries with stricter labor policies will specialize in less innovative activities due to the higher worker turnover frequently associated with rapidly changing sectors. HBS visiting scholar Ant Bozkaya and HBS professor William R. Kerr examine how differences in labor regulations across European countries influence the development of private equity markets, comprised of venture capital and buy-out investors. In so doing, the researchers provide the first empirical evidence for this theoretical prediction at the industry level in the entrepreneurial finance literature. They also make a methodological contribution by demonstrating how jointly modeling the different policies for providing worker insurance delivers more consistent results than their individual relationships would indicate by themselves. Read More

Private Equity and Industry Performance

In response to the global financial crisis that began in 2007, governments worldwide are rethinking their approach to regulating financial institutions. Among the financial institutions that have fallen under the gaze of regulators have been private equity (PE) funds. There are many open questions regarding the economic impact of PE funds, many of which cannot be definitively answered until the aftermath of the buyout boom of the mid-2000s can be fully assessed. HBS professor Josh Lerner and coauthors address one of these open questions, by examining the impact of PE investments across 20 industries in 26 major nations between 1991 and 2007. In particular, they look at the relationship between the presence of PE investments and the growth rates of productivity, employment, and capital formation. Read More

Estimating the Effects of Large Shareholders Using a Geographic Instrument

Are large shareholders good monitors of management? A public firm's shareholders have extensive legal control rights in the corporation, but in practice much of this control is delegated to managers. In companies with small, dispersed shareholders, owners may find it costly to coordinate and exercise monitoring and control, leaving management with considerable discretion. Large shareholders, however—by concentrating a block of shares in the hands of a single decision-maker—may play a beneficial role in facilitating effective owner control. Yet large shareholders are not without their costs. HBS professor Bo Becker and coauthors develop and test a framework to quantify the impact of large owners (individual non-managerial blockholders, not mutual funds or other institutions) on several key aspects of firm behavior. They show that such shareholders play an important role for corporate governance in sizable U.S. public firms, and can affect several firm policies. Read More

Stock Price Fragility

Does the composition of ownership of a financial asset influence future returns and risk? Previous economic research has documented significant price effects of investor demand in numerous settings, including retail demand for options, investor demand for bonds, and mutual funds' flow-driven demand for stocks. This paper provides a methodology to identify assets that are vulnerable to such investor demand shocks. The central idea is that assets are risky if the current owners of the asset face correlated liquidity shocks—i.e., they buy and sell at the same time. We call assets with a high concentration of owners who trade in the same direction "fragile." A related concept is "co-fragility." Two assets are "co-fragile" if their owners have correlated trading needs, even if the holdings of these owners do not directly overlap. The authors build measures of fragility for U.S. stocks between 1990 and 2007. Consistent with their predictions, more fragile stocks are more volatile, and two co-fragile stocks exhibit high correlations among their stock returns. Read More

Specific Knowledge and Divisional Performance Measurement

Performance measurement is one of the critical factors that determine how individuals in an organization behave. It includes subjective as well as objective assessments of the performance of both individuals and subunits of an organization such as divisions or departments. Besides the choice of the performance measures themselves, performance evaluation involves the process of attaching value weights to the different measures to represent the importance of achievement on each dimension. This paper examines five common divisional performance measurement methods: cost centers, revenue centers, profit centers, investment centers, and expense centers. The authors furnish the outlines of a theory that attempts to explain when each of these five methods is likely to be the most efficient. Read More

Systemic Risk and the Refinancing Ratchet Effect

During periods of rising house prices, falling interest rates, and increasingly competitive and efficient refinancing markets, cash-out refinancing is like a ratchet, incrementally increasing homeowner debt as real-estate values appreciate without the ability to symmetrically decrease debt by increments as real-estate values decline. This paper suggests that systemic risk in the housing and mortgage markets can arise quite naturally from the confluence of these three apparently salutary economic trends. Using a numerical simulation of the U.S. mortgage market, the researchers show that the ratchet effect is capable of generating the magnitude of losses suffered by mortgage lenders during the financial crisis of 2007-2008. These observations have important implications for risk management practices and regulatory reform. Read More

Financing Constraints and Entrepreneurship

Financing constraints are one of the biggest concerns impacting potential entrepreneurs around the world. Given the important role that entrepreneurship is believed to play in the process of economic growth, alleviating financing constraints for would-be entrepreneurs is also an important goal for policymakers worldwide. In this paper HBS professors William R. Kerr and Ramana Nanda review two major streams of research examining the relevance of financing constraints for entrepreneurship. They then introduce a framework that provides a unified perspective on these research streams, thereby highlighting some important areas for future research and policy analysis in entrepreneurial finance. Read More

Banking Deregulations, Financing Constraints and Firm Entry Size

How do financing constraints on new start-ups affect the initial size of these new firms? Since bank debt comprises the majority of U.S. firm borrowings, new ventures are especially sensitive to local bank conditions due to their limited options for external finance. Liberalization in the banking sector can thus have important effects on entrepreneurship in product markets. As HBS professors William Kerr and Ramana Nanda explain, the 1970s through the mid-1990s was a period of significant liberalization in the ability of banks to establish branches and to expand across state borders, either through new branches or through acquisitions. Using a database of annual employment data for every U.S. establishment from 1976 onward, Kerr and Nanda examine how U.S. branch banking deregulations impacted the entry size of new start-ups in the non-financial sector. This paper is closely related to their prior work examining how the deregulations impacted the rates of startup entry and exit in the non-financial sector. Read More

The Height Tax, and Other New Ways to Think about Taxation

The notion of levying higher taxes on tall people—an idea offered largely tongue in cheek—presents an ideal way to highlight the shortcomings of current tax policy and how to make it better. Harvard Business School professor Matthew C. Weinzierl looks at modern trends in taxation. Read More

Information Risk and Fair Value: An Examination of Equity Betas and Bid-Ask Spreads

What is the role of fair values in the current economic crisis? The interplay between information risk—that is, uncertainty regarding valuation parameters for an underlying asset—and the reporting of financial instruments at fair value has been a subject of high-level policy debate. Finance theory suggests that information risk is reflected in firms' equity betas and the information asymmetry component of bid-ask spreads. HBS professor Edward Riedl and doctoral candidate George Serafeim test predictions for a sample of large U.S. banks, exploiting recent mandatory disclosures of financial instruments designated as fair value level 1, 2, and 3, which indicate progressively more illiquid and opaque financial instruments. Overall, banks with higher exposures to level 3 financial assets have both higher equity betas and higher bid-ask spreads. Both results are consistent with higher levels of information risk, and thus cost of capital, for these firms. Read More

Why Competition May Not Improve Credit Rating Agencies

Competition usually creates better products and services. But when competition increased among credit rating agencies, the result was less accurate ratings, according to a study by HBS professor Bo Becker and finance professor Todd Milbourn of Washington University in St Louis. In our Q&A, Becker discusses why users of ratings should exercise a little caution. Read More

The Impact of Private Equity Ownership on Portfolio Firms’ Corporate Tax Planning

Although private firms are important components of the U.S. economy, their tax practices remains largely unknown due to the lack of publicly available financial information. In recent years, private equity (PE) firms have been broadly criticized based on the substantial tax benefits enjoyed by their owners and managers. Editorials have inflamed public opinion by accusing PE firm owners and managers as having excessively low tax rates, and pointing out that the substantial wealth generated by PE firms can "pay for sophisticated tax planning," including the use of offshore investment companies based in tax havens. More generally, critics contend that PE firms aggressively manage their tax liabilities and those of their portfolio companies. This study investigates the latter contention. In particular, the authors look at whether private companies that are majority-owned by PE firms ("majority PE-backed firms") engage in more tax avoidance than other publicly traded and privately held firms. This may be the first study to compare the tax practices of firms with different private ownership structures. Read More

Optimal Taxation in Theory and Practice

Are developments in the theory of taxation improving tax policies around the world? The optimal design of a tax system is a topic that has long fascinated economic theorists and flummoxed economic policymakers. This paper explores the interplay between tax theory and tax policy. It identifies key lessons policymakers might take from the academic literature on how taxes ought to be designed, and it discusses the extent to which these lessons are reflected in actual tax policy. The authors find that there has been considerable change in the theory and practice of taxation over the past several decades—although the two paths have been far from parallel. Overall, tax policy has moved in the directions suggested by theory along a few dimensions, even though the recommendations of theory along these dimensions are not always definitive. Read More

The Optimal Taxation of Height: A Case Study of Utilitarian Income Redistribution

A tax on height follows inexorably from a well-established empirical regularity and the standard approach to the optimal design of tax policy. Many readers of this paper, however, will not so quickly embrace the idea of levying higher taxes on tall taxpayers. Indeed, when first hearing the proposal, most people either recoil from it or are amused by it. That reaction is precisely what makes tax policy so intriguing, according to N. Gregory Mankiw of Harvard University and Matthew Weinzierl of HBS. This paper addresses a classic problem: the optimal redistribution of income. A Utilitarian social planner would like to transfer resources from high-ability individuals to low-ability individuals, but is constrained by the fact that he cannot directly observe ability. Taxing height helps the planner achieve redistribution efficiently because height, the data show, is an indicator of income-earning ability. Although readers might take this paper in one of two ways—some seeing it as a small, quirky contribution aimed to clarify the literature on optimal income taxation, others as a broader effort to challenge the entire literature—the authors' results raise a fundamental question about the framework for optimal taxation for which William Vickrey and James Mirrlees won the 1996 Nobel Prize in Economics and which remains a centerpiece of modern public finance. Read More

Insider Trading Preceding Goodwill Impairments

Do insiders strategically sell their stock holdings prior to the accounting disclosure of goodwill impairment losses? While a number of recent studies provide evidence of insider trading prior to the announcement of earnings performance measures, a remaining puzzle is what types of information aggregated into reported earnings constitute the source of insiders' private information. This study provides evidence of a specific reporting item, goodwill impairments, about which insiders are able to strategically trade before its full discovery by the equity market and its recognition within the financial statements. Goodwill impairments represent likely sources of information for insiders to trade on for two reasons. First, they tend to be economically large, averaging 11.9 percent of the market value of equity during the sample period of 2002-2007. Second, managers likely have material private information regarding future cash flow estimates through their internal budgeting processes; and managers' private information advantage may be relatively long-lived due to goodwill impairment testing rules that may delay the accounting recognition of economic goodwill impairments. Read More

Barriers to Household Risk Management: Evidence from India

Insurance markets are growing rapidly in developing countries. Despite the promise of these markets, however, adoption to date has been relatively slow. Yet households often remain exposed to movements in local weather; regional house prices; prices of commodities like rice, heating oil, and gasoline; and local, regional, and national income fluctuations. In many cases, financial contracts simply do not exist to hedge these exposures, and when contracts do exist their use is not widespread. Why don't financial markets develop to help households hedge these risks? Why don't more households participate when formal markets are available? HBS professor Shawn Cole and coauthors attempt to shed light on these questions by studying participation in rural India in a rainfall risk-management product that provides a payoff based on monsoon rainfall. The results suggest that it may take a significant amount of time—and substantial marketing efforts—to increase adoption of risk-management tools at the household level. Read More

Money or Knowledge? What Drives Demand for Financial Services in Emerging Markets?

Why is there apparently limited demand for financial services in emerging markets? On the one hand, low-income individuals may not want formal services when informal savings, credit, and insurance markets function reasonably well, and the benefits of formal financial market participation may not exceed the costs. On the other hand, limited financial literacy could be the barrier: If people are not familiar or comfortable with products, they will not demand them. These two views carry significantly different implications for the development of financial markets around the world, and would suggest quite different policy decisions by governments and international organizations seeking to promote "financial deepening." HBS professor Shawn Cole and coauthors found that financial literacy education has no effect on the probability of opening a bank savings account for the full population, although it does significantly increase the probability among those with low initial levels of financial literacy and low levels of education. In contrast, modest financial subsidies significantly increase the share of households that open a bank savings account within the subsequent two months. Read More

Earnings Quality and Ownership Structure: The Role of Private Equity Sponsors

Although 99 percent of the companies operating in the United States are private, according to the American Institute of Certified Public Accountants, their accounting practices remain largely unknown due mainly to the lack of publicly available financial statements. In this study, HBS professor Sharon P. Katz used a unique database of firms with privately held equity and publicly held debt to examine how two different ownership structures-private equity sponsorship and non-private equity sponsorship-affect firms' financial reporting practices, financial performance, and stock returns in the years preceding and following the initial public offering (IPO). Read More

Does Public Ownership of Equity Improve Earnings Quality?

The quality of accounting information is influenced by an array of factors, most of which stem from the demand for such information for use in contractual arrangements and from the incentives and opportunities of management to manage the reported numbers. Both the demand for quality accounting information for contractual purposes and management incentives to adjust the reported earnings are likely to be influenced by whether the equity of the company is privately held or publicly traded. This study examines the differential earnings quality of private equity and public equity firms in order to shed light on how public ownership of equity affects the quality of firms' earnings. The research highlights how the presence of public equity investors affects management's reporting behavior. Read More

Corporate Misgovernance at the World Bank

This paper examines the politics of corporate governance at the world's largest appropriations committee, the World Bank's Board of Executive Directors, and exposes a weakness in the design of the World Bank's decision-making structure. Any large public organization faces a challenge of representation and management. Since all decisions cannot be made by all members, founders often grant a more nimble body with decision-making powers. But representatives on the decision-making body may face a temptation to govern in the interests of their own wallet or narrow constituency rather than in the interests of the larger body. In 2008, the Bank's two primary component institutions—the International Bank for Reconstruction and Development (IBRD) and the International Development Association (IDA)—committed nearly $25 billion in loans and grants through some 300 development projects around the globe. Where did it go? By exploring the political dynamics and corporate governance of an international appropriations committee, we not only learn about international organizations but also the nature of the international system itself. Read More

The Investment Strategies of Sovereign Wealth Funds

The role of sovereign wealth funds (SWFs) in the global financial system has been increasingly recognized in recent years, and many reports suggest that SWFs are often employed to further the geopolitical and strategic economic interests of their governments. The resources controlled by these funds—estimated to be $3.5 trillion in 2008—have grown sharply over the past decade. Projections, while inherently tentative due to the uncertainties about the future path of economic growth and commodity prices, suggest that they will be increasingly important actors in the years to come. Despite this significant and growing role, financial economists have devoted remarkably little attention to these funds. The lack of scrutiny must be largely attributed to the deliberately low profile adopted by many SWFs, which makes systematic analysis challenging. Bernstein, Lerner, and Schoar analyze how SWFs vary in their investment styles and performance across various geographies and governance structures. Taken as a whole, results suggest that high levels of home investments by SWFs, particularly those with the active involvement of political leaders, are associated with trend chasing and worse performance. Read More

Catering to Characteristics

Can patterns of corporate net stock issuance help identify times when particular characteristics, such as industry, size, or book-to-market ratio, are mispriced? The authors of this study argue that differences between the characteristics of issuers and repurchasers can shed light on characteristic related stock returns. Consider the case in which analysts were interested in forecasting the returns of Google. The standard approach would be to collect Google's characteristics (e.g., large, technology, non-dividend paying, etc) and associate these characteristics with an average return in the cross-section. The authors argue that if other stocks with these characteristics are issuing stock, this bodes poorly for Google's future returns, even if Google is itself not issuing. This research by HBS professor Robin Greenwood and Harvard doctoral student Samuel Hanson has implications for studying the stock market performance of seasoned equity offerings (SEOs), initial public offerings (IPOs), and recent acquirers. Read More

Inflation Bets or Deflation Hedges? The Changing Risks of Nominal Bonds

Are nominal government bonds risky investments that investors must be rewarded to hold? Or are they safe investments, whose price movements are either inconsequential or even beneficial to investors as hedges against other risks? U.S. Treasury bonds have performed well as hedges during the financial crisis of 2008, but the opposite was true in the late 1970's and early 1980's. John Y. Campbell, a Visiting Scholar at HBS, Harvard Ph.D. candidate Adi Sunderam, and HBS professor Luis M. Viceira explore such changes over time in the risks of nominal government bonds. Read More

Podcast: Preventing Future Financial Failures

Professor David Moss says we need ongoing federal regulation of the few "systemically significant" institutions whose demise could threaten financial stability. Read More

Risky Business with Structured Finance

How did the process of securitization transform trillions of dollars of risky assets into securities that many considered to be a safe bet? HBS professors Joshua D. Coval and Erik Stafford, with Princeton colleague Jakub Jurek, authors of a new paper, have ideas. Read More

The Litigation of Financial Innovations

The past 10 years have seen a profound change in the conditions under which financial innovations are pursued. Because patents fundamentally alter the way in which innovations can be used, assessing the impact of patenting is critical to understanding the future of financial innovation. Litigation is crucial to delineating the boundaries of patent awards, and this paper examines the litigation of such financial patents to gain insights into the future of financial innovation. This paper seeks to understand the litigation of financial innovations, an area where patents have only recently been granted. Read More

Workout vs. Bailout: Should Government Take Advantage of the Buffett Effect?

The depth of the global financial crisis is becoming clearer day by day, says HBS professor Jim Heskett. Respondents to this month's column offered creative solutions, and by and large resisted the temptation to venture into the realm of ideology. (Online forum now closed.) Closed for comment; 50 Comments posted.

Secrets of the Academy: The Drivers of University Endowment Success

University endowments are important and interesting institutions both in the investing community and society at large. They play a role in maintaining the academic excellence of many universities that rely heavily on income from their endowments. In contrast, poor finances can undermine a school's ability to provide academic services altogether. Endowments have also received much attention recently for their superior investment returns compared with other institutional investors. In this study, the authors document the trends in college and university endowment returns and investments in the United States between 1992 and 2005. Read More

Using Financial Innovation to Support Savers: From Coercion to Excitement

This paper acknowledges the wide range of solutions to the problem of low family savings. Families, and of particular interest to the authors, low-income families, save for a wide variety of purposes, including identifiable reasons such as education and retirement and others that are more broad, like rainy days or emergencies. Given societal pressures to consume, and given the diversity among people, it is unlikely that there is a single solution to the savings problem. Yet a number of programs described by Tufano and Schneider have great promise in supporting household savings. Tufano and Schneider discuss each program from the perspectives of would-be savers as well as from that of other key stakeholders. Read More

Innovative Ways to Encourage Personal Savings

Saving money doesn't need to be so difficult. According to HBS professor Peter Tufano, "The most interesting ideas—indeed the oldest—try to make savings a fun or satisfying experience." As Tufano describes in this Q&A, different solutions appeal to different people. Here's what government policy, the private sector, and nonprofits can do. Read More

Connecting School Ties and Stock Recommendations

School connections are an important yet underexplored way in which private information is revealed in prices in financial markets. As HBS professor Lauren H. Cohen and colleagues discovered, school ties between equity analysts and top management of public companies led analysts to earn returns of up to 5.4 percent on their stock recommendations. Cohen explains more in our Q&A. Read More

Sell Side School Ties

Certain agents play key roles in revealing information into securities markets. In the equities market, security analysts are among the most important. A large part of an analyst's job (perhaps the majority) is to research, produce, and disclose reports forecasting aspects of companies' future prospects, and to translate their forecasts into stock recommendations. Therefore, isolating how, or from whom, analysts obtain the information they use to produce their recommendations is important. Do analysts gain comparative information advantages through their social networks—specifically, their educational ties with senior officers and board members of firms that they cover? This paper investigates ties between sell-side analysts and management of public firms, and the subsequent performance of their stock recommendations. Read More

The Small World of Investing: Board Connections and Mutual Fund Returns

How does information flow in security markets, and how do investors receive information? In the context of information flow, social networks allow a piece of information to flow along a network often in predictable paths. HBS professors Lauren Cohen and Christopher Malloy, along with University of Chicago colleague Andrea Frazzini, studied a type of dissemination through social networks tied to educational institutions, examining the information flow between mutual fund portfolio managers and senior officers of publicly traded companies. They then tested predictions on the portfolio allocations and returns earned by mutual fund managers on securities within and outside their networks. Read More

Attracting Flows by Attracting Big Clients: Conflicts of Interest and Mutual Fund Portfolio Choice

Retirement assets make up a large and growing percentage of the mutual fund universe. In 2004, nearly 40 percent of all mutual fund assets were held by defined contribution plans and individual retirement accounts. This percentage is steadily increasing largely because these retirement accounts represent the majority of new flows into non-money market mutual funds. With such a large and growing percentage of their assets coming from retirement accounts, mutual funds are likely to be interested in securing these big clients. This paper examines a new channel through which mutual fund families can attract assets: by becoming a 401(k) plan's trustee. HBS professor Lauren Cohen and colleague Breno Schmidt provide evidence consistent with the trustee relationship affecting families' portfolio choice decisions. These portfolio decisions, however, have the potential to be in conflict with the fiduciary responsibility mutual funds have for their investors, and can impose potentially large costs. Read More

Cost of External Finance and Selection into Entrepreneurship

Entrepreneurs are, on average, significantly wealthier than people who work in paid employment. Research shows that entrepreneurs comprise fewer than 9 percent of households in the United States but they hold 38 percent of household assets and 39 percent of the total net worth. This relationship between personal wealth and entrepreneurship has long been seen as evidence of market failure, meaning that talented but less wealthy individuals are precluded from entrepreneurship because they don't have sufficient wealth to finance their new ventures. Nanda studied how changes in the cost of external finance affected the characteristics and likelihood of individuals becoming entrepreneurs. He finds that market failure accounts for only a small fraction of the relationship between personal wealth and entrepreneurship in advanced economies such as the U.S. Read More

Has Managerial Capitalism Peaked?

Summing Up. Professor Jim Heskett considers his reader's comments on the growing imbalance between what John Bogle terms managerial capitalism and owners' capitalism. Closed for comment; 30 Comments posted.

Intra-Industry Foreign Direct Investment

One of the enduring puzzles for researchers on FDI has been the role and importance of "horizontal" and "vertical" FDI. Horizontal FDI tends to mean locating production closer to customers and avoiding trade costs. Vertical FDI, on the other hand, represents firms' attempts to take advantage of cross-border factor cost differences. A central challenge for study has been the absence of firm-level data to distinguish properly among the types of and motivations for FDI. Alfaro and Charlton analyzed a new dataset, and in this paper present the first detailed characterization of the location, ownership, and activity of global multinational subsidiaries. Read More

Bond Risk, Bond Return Volatility, and the Term Structure of Interest Rates

This paper documents the existence of considerable variation over time in the covariance or correlation of Treasury bond returns with stock returns and with consumption growth. There are times in which bonds appear to be safe assets, while at other times they appear to be highly risky assets. The paper finds that time variation in bond risk is systematic and positively related to the level and the slope of the yield curve. These are factors that proxy for inflation and general economic uncertainty, inflation risk, and the risk premium on bonds. Read More

Hedge Fund Investor Activism and Takeovers

Are hedge funds better than large institutional investors at identifying undervalued companies, locating potential acquirers for them, and removing opposition to a takeover? Are they best equipped to monitor management? While blockholding by large institutional investors—pension funds and mutual fund investment companies—is widespread, there is virtually no evidence that these institutional shareholders are effective monitors of management or that their presence in the capital structure increases firm value. When institutional blockholders make formal demands on management, there is no evidence of their success. This working paper outlines the advantages and limits of hedge funds to manage these tasks. Greenwood and Schor's characterization differs markedly from previous work on investor activism, which tends to attribute high announcement returns to improvements in operational performance. Read More

Economic Catastrophe Bonds

Pooling economic assets into large portfolios and tranching them into sequential cash-flow claims has become a big business, generating record profits for both the Wall Street originators and the agencies that rate these securities. This paper by business economics doctoral student Jakub Jurek and HBS professors Joshua Coval and Erik Stafford investigates the pricing and risks of instruments created as a result of recent structured finance activities. It demonstrates that senior collateralized debt obligation (CDO) tranches have significantly different systematic risk exposures than their credit rating-matched, single-name counterparts, and should therefore command different risk premia. Read More

Growth and the Quality of Foreign Direct Investment: Is All FDI Equal?

Understanding the effect of foreign direct investment is important for two main reasons: It informs foreign investment policy, and it has implications for the effect of rapidly growing investment flows on the process of economic development. While academics tend to treat foreign direct investment as a homogenous capital flow, policymakers maintain that some FDI projects are better than others. In fact, national policies toward FDI seek to attract some types of FDI while regulating other types, reflecting a belief among policymakers that FDI projects differ greatly in terms of the national benefits to be derived from them. Policymakers from Dublin to Beijing, for instance, have implemented complex FDI regimes in order to influence the nature of FDI projects attracted to their shores. Using a dataset on 29 countries, Alfaro and Charlton distinguished different qualities of FDI in order to examine the various links between types of FDI and growth. Read More

All Eyes on Slovakia’s Flat Tax

The flat tax is an idea that's burst to life in post-communist Eastern and Central Europe, especially in Slovakia. But is the rest of the world ready? A new Harvard Business School case on Slovakia's complex experience highlights many hurdles elsewhere, as HBS professor Laura Alfaro, Europe Research Center Director Vincent Dessain, and Research Assistant Ane Damgaard Jensen explain in this Q&A. Read More

The New Real Estate

Real estate continues to defy revert-to-the-mean gravity to deliver handsome returns to investors. Professor Arthur I. Segel looks at the latest developments in the field and also considers several warning clouds that could darken the picture. Read More

A New Framework for Analyzing and Managing Macrofinancial Risks of An Economy

The vulnerability of a national economy to volatility in the global markets for credit, currencies, commodities, and other assets has become a central concern of policymakers, credit analysts, and investors everywhere. This paper describes a new framework for analyzing a country's exposure to macroeconomic risks based on the theory and practice of contingent claims analysis. (A contingent claim is any financial asset for which future payoff depends on the value of another asset.) In this framework, the sectors of a national economy are viewed as interconnected portfolios of assets, liabilities, and guarantees that can be analyzed like puts and calls. The framework makes it transparent how risks are transferred across sectors, and how they can accumulate in the balance sheet of the public sector and ultimately lead to a default by the government. Read More

Pricing Liquidity: The Quantity Structure of Immediacy Prices

Researchers and participants in the market for securities have long been interested in the costs of transacting and the notion of liquidity as a performance measure of market structure. In real world capital markets, investors and corporations generally do not expect to transact at fundamental value. Rather, market participants face some degree of illiquidity, where they must sacrifice price, trade size, or speed of execution, forcing them to transact at prices away from fundamental value. The exact price of liquidity, however, is unknown. This paper develops an option-based model of the price of liquidity via the pricing of limit orders. Read More

Adam Smith, Behavioral Economist?

Adam Smith is best known for The Wealth of Nations, but professor Nava Ashraf believes another of his works, The Theory of Moral Sentiments, presaged contemporary behavioral economics. Read More

Time to Rethink the Corporate Tax System?

Corporations have turned tax obligations into profit centers, bringing into question the whole rationale for business taxes in the first place. Professor Mihir A. Desai discusses problems with the modern corporate tax structure and suggests possible remedies. Read More

Microfinance: A Way Out for the Poor

Microfinance is not a magic ticket out of poverty, but it can help both the loan receiver as well as the loan giver, says Harvard Business School’s Michael Chu. Read More

Business Plan Winner Targets India Dropouts

Gyaana means "knowledge" in Sanskrit—a fitting name for a business that aims to fight the 50 percent dropout rate in India by offering microfinance loans to families. Read More

Are Assets Only for America’s Wealthy?

It's a crucial question: How can this country's poor build up their assets and jump out of the spiral of poverty? The challenge is to create asset-building programs that go beyond savings, expanding into other financial services with higher return rates and greater opportunities, with a big assist from technology, argues Harvard Business School professor Peter Tufano. Read More

Does Misery Love Companies? How Social Performance Pays Off

Is there a relationship between a company's social performance and its financial performance? HBS associate professor Joshua D. Margolis and University of Michigan colleague James P. Walsh make the connection in their latest working paper. PLUS: Margolis Q&A. Read More

Not All M&As Are Alike—and That Matters

In this Harvard Business Review article, Professor Joseph L. Bower shares some of the results of his year-long study of M&A activity sponsored by HBS. Discover how five distinct merger and acquisition strategies scenarios play out—and his recommendations for success. Read More

The State of the Markets

Technology is bringing about vast changes in worldwide financial markets, generating improvements in efficiency, speed and economies of scale. But as technological change continues to occur, attention must also be paid to changes in the role that regulation plays, said industry leaders in a panel on "Technology and the Future of the Financial Markets." Read More

Stock Options Are Not All Created Equal

Stock options dominate the pay of top executives today, but are often poorly understood both by those who grant them and those who receive them. In this excerpt from an article in the Harvard Business Review, HBS Professor Brian J. Hall describes three types of stock option plans and the incentives and risks they entail. Read More