Finance: Financial Regulation

65 Results

 

The Federal Reserve’s Abandonment of Its 1923 Principles

One of the most dramatic reversals in Federal Reserve policymaking has been the targeting of monetary policy towards financial stability. In 1923, for example, the Federal Reserve's Annual Report officially announced that the goal of monetary policy was the avoidance of speculative lending, which was thought to lead to inflation and crisis. By contrast, in 2002 there was broad agreement at the Fed with economist Ben Bernanke's view that monetary policy should be aimed exclusively at macroeconomic goals while financial stability should be ensured by regulatory means instead. In this paper the author explains when this reversal occurred and he sheds some light on why it did. He shows that two principles in 1923—the discouraging of speculative lending by commercial banks, and the desire to meet the credit needs of business—remained important in Federal Open Market Committee (FOMC) deliberations until the mid-1960's. After this, the FOMC spent less time discussing the composition of bank loans. Overall, as the author argues, an unwillingness to devote monetary policy to financial stability may well make financial crises more likely. This paper may thus contribute to the understanding of the ultimate sources of the financial crisis of 2007. Read More

The Real Effects of Capital Controls: Financial Constraints, Exporters, and Firm Investment

The massive surge of foreign capital to emerging markets in the aftermath of the global financial crisis of 2008-2009 has led to a renewed debate about the merits of international capital mobility. To stem the flow of capital and manage the attendant risks, several emerging markets have recently imposed taxes or controls to curb inflows of foreign capital. The case for capital controls usually rests on measures designed to mitigate the volatility of foreign capital inflows. However, controls also have an implicitly protectionist aspect aimed at maintaining persistent currency undervaluation. In this paper the authors investigate the effects of capital controls on firm-level stock returns and real investment using data from Brazil. Brazil is important because it has taken center stage as a country that has implemented extensive controls on capital flows between 2008 and 2012. Among the authors' key findings, real investment at the firm level falls significantly in the aftermath of controls. Overall, capital controls can increase market uncertainty and reduce the availability of external finance, which in turn can lower investment at the firm level. Capital controls disproportionately affect small, non-exporting firms, especially those more dependent on external finance. Read More

Government Can Do More to Unfreeze Small Business Credit

In part three of her series on the state of small-business lending, Karen Mills discusses how public-private partnerships and government guarantee programs have the potential to enhance economic growth. Closed for comment; 0 Comments posted.

The State of Small Business Lending: Credit Access During the Recovery and How Technology May Change the Game

Small businesses are core to US economic competitiveness. Not only do they employ half of the nation's private sector workforce--about 120 million people--but also since 1995 they have created approximately two‐thirds of the net new jobs in the country. Yet in recent years, small businesses have been slow to recover from the recession and credit crisis that hit them especially hard. This lag has prompted the question, "Is there a credit gap in small business lending?" In this paper the authors compile and analyze the current state of access to bank capital for small business from the best available sources. The authors explore both the cyclical impact of the recession on small business and access to credit, and several structural issues that impede the full recovery of bank credit markets for smaller loans. They argue that the online banking market is likely to continue to grow, disrupting traditional ways of lending to small businesses. This will create both opportunities and risks for policymakers and regulators. Read More

Why Small-Business Lending Is Not Recovering

Lending to small businesses has not returned to levels seen before the financial crisis. Karen Mills, former head of the US Small Business Administration, explains the reasons and why the situation is not likely to improve anytime soon. Open for comment; 6 Comments posted.

Reform Tax Law to Keep US Firms at Home

The flood of US corporations relocating to other countries is a hot topic in Congress. In recent testimony before the Senate Committee on Finance, Mihir Desai provided possible solutions around rethinking corporate tax and regulatory policy. Open for comment; 3 Comments posted.

Eliciting Taxpayer Preferences Increases Tax Compliance

Most citizens dislike paying taxes. In the United States, for example, tax noncompliance is estimated to amount to some $385 billion annually. Many other governments also suffer from a "tax gap" in their national accounts. A meaningful portion of tax aversion can be understood and addressed by considering psychological characteristics of the tax process. To explore this possibility the authors design and carry out a set of experiments that allow taxpayers to express advisory preferences regarding the use of their tax dollars. They then assess the effects of this taxpayer agency treatment on tax compliance as well as satisfaction with tax payment and attitudes towards taxation. Findings show that providing taxpayers with such "taxpayer agency"—giving them a sense of influence over tax spending—significantly increases tax compliance. The authors also observe that agency operates, in part, by bringing together payment and benefit. In addition, agency creates no decrease in tax satisfaction or change in fear of audit, and it may reduce general antitax sentiment among taxpayers. Overall, giving taxpayers a voice may act as a two-way nudge, changing tax payment from a passive experience to a channel of communication between taxpayers and government. Read More

How Should Wealth Be Redistributed?

SUMMING UP James Heskett's readers weigh in on Thomas Piketty and how wealth disparity is burdening society. Closed for comment; 42 Comments posted.

Opting Out of Good Governance

New disclosure rules of the Security and Exchange Commission (SEC) require that foreign firms listed on US exchanges articulate more clearly their compliance with exchange requirements. In this paper the authors study the extent to which cross-listed firms opt out of corporate governance rules, analyzing which firms opt out of US exchange requirements and the consequences of doing so. Opting out is quite common, with 80.2 percent of cross-listed firms opting out of at least one exchange corporate governance requirement. Firms that opt out appear to adopt weaker governance practices and have fewer independent directors. The decision to opt out appears to reflect the relative costs and benefits of this governance choice. The costs of complying are likely to be higher for insiders who might enjoy certain private benefits when following weak governance practices allowed in their home country. The benefits of complying are likely to be higher for firms that are attempting to raise capital and grow. Consistent with this tradeoff, the data show that firms based in countries with weak corporate governance are less likely to comply, and those that are based in such countries and are expanding and issuing equity are more likely to comply. Opting out of US exchange requirements also has consequences for how the market values cash holdings. For firms from countries with weak governance requirements, cash within the firm is worth significantly less if the firm opts out of more US exchange requirements. Overall, the paper provides insight about the costs and benefits of complying with stringent governance rules and also sheds light on the effect of governance requirements on valuation. Read More

Counting Up the Effects of Sarbanes-Oxley

More than a decade after its inception, the effects of Sarbanes-Oxley seem, if anything, beneficial, say Harvard's Suraj Srinivasan and John C. Coates. Why then do so many critics remain? Open for comment; 6 Comments posted.

The Real Cost of Bribery

George Serafeim finds that the biggest problem with corporate bribery isn't its effect on a firm's reputation or the regulatory headaches it causes. Rather, bribery's most significant impact is its negative effect on employee morale. Closed for comment; 22 Comments posted.

Do Measures of Financial Constraints Measure Financial Constraints?

A core question in corporate finance is how financial constraints affect firm behavior. To answer this question we need a way to identify constrained firms with reasonable accuracy. Since the financial constraints that a firm faces are not directly observable, scholars have tended to rely on indirect proxies-such as having a credit rating or paying dividends-or on one of three popular indices based on linear combinations of observable firm characteristics such as size, age, or leverage (the Kaplan-Zingales, Whited-Wu, and Hadlock-Pierce indices). In this paper the authors ask: How well do these measures of financial constraints identify firms that are plausibly financially constrained? The short answer is: not well at all. The authors develop three different tests that show that public firms classified as constrained have no trouble raising debt when their demand for debt increases, are unaffected by changes in the supply of bank loans, and engage in paying out the proceeds of equity issues to their shareholders ("equity recycling"). Results imply that popular measures of financial constraints tend to identify as constrained subsets of firms that differ from the general firm population of public firms on a number of dimensions, but not in their ability to raise external funding. Importantly, the tests developed by the authors can be used to systematically test the extent to which any measure of financial constraints does capture constraints. Read More

Monetary Policy Drivers of Bond and Equity Risks

Given the importance of nominal bonds in investment portfolios, and in the design and execution of fiscal and monetary policy, financial economists and macroeconomists need to understand the determinants of nominal bond risks. This is particularly challenging because the risk characteristics of nominal bonds are not stable over time. In this paper the authors ask how monetary policy has contributed to these changes in bond risks. They propose a model that integrates the building blocks of a New Keynesian model into an asset pricing framework in which risk and consequently risk premia can vary in response to macroeconomic conditions. The model is calibrated to US data between 1960 and 2011, a period in which macroeconomic conditions, monetary policy, and bond risks have experienced significant changes. Findings show that two elements of monetary policy have been especially important drivers of bond risks during the last half century. First, a strong reaction of monetary policy to inflation shocks increases both the beta of nominal bonds and the volatility of nominal bond returns. Positive inflation shocks depress bond prices, while the increase in the Fed funds rate depresses output and stock prices. Second, an accommodating monetary policy that smooths nominal interest rates over time implies that positive shocks to long-term target inflation cause real interest rates to fall, driving up output and equity prices, and nominal long-term interest rates to increase, decreasing bond prices. The paper shows empirical evidence that the Fed monetary policy followed an anti-inflationary stance after 1979, but it has moved to a more accommodating, nominal interest rate smoothing policy since the mid 1990's. Consistent with the predictions of the model, the first period corresponds to a period of average positive Treasury-bond beta and stock-bond correlation, and the second period to a period of average negative bond beta and stock-bond correlation. Overall, results imply that it is particularly important to take account of changing risk premia. Read More

Accountability of Independent Directors-Evidence from Firms Subject to Securities Litigation

Shareholders have two publicly visible means for holding directors accountable: They can sue directors and they can vote against director re-election. This paper examines accountability of independent directors when firms experience litigation for corporate financial fraud. Analyzing a sample of securities class-action lawsuits from 1996 to 2010, the authors present a fuller picture of the mechanisms that shareholders have to hold directors accountable and which directors they hold accountable. Results overall provide an empirical estimate of the extent of accountability that independent directors bear for corporate problems that lead to securities class-action litigation. These findings are useful for independent directors to assess the extent of risk they face from litigation, shareholder voting, and departure from boards of sued firms. While the percentage of named directors is small compared with the overall population of directors, individual directors can weigh their risk differently. From a policy perspective, the findings provide insight on the role that investors play in holding directors accountable for corporate performance. Read More

Do Strict Capital Requirements Raise the Cost of Capital? Banking Regulation and the Low Risk Anomaly

The instability of banks in the financial crisis of 2008 has stoked the enduring debate about optimal capital requirements. One of the central concerns has long been the possibility that capital requirements affect banks' overall cost of capital, and therefore lending rates and economic activity. In this paper, the authors estimate how leverage affects the risk and cost of bank equity and the overall cost of capital in practice. They are especially motivated by the potential interaction of capital requirements and the "low risk anomaly" within the stock market: That is, while stocks have on average earned higher returns than less risky asset classes like corporate bonds, which in turn have earned more than Treasury bonds, it is less appreciated that the basic risk-return relationship within the stock market has historically been flat-if not inverted. Using a large sample of historical US data, the authors find that the low risk anomaly within banks may represent an unrecognized and possibly substantial downside of heightened capital requirements. However, despite the fact that tightened capital requirements may considerably increase the cost of capital and lending rates, with adverse implications for investment and growth, such requirements may well remain desirable when all other private and social benefits and costs are tallied up. Read More

The Auditing Oligopoly and Lobbying on Accounting Standards

The US auditing industry has been characterized as an oligopoly, which has successively tightened from eight key players to four over the last 25 years. This tightening is likely to change the incentives of the surviving big auditors, with implications for their role in our market economy. Motivated by the economic and public policy implications of the tightening audit oligopoly, the authors of this paper investigate the changing relation between the big firms and accounting standards. Accounting standards are a key input in the audit process and, through their effects on financial reporting, can impact capital allocation decisions in the economy. Results show that the big auditors are more likely to identify decreased reliability in proposed standards as the auditing oligopoly has tightened: This suggests that big auditors perceive higher litigation and political costs from the increased visibility that accompanies tighter oligopoly. The findings are also consistent with tighter oligopoly decreasing competition among the surviving firms to satisfy client preferences in accounting standards. The findings do not support the concern that tightening oligopoly has rendered the surviving big firms "too big to fail." Read More

How Chapter 11 Saved the US Economy

In a relatively short time, much of the corporate debt that defaulted during the US financial crisis has been managed down and corporate profits have rebounded. Stuart C. Gilson reviews the power of Chapter 11 bankruptcy Closed for comment; 5 Comments posted.

Big Deal: Reflections on the Megamerger of American and US Airways

The proposed marriage between American Airlines and US Airways would create the nation's largest airline. Professors Rosabeth Moss Kanter and Stuart Gilson reflect on a megamerger. Open for comment; 0 Comments posted.

Are the Big Four Audit Firms Too Big to Fail?

Although the number of audit firms has decreased over the past few decades, concerns that the "Big Four" survivors have become too big to fail may be a stretch. Research by professor Karthik Ramanna and colleagues suggests instead that audit firms are more concerned about taking risks. Closed for comment; 13 Comments posted.

Dollar Funding and the Lending Behavior of Global Banks

A striking fact about international financial markets is the large share of dollar-denominated intermediation done by non-US banks. The large footprint of global banks in dollar funding and lending markets raises several important questions. This paper takes the presence of global banks in dollar loan markets as a given, and explores the consequences of this arrangement for cyclical variation in credit supply across countries. In particular, the authors show how shocks to the ability of a foreign bank to raise dollar funding translate into changes in its lending behavior, both in the US and in its home market. Overall, the authors identify a channel through which shocks outside the US can affect the ability of American firms to borrow. Although dollar lending by foreign banks increases the supply of credit to US firms during normal times, it may also prove to be a more fragile source of funding that transmits overseas shocks to the US economy. Read More

Vulnerable Banks

Since the beginning of the US financial crisis in 2007, regulators in the United States and Europe have been frustrated by the difficulty in identifying the risk exposures at the largest and most levered financial institutions. Yet, at the time, it was unclear how such data might have been used to make the financial system safer. This paper is an attempt to show simple ways in which this information can be used to understand how deleveraging scenarios could play out. To do so the authors develop and test a model to analyze financial sector stability under different configurations of leverage and risk exposure across banks. They then apply the model to the largest financial institutions in Europe, focusing on banks' exposure to sovereign bonds and using the model to evaluate a number of policy proposals to reduce systemic risk. When analyzing the European banks in 2011, they show how a policy of targeted equity injections, if distributed appropriately across the most systemic banks, can significantly reduce systemic risk. The approach in this paper fits into, and contributes to, a growing literature on systemic risk. Read More

Causes and Consequences of Linguistic Complexity in Non-US Firm Conference Calls

Does the form in which financial information is presented have consequences for the capital markets? The authors examine the level of linguistic complexity of more than 11,000 conference call transcripts from non-US firms between 2002 and 2010. Findings show that the linguistic complexity of calls varies with country-level factors such as language barriers, but also with firm characteristics. Firms with more linguistic complexity in their conference calls show less trading volume and price movement following the information releases. Overall, these results may be useful to foreign firms that wish to communicate with investors globally. Analysts and investors around the world may also find the results helpful since they might be able to push managers to speak in a less complex manner. This study is the first to analyze conference calls in a cross-country setting. Read More

Private Meetings of Public Companies Thwart Disclosure Rules

Despite a federal regulation, executives at public firms still spend a great deal of time in private powwows with hedge fund managers. Eugene F. Soltes and David H. Solomon suggest that such meetings give these investors unfair advantage. Closed for comment; 5 Comments posted.

Are There Too Many Safe Securities? Securitization and the Incentives for Information Production

Markets for near-riskless securities have suffered numerous shutdowns in the last 40 years, with the recent financial crisis the most prominent example. This suggests that instability could be a general characteristic of such markets, not just a one-time problem associated with the subprime mortgage crisis. Professors Samuel G. Hanson and Adi Sunderam argue that the infrastructure and organization of professional investors are in part determined by the menu of securities offered by originators. Since robust infrastructure is a public good to originators, it may be underprovided in the private market equilibrium. The individually rational decisions of originators may lead to an infrastructure that is overly prone to disruptions in bad times. Policies regulating originator capital structure decisions may help create a more robust infrastructure. Closed for comment; 0 Comments posted.

Market Competition, Government Efficiency, and Profitability Around the World

Understanding whether and how corporate profitability mean reverts across countries is important for valuation purposes. This research by Paul M. Healy, George Serafeim, Suraj Srinivasan, and Gwen Yu suggests that firm performance persistence varies systematically. Country product, capital, and to a lesser extent labor market competition all affect the rate of mean reversion of corporate profits. Corporate profitability exhibits faster mean reversion in countries with more competitive factor markets. In contrast, government efficiency decreases the speed of mean reversion, but only when the level of market competition is held constant. The findings are useful to practitioners and scholars interested in understanding how country factors affect corporate profitability. Read More

What’s Government’s Role in Regulating Home Purchase Financing?

The Obama administration recently proposed housing finance reforms to wind down Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac and bring private capital back to the mortgage markets. HBS professor David Scharfstein and doctoral student Adi Sunderam put forth a proposal to replace Fannie and Freddie and ensure a more stable supply of housing finance. Read More

A Behavioral Model of Demandable Deposits and Its Implications for Financial Regulation

Depositors are overconfident of their chances of recovering demandable deposits in a bank run. In a recent research paper, professor Julio J. Rotemberg reviews various government regulations available to be imposed on financial institutions—minimum capital levels, asset requirements, deposit insurance, and compulsory clawbacks—to understand how much they can help protect investors. Read More

Leviathan as a Minority Shareholder: A Study of Equity Purchases by the Brazilian National Development Bank (BNDES), 1995-2003

There is a trend in many developing countries toward governments buying minority stakes in private companies. While there has been ample discussion on the wisdom of such actions, little has been said about how governments can make such interventions work better. This paper aims to fill that void, using data from the Brazilian National Development Bank (BNDES). Research was conducted by Sergio G. Lazzarini of the Insper Institute of Education and Research, and Aldo Musacchio of Harvard Business School. Read More

Does Shareholder Proxy Access Improve Firm Value? Evidence from the Business Roundtable Challenge

In August 2010, the Security and Exchange Commission announced a highly anticipated rule that would make it easier for investors to nominate new board members and get rid of existing ones. It allowed shareholders to have their board candidates included in the company's proxy materials--if those shareholders had owned at least 3 percent of the firm's shares for at least the prior three years. On October 4, the SEC unexpectedly and indefinitely postponed the implementation of that rule, pending the outcome of a lawsuit aimed at overturning it. This paper gauges the significance of the proxy access rule by measuring whether certain firms gained or lost market value on news of the delay. Research was conducted by Harvard Business School professors Bo Becker, Daniel Bergstresser, and Guhan Subramanian. Read More

Decoding Inside Information

Price setters and regulators face a difficult challenge in trying to understand the stock trading activity of corporate insiders, especially when it comes to figuring out whether the activity is a good indicator of the firm's financial future. This National Bureau of Economic Research paper discusses how to distinguish "routine" trades (which predict virtually no information about a firm's financial future) from "opportunistic" trades (which contain a great deal of predictive power). Research was conducted by Harvard Business School professors Lauren Cohen and Christopher Malloy and Lukasz Pomorski of the University of Toronto. Read More

Towards an Understanding of the Role of Standard Setters in Standard Setting

Accounting standards promulgated by the Financial Accounting Standards Board (FASB) play an important role in the development and maintenance of capital markets worldwide, so it is important to understand how these standards come to be. Prior research has focused on the effect of corporate lobbying on the development of FASB standards, but has largely overlooked the role of the FASB members themselves. Looking at these individuals between 1973 and 2007, Harvard Business School doctoral candidate Abigail M. Allen and professor Karthik Ramanna examine how board members' professional experience, length of service on the board, and political leanings influenced accounting standards. Read More

Reversing the Null: Regulation, Deregulation, and the Power of Ideas

Who's to blame for the recent financial crisis? To some extent, the fault lies with scholars of economics, according to professor David Moss. In this paper, he argues that an academic focus on government failure in the second half of the 20th century led to the general idea that less was always more when it came to regulation--which, in part, contributed to the crisis. To that end, he calls for a fundamental shift in academic research on the government's role in the economy. Read More

How Did Increased Competition Affect Credit Ratings?

When Fitch Ratings took on Standard & Poor's and Moody's as an alternative credit rating agency in the 1990s, there was a general assumption that the increased competition would lead to higher-quality corporate debt ratings from the incumbents. In fact, their ratings quality declined during the 10-year study period, according to Harvard Business School's Bo Becker and Washington University's Todd Milbourn. One possible cause: competition weakens reputational incentives that drive ratings quality. Read More

HBS Workshop Encourages Corporate Reporting on Environmental and Social Sustainability

The concept of integrated reporting could help mend the lack of trust between business and the public, Harvard Business School Dean Nitin Nohria tells attendees at a seminal workshop. Closed for comment; 7 Comments posted.

A Comparative-Advantage Approach to Government Debt Maturity

Can the government do anything to discourage short-term borrowing by the private sector? HBS Professor Robin Greenwood, Harvard University and Harvard Business School PhD candidate Samuel Hanson, and Harvard University Professor Jeremy C. Stein suggest the government could actively influence the corporate sector's borrowing decisions by shifting its own financing between T-bills and bonds. Read More

How Government can Discourage Private Sector Reliance on Short-Term Debt

Financial institutions have relied increasingly and excessively on short-term financing--putting the overall system at risk. Should government step in? Harvard researchers Robin Greenwood, Samuel Hanson, and Jeremy C. Stein propose a "comparative advantage approach" that allows government to actively influence the corporate sector's borrowing decisions. Read More

Does Mandatory IFRS Adoption Improve the Information Environment?

Created by the International Accounting Standards Board, the International Financial Reporting Standards (IFRS) comprise several principles designed to help public companies increase transparency in their financial reports. But are they worth the hefty compliance costs associated with them? This paper investigates whether adopting the IFRS improves the information environment for firms in which the standards are legally required. Research was conducted by Joanne Horton at the London School of Economics, George Serafeim at Harvard Business School, and Ioanna Serafeim at the Greek Capital Market Commission. Read More

What Brazil Teaches About Investor Protection

When Brazil entered the 20th century, its companies were a model of transparency and offered investor protections that government did not. Can our financial regulators learn a lesson from history? HBS professor Aldo Musacchio shares insights from his new book. Read More

Just Say No to Wall Street: Putting A Stop to the Earnings Game

Over the last decade, companies have struggled to meet analysts' expectations. Analysts have challenged the companies they covered to reach for unprecedented earnings growth, and executives have often acquiesced to analysts' increasingly unrealistic projections, adopting them as a basis for setting goals for their organizations. As Monitor Group cofounder Joseph Fuller and HBS professor emeritus Michael C. Jensen write, improving future relations between Main Street and Wall Street and putting an end to the destructive "earnings game" between analysts and executives will require a new approach to disclosure based on a few simple rules of engagement. (This article originally appeared in the Journal of Applied Corporate Finance in the Winter 2002 issue.) Read More

A Macroeconomic View of the Current Economy

Concerned or confused by the economic environment? Take some lessons from history and concepts from macroeconomics to get a better understanding of how the economy works. A Q&A with HBS professor David A. Moss, author of A Concise Guide to Macroeconomics: What Managers, Executives, and Students Need to Know. Read More

Good Banks, Bad Banks, and Government’s Role as Fixer

Government action to stem collapse of the U.S. financial system was certainly warranted, agrees professor Robert Pozen. But results include less competition and increased risk to taxpayers. A Q&A from the HBS Alumni Bulletin and book excerpt from Too Big to Save? Read More

Shareholders Need a Say on Pay

"Say on pay" legislation now under debate Washington D.C. can be a useful tool for shareholders to strengthen the link between CEO pay and performance when it comes to golden parachutes, says Harvard Business School professor Fabrizio Ferri. Here's a look at how the collective involvement of multiple stakeholders could shape the future of executive compensation. 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

Reputation and Competition: Evidence from the Credit Rating Industry

Credit ratings are a key aspect of the financial system. The quality of these ratings is certainly sustained in part by the reputational concerns of rating agencies, whose paying customers have no inherent interest in the quality of ratings. Competition in this industry has been increasing, and there have been calls for yet more competition. Whether competition will reduce quality or improve it is not yet clear. HBS professor Bo Becker and Washington University in St. Louis professor Todd Milbourn test these conflicting predictions in the ratings industry. Their evidence is more or less consistent with a reduction in credit rating quality as Fitch increased its market presence. Their empirical findings suggest that the system will work better when competition is not too severe. These results have potential policy implications. Read More

An Ounce of Prevention: The Power of Public Risk Management in Stabilizing the Financial System

The present financial crisis should remind us that private financial institutions and markets cannot always be counted upon to manage risk optimally on their own. Almost everyone now recognizes that the government has a critical role to play—as the lender, insurer, and spender of last resort—in times of crisis. But effective public risk management is also needed in normal times to protect consumers and investors and to help prevent financial crises from starting in the first place. According to HBS professor David Moss, the biggest threat to our financial system today is posed not by commercial banks (as in 1933), but rather by systemically significant institutions (outside of commercial banking) that have the potential to trigger financial avalanches. The threat posed by these financial institutions is only compounded by the unprecedented federal guarantees introduced in response to the current crisis and the pervasive moral hazard they spawn. Under the system that Moss proposes, no financial institution would be too big to fail. Read More

The Economics of Structured Finance

This paper investigates the spectacular rise and fall of structured finance. HBS professor Joshua Coval, Princeton professor Jakub Jurek, and HBS professor Erik Stafford begin by examining how the structured finance machinery works. They construct simple examples of collateralized debt obligations (CDOs) that show how pooling and tranching a collection of assets permits credit enhancement of the senior claims. They then explore the challenge faced by rating agencies, examining, in particular, the parameter and modeling assumptions that are required to arrive at accurate ratings of structured finance products. They conclude with an assessment of what went wrong and the relative importance of rating agency errors, investor credulity, and perverse incentives and suspect behavior on the part of issuers, rating agencies, and borrowers. Read More

Securing Jobs or the New Protectionism? Taxing the Overseas Activities of Multinational Firms

Popular imagination often links two significant economic developments: the rapid escalation of the foreign activities of American multinational firms over the last 15 years, and rising levels of economic insecurity, particularly among workers in certain sectors. The presumed linkages between these phenomena have led many to call for a reconsideration of the tax treatment of foreign investment. Increasing the tax burden on outbound investment by American multinational firms, it is claimed, offers the promise of alleviating domestic employment losses and insecurity while also raising considerable revenue. HBS professor Mihir A. Desai looks beneath the trends, examining the economic determinants of outbound investment decisions and synthesizing what is known about the relationship between domestic and foreign activities. Read More

Fear of Rejection? Tiered Certification and Transparency

The sub-prime crisis has thrown a harsh spotlight on the practices of securities underwriters, which provided too many complex securities that proved to ultimately have little value. Certifiers such as rating agencies, journals, standard setting bodies, and providers of standardized tests play an increasingly important role in the market economies. Yet as scrutiny of rating agencies in the aftermath of the sub-prime crisis has shown, these organizations have complex incentive structures and may adopt problematic approaches. On an explicit level, all major rating agencies follow a well-defined process, whose end product is the publication of a rating based on an objective analysis. But firms have been historically able to get rating agencies not to disclose ratings that displease them. HBS professor Josh Lerner and colleagues examined when certifiers might adopt more complex rating schemes, rather than the simple pass-fail scheme, and highlight that such nuanced schemes are more likely when the costs of such ratings are lower. In addition, these schemes are more common when sellers are less averse to the revelation of information about their quality, and more impatient. Read More

Can Housing and Credit be “Nudged” Back to Health?

Did human frailty cause this crisis? Several thinkers have come forward with a suggestion for improvements to fiscal policy that are based on fostering better decisions while preserving consumer choice, says HBS professor Jim Heskett. What should be done? What do you think? (Online forum now closed. Next forum begins January 7.) Closed for comment; 38 Comments posted.

Financial Crisis Caution Urged by Faculty Panel

Dean Jay O. Light and a group of Harvard Business School faculty explored the origins and possible outcomes of the U.S. financial crisis at a recent "Turmoil on the Street" panel. Read More

New Framework for Measuring and Managing Macrofinancial Risk and Financial Stability

This paper proposes a set of leading indicators of macrofinancial distress that can be helpful to policymakers and regulators in preparing for, mitigating, and maybe even preventing a credit crisis. These early-warning indicators of crisis are based on modern contingent claims analysis (CCA), which are successfully used today at the level of individual banks by managers, investors, and regulators. The authors' ultimate objective is to provide new tools to help governments and central banks manage financial sector risks. Read More

Why the U.S. Should Encourage FDI

American financial executives are courting foreign direct investors, particularly sovereign wealth funds, for new investments. Should these investments draw increased scrutiny from U.S. regulators? Harvard Business School professor Mihir Desai argues that most of these deals work out in America's best financial interest. Read More

The Gap in the U.S. Treasury Recommendations

U.S. Treasury recommendations for strengthening the regulation of the financial system are a good start but fall short, says Harvard Business School professor emeritus Dwight B. Crane. Here's his suggestion for bringing regulation into the 21st century. Read More

The Debate over Taxing Foreign Profits

Corporate tax policy has suddenly become a hot topic in the U.S., including the issue of whether current tax laws encourage American firms to outsource jobs to other countries. Harvard Business School professor Mihir Desai makes a case for exempting foreign profit from taxes if proper safeguards are put in place. Read More

Laws vs. Contracts: Legal Origins, Shareholder Protections, and Ownership Concentration in Brazil, 1890-1950

The early development of large multidivisional corporations in Latin America required much more than capable managers, new technologies, and large markets. Behind such corporations was a market for capital in which entrepreneurs had to attract investors to buy either debt or equity. This paper examines the investor protections included in corporate bylaws that enabled corporations in Brazil to attract investors in large numbers, thus generating a relatively low concentration of ownership and control in large firms before 1910. The case of Brazil is particularly interesting because, in Latin America before World War I, it boasted the second-largest equity market and largest number of traded companies. As HBS professor Aldo Musacchio shows, the considerable variation of investor protections over time at the country level, and even at the company level, urges cautions against notions about the persistency of institutions, especially of legal traditions. Read More

3 Steps to Reduce Financial System Risk

By using complex derivative products, banks are better able to manage risk. But this "credit risk transfer" technology is transferring risk to a new set of investors inexperienced in this arena and posing exposure problems for the international financial system as a whole, argues Harvard Business School professor Mohamed El-Erian. Here's how to fix the problem. Read More

Contracting in the Self-reporting Economy

Intellectual property can be used by its owner directly, licensed to a third party for a fixed royalty, or licensed to a third party for a variable royalty. The variable royalty arrangement depends on self-reporting by the licensee, which in turn induces demand for auditing by the licensor. This research studies a setting with the following features: a production cost advantage on the part of the outside party that creates gains from licensing; a limited liability constraint that prevents the licensee from owing more royalties than the gross profits of licensing the intellectual property and prevents the licensor from capturing all of the economic surplus via a fixed royalty agreement; and accounting and auditing costs that reduce the benefits of a variable royalty agreement. Read More

Leveling the Executive Options Playing Field

Harvard Business School professor Mihir A. Desai recently presented testimony to a U.S. Senate subcommittee looking at the subject of executive stock options. His theme: A "dual-reporting system" makes it difficult for investors and tax authorities to learn the real numbers. Read More

Investors Hurt by Dual-Track Tax Reporting

What corporations report in profit to the IRS and what they report to shareholders are often two different numbers—sometimes wildly so. That's why the IRS and Securities and Exchange Commission are proposing that companies publicly report taxes paid—and Professor Mihir Desai thinks this is only a first step. Read More

Fixing Executive Options: The Veil of Ignorance

Who says you can't rewrite history? Dozens of companies have been caught in the practice of backdating options for top executives. But this is only part of the problem with C-level compensation packages, which often motivate top executives to act in their own best interests rather than those of shareholders. Professors Mihir Desai and Joshua Margolis turn to philosopher John Rawls for a solution: Reward the execs, but don't give them the details. Read More

Public Pension Reform: Does Mexico Have the Answer?

Mexico may have found a formula for avoiding most of the misfortunes that could arise when individuals invest their own funds. What's the right way to support an aging workforce? And why is it that a concept—life-long security—that should bring comfort to all of us is so distasteful to address in public? Closed for comment; 10 Comments posted.

Is This the Twilight Era for the Managed Mutual Fund?

Once a "safe bet," mutual funds are facing a rocky future as investment managers come under fire for such mismanagement as arbitrage trading. These alleged double dealings will end up costing investors a bundle in the long run. Are we witnessing mutual funds' swan song? Closed for comment; 11 Comments posted.

The Problem with Hedge Funds

Hedge funds are the New Big Thing—and that’s bad for the average investor, says professor D. Quinn Mills. An excerpt from Wheel, Deal, and Steal. Read More

A Bold Proposal for Investment Reform

Do the markets need an investor's union? Should company audits be overseen by stock exchanges? If you want to restore investor confidence, think radical reforms, say professors Paul Healy and Krishna Palepu. Read More

‘Let the Buyer Beware’ Doesn’t Protect Investors

"Let the buyer beware" is a poor warning for investors, says HBS professor D. Quinn Mills. In this excerpt from his new book, Buy, Lie, and Sell High: How Investors Lost Out on Enron and the Internet Bubble, he offers a way to shape up the system. Plus: Author Q&A. Read More