Bradley Hendricks and Mark Lang, and Kenneth J. Merkley evaluated 11,285 10-Ks reports filed by firms that went public between January 1, 1997 and December 31, 2013. They have published a paper about a key distinction between the filings of founder-led firms and companies led by non-founders. The paper is titled, “Through the Eyes of the Founder: CEO Characteristics and Firms’ Regulatory Filings.”
Hendricks, Lang, and Merkley find a significant degree of overconfidence on the part of the founder-led firms. They report, "Consistent with firms’ financial reports reflecting the founder’s optimism, we find that the 10-Ks for founder-led firms tend to be characterized by both more positive text and less negative text relative to 10-Ks for other firms."
Prior research suggests that a positive tone in the 10K filing leads to a higher stock price. However, the authors questioned how investors would react to the optimism conveyed by founder-led companies. Perhaps investors would be attuned to the fact that entrepreneurs can exude overconfidence, and thus they would discount the optimistic statements made by founder-led firms. What did they actually find? Share prices rise in a similar fashion in the immediate aftermath of the 10K filing for both founder-led firms and those led by non-founders. The authors state, "We find that investors do not appear to recognize founders’ tendency toward overoptimism and, instead, interpret tone for founder-led firms similarly to non-founder-led firms."
What happens later on though? For the full year after the 10K filing, the scholars found a negative relationship between the tone of the 10K and stock price performance for the founder-led firms. No such negative relationship exists for the firms led by non-founders. That finding supports the notion that investors mistakenly accept the overly optimistic pronouncements of founders initially, and the correction only takes place over time as they realize that the actual performance will not meet lofty expectations.
What's the lesson here? We need to analyze company pronouncements not simply in terms of the content, but in terms of the messenger as well. Who is the company leader, and what is his or her background? If he or she is an entrepreneur/founder, we might want to be a bit more careful about accepting their positive statements and projections.