Friday, December 07, 2012

When Should Corporate Governance Become More Vigilant?

Dalida Kadyrzhanova and Matthew Rhodes-Kropf have written a new working paper that I found intriguing.  They examined how corporate governance changes as firms enter periods of high performance, even perhaps periods of equity over-valuation (they use some interesting measures to examine potential over-valuation of equity).  They found that, "Firm performance seems most impacted by governance when firm and industry deviations are high."  

The scholars argue that, during periods of equity over-valuation, executives are most likely to pursue investments and other decisions that may maximize personal utility at the expense of shareholders.  They do so because they essentially have some slack - plenty of resources at their disposal, and presumably some credibility with investors given the high performance.  During these times, then, corporate governance should become more vigilant so as to protect shareholders from "misbehavior" by executives.  The paper has important implications for boards of directors.  We typically think that the board role is most important during a crisis, when performance is poor.   That is probably correct. However, this paper reminds us that the board also has to be careful during periods of abundance.  That may be the time when the seeds of future crises are planted, as managers make flawed decisions - putting excess cash flow to work in ways that are not in the best interests of shareholders.  

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