Foreign companies that trade their equity in the US face serious obstacles. They must navigate a complex set of SEC disclosure requirements, while at the same time satisfying US investor expectations about the frequency and content of voluntary disclosures. Their home country may be far from the US, speak a different language, use different accounting rules, and offer different types of investor protection than the US, and each of these differences presents a friction that must be mitigated in order to attract US investors. Given these cultural, procedural, and linguistic differences, one might expect that the disclosures of foreign firms would be of lower quality than their US firm counter-parts. Nonetheless, in our paper, Restoring the Tower of Babel: How Foreign Firms Communicate with US Investors, forthcoming in The Accounting Review, we find that foreign firms traded in the US present more numerical data and write more readable text in the Management Discussion and Analysis (MD&A) section of their 10-K, and write more readable text in their earnings press releases, than comparable US firms. More importantly, we find that the readability of text and amount of numerical data in both the MD&A and earnings press releases increase with the foreign firm’s distance from the US. Finally, we find that within a country, firms with relatively more readable disclosures attract relatively more US institutional investment.
Posts Tagged ‘Foreign firms’
In the paper, International Corporate Governance Spillovers: Evidence from Cross-Border Mergers and Acquisitions, which was recently made publicly available on SSRN, we investigate whether the change in corporate control following a cross-border M&A leads to changes in corporate governance of non-target firms that operate in the same country and industry as the target firm. We focus on the strategic complementarity in governance choices between the target firm and its rival firms in the local market. We take the view that corporate governance is affected by the choice of other competing firms as in the models developed by Acharya and Volpin (2010), Cheng (2010), and Dicks (2012).
To provide guidance for our empirical analysis, we develop a simple industry oligopoly model, which captures the idea that rival firms operating in a given industry change their governance in response to competitive forces. The spillover effect occurs as firms in an industry recognize that corporate governance is used more efficiently by the target firm and therefore strengthen their own governance as a response. The model has two decision stages and builds on the work of Shleifer and Wolfenzon (2002) and Albuquerque and Wang (2008). In the first stage, outside shareholders choose firm-level governance (i.e., how much to monitor and limit of managerial private benefits), given the governance choices of other firms. In the second stage, firm managers choose output and the level of private benefits that they extract in the context of a symmetric oligopolistic industry. In the Nash equilibrium outcome, managers have an incentive to “overproduce” (because their private benefits increase with revenues) and industry-level profits are not maximized.
More than 40% of global M&A in 2012 involved acquirors and targets in different countries, including $170 billion of acquisitions in the U.S. by non-U.S. acquirors. Given the continuing accumulation of U.S. Dollars in emerging economies, many expect the trend to continue as Dollars are re-invested in the U.S. Natural resources will continue to be an important part of this story, including in the U.S., where substantial non-U.S. investment has been an important trend, as well as in resource-rich developed nations such as Canada and Australia, where non-domestic investment has lately been highly controversial.
Despite the empty election-year protectionist rhetoric in the U.S. last year, and continuing global concern over access to resources and technology by non-domestic actors, U.S. deal markets continue to be some of the most hospitable markets to off-shore acquirors and investors. With careful advance preparation, strategically thoughtful implementation and sophisticated deal structures that anticipate likely concerns, most acquisitions in the U.S. can be successfully achieved. Cross-border deals involving investment into the U.S. are more likely to fail because of poor planning and execution rather than fundamental legal or political restrictions.
Following is our updated checklist of issues that should be carefully considered in advance of an acquisition or strategic investment in the United States. Because each cross-border deal is different, the relative significance of the issues discussed below will depend upon the specific facts, circumstances and dynamics of each particular situation:
The Committee on Capital Markets Regulation (CCMR), an independent and nonpartisan research organization dedicated to improving regulation and enhancing the competitiveness of U.S. public equity capital markets, today released data from the third quarter of 2012. According to the new study, U.S. capital markets reversed the second quarter downgrade and showed slightly improved competitiveness, though most measures of competitiveness still fall short of historical averages. Hal S. Scott, Director of the Committee said, “While foreign companies continue to prefer non-U.S. financial markets for raising capital outside their home markets, and regulatory reform is still needed, this quarter’s data offers a promising sign that competitiveness can be restored to U.S. markets.”
Of the global initial equity offerings conducted outside a company’s home market, 18.3% of these IPOs, by value, were listed on a U.S. exchange. While this measure is at its highest level over the past five years, the U.S. share of this volume remains well below its historical average of 28.7% (1996-2006). These percentages include all IPOs by foreign companies listed on either U.S. public markets or issued through private Rule 144A offerings. Excluding global IPOs that use the Rule 144A markets, the percentage of global IPOs listed on a U.S. exchange rises to 55.9%. However, the total value of these IPOs has decreased from $79.8 billion in 2010 and $39.3 billion in 2011 to only $9 billion thus far in 2012.
The high pay of U.S. CEOs relative to their foreign counterparts has been cited as evidence of excesses in U.S. executive compensation practices. This perception of a “pay divide” between the United States and the rest of the world is usually based on estimates provided by professional services firms like Towers Watson that receive a good deal of press coverage. However, attempts to understand the magnitude and determinants of the U.S. pay premium have been plagued by data limitations due to international differences in rules regulating the disclosure of executive compensation.
In our paper, Are U.S. CEOs Paid More? New International Evidence, forthcoming in the Review of Financial Studies, we use new data to compare CEO pay in 1,648 U.S. firms versus 1,615 firms from 13 foreign countries. Thanks to recently expanded disclosure rules, our sample includes publicly listed firms from both Anglo-Saxon and continental European countries that had mandated disclosure of CEO pay by 2006. It covers nearly 90% of the market capitalization of firms in these markets and, importantly, comprises firms with different corporate governance arrangements.
In our paper, Is Japan Really a “Buy”? The Corporate Governance, Cash Holdings, and Economic Performance of Japanese Companies, which was recently made publicly available on SSRN, we investigate whether the governance practices of Japanese companies, as manifested in their holdings of cash, have improved over the past two decades, and whether any such improvements translate into improved economic performance. We find that, in general, some of the differences between Japanese and U.S. companies that were evident during the 1990s have become less pronounced over the past 10 years but that important differences remain. While overall levels of cash holdings are now roughly the same for U.S. and Japanese companies, when we condition on firm characteristics we find that Japanese firms still hold substantially more cash than U.S. firms. We do find, however, that regressions of the determinants of firms’ cash holdings developed using U.S. data (e.g., Opler et al., 1999; Bates et al., 2009) fit Japanese firms better in the 2000s than in the 1990s, suggesting that Japanese managers now pay more attention to the economic determinants of their firms’ cash holdings, consistent with improved governance.
In our forthcoming Review of Financial Studies paper entitled Do Foreigners Invest Less in Poorly Governed Firms? we investigate the factors that make investors shy away from providing capital to foreign firms. Poor corporate governance is one factor that draws considerable attention from outside investors and regulators. Institutional investors frequently claim that they avoid foreign firms that are poorly governed. In addition, regulators are concerned that weak governance and low transparency hinder foreign investment and impede financial development. At the same time, outside investors who fear governance problems and expropriation by insiders can reduce the price they are willing to pay for a firm’s shares. As a result of price protection, even poorly governed firms should offer an adequate return, raising the questions of whether and why governance concerns manifest themselves in fewer holdings by foreign outside investors.
Our sample consists of 4,409 firms from 29 countries for which we have comprehensive data on foreign holdings by U.S. investors in 1997. As there can be a host of reasons why foreign investors avoid or seek stocks from a particular country, such as the degree of market integration, benefits from diversification, transaction costs, restrictions on capital flows, proximity, and language, we control for country fixed effects in our tests. Thus, we analyze which stocks U.S. investors choose within a given country. We find strong evidence that U.S. investors hold significantly fewer shares in firms with high levels of managerial and family control when these firms are domiciled in countries with weaker disclosure requirements, securities regulations, and outside shareholder rights, or in code-law countries. In contrast, firms with substantial managerial and family control do not experience less foreign investment when they reside in countries with extensive disclosure requirements and strong investor protection. This effect is particularly pronounced when earnings are opaque, indicating that information asymmetry and monitoring costs faced by foreign investors likely drive the results.
Our results across countries with different institutions are consistent with the interpretation that, for foreign investors, information problems for firms with potentially problematic governance structures play an important role. Stringent disclosure requirements make it less costly to become informed about potential governance problems. They level the playing field among investors making it less likely that locals have an information advantage. Strongly enforced minority shareholder protection reduces the consumption of private control benefits and thus decreases the importance of information regarding these private benefits. In contrast, low disclosure requirements and weak investor protection exacerbate information problems and their consequences.
The full paper is available for download here.
With my co-authors Reena Aggarwal (Georgetown), Isil Erel (Ohio State) and Rohan Williamson (Georgetown), I have recently completed a revision of the paper “Differences in Governance Practices between U.S. and Foreign Firms: Measurement, Causes, and Consequences.” The paper is available at SSRN. The paper is now forthcoming at The Review of Financial Studies. The paper shows that foreign firms invest less in firm-level governance and that this lower investment is associated with lower valuations.
Using the well-known definition of Shleifer and Vishny (1997), governance consists of the mechanisms which insure that minority shareholders receive an appropriate return on their investment. Governance depends both on country-level as well as firm-level mechanisms. The country-level governance mechanisms include a country’s laws, its culture and norms, and the institutions which enforce the laws. Firm-level or internal governance mechanisms are those that operate within the firm. Firm-level governance mechanisms that increase the power of minority shareholders to receive a return on their investment are costly, so that the adoption of such mechanisms by a firm is an investment. The payoffs from that investment differ across countries and across firms.
The U.S. is recognized to have extremely high financial and economic development, to have strong investor protection, and to protect property rights well. Consequently, we would expect the internal governance of firms in the U.S. to come as close as possible to what the optimal internal governance of a firm would be in a foreign country if it were not constrained by weaker institutions and lower development than in the U.S. The internal governance of firms in the U.S. therefore provides a benchmark that can be used to evaluate the impact of different institutions and different development from the U.S. on governance choices and, through these choices, on firm value.
On theoretical grounds, it is not clear whether the characteristics of the U.S. make firm-level investment in governance mechanisms that increase the power of minority shareholders more or less advantageous for U.S. firms relative to firms from countries which do not have the same high level of development and investor protection. One possibility is that foreign firms would invest less in firm-level governance if they were in the U.S. because firm-level governance and country-level investor protection are substitutes. An alternative possibility is that investment in firm-level governance is less productive in countries with poor economic development and weak investor protection than it is in the U.S., implying that firm-level governance and investor protection are complements.
We find strong evidence that foreign firms invest less in internal governance mechanisms that increase the power of minority shareholders than comparable U.S. firms do. In other words, investment in firm-level governance is higher when a country becomes more economically and financially developed and better protects investor rights. Further, to the extent that institutional and development weaknesses reduce a foreign firm’s investment in corporate governance compared to a U.S. firm, we would expect the value of the foreign firm to be lower. As expected, we find that the value of foreign firms is negatively related to the magnitude of their governance investment shortfall relative to U.S. firms.
To conduct our investigation, we need information about firm-level corporate governance attributes that increase the power of minority shareholders for a large number of firms across a large number of countries and we would like individual governance attributes to be assessed similarly across all these firms. We use the corporate governance attributes recorded by Institutional Shareholder Services (ISS). By doing so, we can analyze 44 common governance attributes for 2,234 non-U.S. firms and 5,296 U.S. firms covering 23 developed countries. We create a governance index making sure that the governance attributes included are relevant both for U.S. firms and foreign firms. We call it the GOV Index.
To evaluate the governance a foreign firm would have if it were in the U.S., we use a propensity score matching method in order to match each foreign firm with a comparable U.S. firm. We then show that foreign firms generally have a lower GOV index, so that they give less power to minority shareholders, than if they were U.S. firms. We define the governance gap to be the difference between the governance index of a foreign firm and the governance index of a comparable U.S. firm. A firm with a positive governance gap has a higher value of the GOV index than its matching U.S. firm. Only 12.7% of foreign firms have a positive governance gap. Strikingly, 86.1% of these firms come from Canada and the U.K., so that firms from countries with similar investor protection as in the U.S. are the ones that are the most likely to invest more in governance than comparable U.S. firms. Such a result is inconsistent with the hypothesis that investor protection and internal governance mechanisms are substitutes.
Having compared the governance of foreign and U.S. firms, we turn to the question of whether the governance gap helps explain a firm’s valuation. We find that the value of foreign firms is increasing in their GOV index. More importantly, perhaps, the lower the GOV index of a foreign firm compared to its matching U.S. firm, the lower the value of that foreign firm. We find that this result holds controlling for firm characteristics known to affect q and controlling for the endogeneity of the choice of governance mechanisms.
If firm-level governance is more costly for foreign firms than for U.S. firms, we expect that the foreign firms comparable to the U.S. firms that benefit the most from investing in internal governance will find it optimal to invest less in governance than matching U.S. firms do and will suffer a loss of value as a result. We can therefore use regression analysis to investigate whether a foreign firm’s q is negatively related to the governance index value it would have in the U.S. We find that this is the case. Such a coefficient is not subject to an endogeneity bias because we are measuring the governance of a U.S. firm and the valuation of a foreign firm.
In addition to investigating the value relevance of differences in the aggregate governance index between foreign firms and comparable U.S. firms, we also consider the value relevance of specific governance provisions. We focus on provisions that have attracted considerable attention in the literature and among policymakers. We find that firms that have an independent board, auditors that are ratified annually, and an audit committee comprised solely of outsiders, have a higher value when their U.S. matching firm has these governance attributes. In contrast, neither board size nor separation of the chairman and CEO functions are value relevant.
In a paper entitled Has New York Become Less Competitive in Global Markets? Evaluating Foreign Listing Choices Over Time, Craig Doidge, G. Andrew Karolyi, and I show that Sarbanes-Oxley (“SOX”) cannot be blamed for the decrease in foreign listings on the New York Stock Exchange and NASDAQ. A recent revision of the paper, posted here, provides additional supporting evidence for our conclusions. Before reviewing that additional evidence, I summarize the main results of the paper below.
A popular explanation for the decrease in foreign listings on the exchanges in New York is that the passage of SOX has made U.S. listings significantly less attractive to foreign companies–so much so, it is argued, that many listed firms would delist and deregister if it were easy to do so. (That explanation, among others, is set forth in a recent report entitled Sustaining New York’s and the US’s Global Financial Services Leadership, prepared for Senator Charles Schumer of New York.) The argument is that SOX makes a U.S. listing less advantageous because it imposes severe costs on companies and their managers, especially through the compliance requirements of Section 404. (Section 404 aims to reduce the market impact of accounting “errors” by assuring effective management control over reporting; and, in turn, creates significant legal exposure for companies as well as executives.)
For this popular explanation to be correct, it would have to be that firms that would have chosen to list in the U.S. before SOX are no longer willing to do so. Our paper shows that:
In the weekend edition of the Wall Street Journal, Jonathan Macey (deputy dean at Yale Law School) embarked on an assault on SOX in an article entitled What Sarbox Wrought. He describes the Act as an “intrusive, circulatory and duplicative grab-bag of rules” and concludes that, because of the adoption of SOX, it is “now fashionable for issuers to avoid U.S. markets.”Put aside that there is evidence suggesting that companies are moving overseas because of the improved quality of foreign trading markets–something one would think would win accolades from those who rely so extensively on market solutions. Put aside that the decline in IPOs in the US predated the adoption of SOX and that some evidence suggests that the percentage is again increasing.
The most interesting thing about the editorial is that the proposed solutions are not directly related to SOX at all. Macey dismisses recent efforts to decrease the costs of compliance with Section 404. Instead, he calls for a reduction in the “[m]assive litigation risks” and the underwriting fees that “are an order of magnitude higher in the U.S.” than elsewhere.
SOX did not increase underwriting fees, and the so-called “massive” litigation risk predated the Act (it was, after all, the impetus for the PSLRA). If anything, the data on the Stanford Securities site (and the opinions of Joe Grundfest) suggest that, in a post-SOX world, litigation risks (at least as measured by the number of securities suits filed) are declining (2006 had the lowest number of securities class action fraud suits filed since 1996). There is at least room to argue that independent audit committees and truly independent auditors have reduced the instances of mistake and fraud, causing a decline in litigation.