NATIONAL BUREAU OF ECONOMIC RESEARCH
NATIONAL BUREAU OF ECONOMIC RESEARCH

CEO Investment Cycles

Yihui Pan, Tracy Yue Wang, Michael S. Weisbach

NBER Working Paper No. 19330
Issued in August 2013
NBER Program(s):   AP   CF

This paper documents the existence of a CEO Investment Cycle, in which firms disinvest early in a CEO’s tenure and increase investment subsequently, leading to “cyclical” firm growth in assets as well as in employment over CEO tenure. The CEO investment cycle occurs for both firings and non-performance related CEO turnovers, and for CEOs with different relationships with the firm prior to becoming CEO. The magnitude of the CEO cycle is substantial: The estimated difference in investment rate between the first three years of a CEO’s tenure and subsequent years is approximately 6 to 8 percentage points, which is of the same order of magnitude as the differences caused by other factors known to affect investment, such as business cycles or financial constraints. We present a variety of tests suggesting that this investment cycle is best explained by a combination of agency-based theories: Early in his tenure the CEO disinvests poorly performing assets that his predecessor established and was unwilling to give up on. Subsequently, the CEO overinvests when he gains more control over his board. There is no evidence that the investment cycles occur because of shifting CEO skill or productivity shocks. Overall, the results imply that public corporations’ investments deviate substantially from the first-best, and that governance-related factors internal to the firm are as important as economy-wide factors in explaining firms’ investments.

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Document Object Identifier (DOI): 10.3386/w19330

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