Corporate Governance, Debt, and Investment Policy during the Great Depression
Management Science, 57(12), pp. 2083–2100 (2011)
33 Pages Posted: 20 Mar 2008 Last revised: 13 Sep 2019
Date Written: December 2011
We study a period of severe disequilibrium to investigate whether board characteristics are related to corporate investment, debt usage, and firm value. During the 1920s and the post-Depression years, we find no relation between firm performance and board attributes. During the 1930-1938 Depression era, when the corporate sector was shocked by an unprecedented downturn, we document a relation between board characteristics and firm performance that varies in economically sensible ways: Complex firms (that would benefit more from board advice) exhibit a positive relation between board size and firm value, and simple firms exhibit a negative relation between board size and firm value (consistent with the benefits of larger boards for simple firms being offset by increased costs). Simple firms with large boards also invest more (or shrink less) and use more debt (or reduce debt less) during the 1930s. Companies with properly aligned governance structures are also more likely to replace the company president following poor performance. We document similar effects for the number of outside directors on the board. The results are consistent with agency problems existing in simple firms with large boards during the Depression, and these firms not downsizing adequately in response to a severe economic contraction.
Keywords: Corporate Governance, Capital Structure, Investment Policy, Great Depression, Firm Stock Market Value
JEL Classification: G31, G32, G34
Suggested Citation: Suggested Citation