The Persistence and Pricing of Changes in Multinational Firms' Foreign Cash Holdings
Review of Accounting Studies Forthcoming
54 Pages Posted: 3 Jun 2019 Last revised: 17 Apr 2023
Date Written: December 6, 2021
Using a hand-collected sample of U.S. multinational firms’ foreign and domestic cash holdings, we evaluate the earnings persistence implications of changes in foreign and domestic cash and whether stock prices reflect such implications. Building on the earnings decomposition approach in Dechow, Richardson, and Sloan (2008), we find that, in the overall sample, changes in foreign cash are as persistent for future earnings as changes in domestic cash. In the cross-section, we find that foreign cash changes have higher persistence when foreign operations offer better growth opportunities and when repatriation taxes are lower. We then examine whether investors correctly price the persistence implications of foreign and domestic cash changes. We find a positive association between current foreign cash changes and one-year-ahead stock returns, suggesting that investors underreact to foreign cash changes, or equivalently, underestimate the earnings persistence of foreign cash changes. We further document that investors are more likely to misprice foreign cash changes when information processing costs are higher and when firms have poorer information environments. Our study sheds light on a recent paper, Harford, Wang, and Zhang (2017), who find that investors discount foreign cash changes, which they attribute to agency costs and investment inefficiencies. Our findings suggest that the discount is more likely due to investor mispricing of foreign cash changes.
Keywords: U.S. multinational firms, Foreign cash holdings, Earnings persistence, Investor mispricing
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