Does CSR Matter in Times of Crisis? Evidence from the COVID-19 Pandemic
47 Pages Posted: 9 Nov 2020 Last revised: 27 Mar 2023
Date Written: December 1, 2020
The debate over how firm stakeholder engagement is tied to preserving shareholder wealth has received growing attention in recent years, especially in the wake of the COVID-19 crisis. Against this backdrop, we examine the relation between corporate social responsibility (CSR) and stock market returns during the COVID-19 pandemic-induced market crash and the post-crash recovery. Using a sample of 1,750 U.S. firms and two major sources of CSR ratings, we find no evidence that CSR affected stock returns during the crash period. This result is robust to various sensitivity tests. In additional cross-sectional analysis, we find some supporting evidence, albeit weak, that the relation between CSR and stock returns during the pandemic-related crisis is more positive when CSR is congruent with a firm’s institutional environment. We also find that Business Roundtable companies, which committed to protecting stakeholder interests prior to the pandemic, do not outperform during the pandemic crisis. We conclude that pre-crisis CSR is not effective at shielding shareholder wealth from the adverse effects of a crisis, suggesting a potential disconnect between firms’ CSR orientation (ratings) and actual actions. Our evidence suggests that investors can distinguish between genuine CSR and firms engaging in cheap talk.
Keywords: Stakeholder welfare vs. shareholder value; Corporate social responsibility; Stock return performance; COVID-19 crisis; Valuation channels
JEL Classification: G32; M14
Suggested Citation: Suggested Citation