Overselling Corporate Social Responsibility
Financial Management, forthcoming
Posted: 30 Aug 2023
Date Written: August 28, 2023
We show that firms hype up their corporate social responsibility (CSR) narratives during the turn-of-the-year earnings conference calls to project an overly responsible public image of their firms. This previously unexplored phenomenon does not appear to be related to past, current, and future CSR engagements and cannot be explained by observed time-varying firm attributes and unobserved time-invariant firm and CEO attributes. We find that the fourth-quarter CSR narrative hike is more pronounced among firms that are (ex ante) expected to do more corporate good as well as firms embedded in dirty industries, but less prevalent among firms facing elevated product-market threats. Although elevated CSR narrative is associated with positive short-term market reaction and lower near-term stock price crash risk, such behavior tends to reduce financial report readability and leads to lower equity valuation in the longer term. Our analyses suggest that CSR narrative hike at the turn-of-the-year is a pervasive phenomenon in the corporate landscape and may have valuation and governance implications.
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