Shareholder value orientation, corporate cash policies and the myth of financial accumulation

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University of the Witwatersrand, Johannesburg
Southern Centre for Inequality Studies (SCIS)
Financialisation scholars argue that the growing financial balance sheets of non-financial corporations indicate a “financial turn in accumulation” driven by the rise of shareholder value orientation (SVO). In this paper I test whether greater shareholder influence or shareholder-aligning managerial incentives can explain the more rapid accumulation of financial assets among non-financial corporations (NFCs) in the United States of America (USA). I find that shareholder power is associated with some increase in short-term financial assets – but only in the case of certain shareholder types, in particular, high-turnover institutional investors. The magnitudes of the effect are small, however, and only pertain to smaller firms. Moreover, ownership concentration by these impatient investor types is declining. The results suggest that changing corporate governance patterns have little capacity to explain balance sheet financialisation. I argue that mainstream accounts focused on the precautionary savings of new research-intensive firms and tax arbitrage among multinationals offer a better explanation for growing financial balances than the financial accumulation hypothesis. Neither of these implies a substitution of financial for real investment, which calls into question an important mechanism thought to connect financialisation to secular stagnation and rising inequality.
Financialisation, Non-financial corporations (NFCs), Shareholder Value Orientation (SVO), Short-term financial assets