Using a system of equations model, we analyze how cash flow shocks influence the investment and financing decisions of shipping firms in different economic environments. Even financially healthy shipping firms felt strong negative effects on their financing activities during the recent crisis. These firms were nevertheless able to increase long-term debt. Banks internalized the impact of foreclosure decisions on vessel prices and avoided an industry-wide collateral channel effect. Even during benign economic conditions, financially weak shipping firms underinvest because of their inability to raise sufficient external capital. The substitution between long- and short-term debt during the pre-2008 crisis periods shows that the composition of financing sources is more indicative of whether firms face financial constraints than the pure size of the financing-cash flow sensitivities. An analysis of firms’ excess cash holdings confirms the importance of financial flexibility.
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We examine the role of a country's institutional framework for investment and financing activities. A country's financial structure, investor rights, and legal environment are important determinants of the relation between cash flow and firms’ investment and financing behavior. Firms from countries with a stronger institutional framework exhibit higher financing-cash flow sensitivities. These firms are more likely to substitute a cash flow shortfall with issuing equity. Conversely, investment-cash flow sensitivities are higher for firms in countries with a weaker institutional framework.
We examine differences in the allocation of cash flow between Western European private and public firms. Public firms have a higher investment‐cash flow sensitivity than comparable private firms. This difference is not attributable to more severe financing constraints of public firms. Instead, because differences in investment‐cash flow sensitivities are only observed for the unexpected portion of firms’ cash flow, the empirical evidence supports an agency‐based explanation. Similar patterns are observable for the expected and unexpected portion of firms’ shareholder distributions. Our results are driven by firms from countries with low ownership concentration and more liquid stock markets, where shareholders have lower incentives to monitor. The results are also more pronounced for public firms with low industry Tobin's q and high free cash flow, which are more prone to suffer from agency problems.
We analyze the zero-leverage phenomenon around the world. Countries with a common law system, high creditor protection, and a dividend imputation or dividend relief tax system exhibit the highest percentage of zero-leverage firms. The increasing prevalence of zero-leverage firms in all sample countries is related to market-wide forces during our sample period, such as IPO waves, shifts in industry composition, increasing asset volatility, and decreasing corporate tax rates. Firm-level comparisons reveal that only a small number of firms deliberately maintain zero-leverage. Most zero-leverage firms are constrained by their debt capacity. Analyzing the time-series dynamics of leverage and investment behavior, we further show that firms which pursue a zero-leverage policy only for a short period of time seek financial flexibility.