We measure the sensitivity of investment to changes in investment opportunities in the shipping industry, and test whether this relation is moderated by ownership concentration. For a sample of 126 globally listed shipping firms, we find that investment in commercial shipping follows freight rates, a measure of the potential income stream from owning a vessel. Ownership concentration, measured as the ownership stake of the largest shareholder, reinforces the positive effect of freight rates on investment, indicating a higher relative efficiency of capital allocation. The positive impact ownership has on the investment-freight rate sensitivity also translates into higher firm value. An analysis of investor identity shows that our results are driven by the group of firms where the largest owner is a financial investor, who is usually more focused on shareholder value maximization.
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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 examine the effect of economic policy uncertainty on the relation between investment and the cost of capital. Using the news-based index developed by Baker et al. (2016) for twenty-one countries, we find that the strength of the negative relation between investment and the cost of capital decreases during times of high economic policy uncertainty. An increase in policy uncertainty reduces the sensitivity of investment to the cost of capital most for firms operating in industries that depend strongly on government subsidies and government consumption as well as in countries with high state ownership. Consistent with the price informativeness channel, we find that an increase in policy uncertainty reduces the investment-cost of capital sensitivity for firms from more opaque countries, firms with low analyst coverage, firms with no credit rating, and small firms. We conclude that economic policy uncertainty distorts the fundamental relation between investment and the cost of capital.