We examine the corporate cash holdings of listed shipping companies. Shipping firms hold more cash than similar firms in other asset-heavy industries. Higher cash holdings in the shipping industry are not attributable to firm- or country-level characteristics, but rather to the higher marginal value of cash. Shipping firms value an additional dollar of cash higher than matched manufacturing firms, regardless of their financial constraints status, but depending on their cultural background and the cyclicality of their expansion opportunities. Less procyclical shipping firms have a higher marginal value of cash, and this valuation effect is most pronounced in bad times of the business cycle when external capital supply tends to become scarce. Overall, it appears that shipping companies are more conservative than their peers in managing their cash positions.
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We show that business cycle dynamics and, in particular, the cyclicality of a firm’s growth opportunities, determine the value of corporate cash holdings. An additional dollar of cash is more valuable for firms with less procyclical expansion opportunities. This valuation effect is strongest for low leverage and high R&D firms, but is independent of their financial status. Corporate cash holdings provide the flexibility to invest for firms that have expansion opportunities during crisis times with business cycle downturns and supply-side financial constraints. Cash holdings in firms with less procyclical growth opportunities are associated with higher investment and better operating performance.