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Title: Beyond short-termism : effective regulatory and financial industry reform for sustainable long-term investment in publicly listed companies
Author: Willey, Kim
ISNI:       0000 0004 7661 1414
Awarding Body: University of Cambridge
Current Institution: University of Cambridge
Date of Award: 2019
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This thesis examines responses to the problem of stock market short-termism ('SMST'). SMST is defined as investors preferring short-term financial returns over potentially more profitable longer-term investment opportunities. Such short-termism may result in serious real-world consequences. Company executives appear to respond to short-term pressures in ways that jeopardize the long-term sustainability of listed companies negatively impacting investors and other stakeholders including employees, customers and the community at large. This thesis provides an original contribution to the academic literature via an in-depth examination of all significant regulatory and financial industry efforts meant to reform SMST in major capital markets after the global financial crisis of 2007-2009. I hypothesize that the extensive discussion of the SMST issue has generated substantial reforms. Based on an analysis of the implemented reforms, I reveal that the anticipated surge of SMST reform has not occurred. I then explore why the widespread SMST discussion has not resulted in greater reform efforts. This examination reveals the complex nature of the SMST problem and the evidentiary issues inherent in viably identifying and measuring the harms of SMST. However, I determine that there is probable cause for concern justifying SMST reform measures. Further, I conclude that SMST issues arise because investors are biased towards short-term returns when calculating risk. This bias is evident in share pricing, meaning that share prices are not a reliable indicator of fundamental corporate value. Based on this conclusion, an original dual pathway for SMST reform is proposed. This dual pathway indicates that SMST reform measures must either: (1) reduce the actual or perceived excessive discounting of future returns by investors (i.e. make share prices better reflective of long-term value); or (2) cut-off the transmission mechanisms of SMST into the listed company (i.e. sever the link between share prices and corporate decision-making). Assessing the reforms against this dual pathway reveals that few of the reforms are conceptually effective. Of the few reforms that are conceptually effective, most are relatively 'light' touch. A 'light' touch approach may not be problematic, however, as such measures are easier to implement than 'hard' law. In the case of regulatory reforms, a 'light' touch approach provides scope for flexibility to minimize the many potential harms associated with 'hard' law measures. Consequently, this thesis concludes that SMST reform is more likely to occur if reformers pursue a 'lighter' touch approach meant to reduce excessive discounting of future returns and 'nudge' capital markets away from their harmful short-termism focus.
Supervisor: Cheffins, Brian Sponsor: Not available
Qualification Name: Thesis (Ph.D.) Qualification Level: Doctoral
Keywords: short-termism ; corporate law and governance ; listed companies ; shareholders ; financial intermediaries ; company managers ; boards of directors ; agency costs ; corporate governance reform ; efficient capital market hypothesis ; hard law ; soft law ; light touch regulation