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Ran Duchin

Professor of Finance and Business Economics

William A. Fowler Endowed Professor

Foster School of Business

University of Washington

Box 353226

Seattle, WA 98195-3226

Phone: (206) 543-4377


Author Page on SSRN




Curriculum Vitae (PDF)




Main Publications/Forthcoming Papers


(Please Note: Links take you to the SSRN page for the paper)



Spillovers inside Conglomerates: Incentives and Capital (with Amir Goldberg and Denis Sosyura)


                Review of Financial Studies, forthcoming



Using hand-collected data on divisional managers at S&P 1500 firms, we study how changes in one divisional manager’s compensation affect the compensation of other divisional managers inside the same conglomerate.  An increase in a manager’s pay driven by an industry shock generates large positive intra-firm spillovers on the pay of other divisional managers. These spillovers operate only within firm boundaries and are non-existent for the same industry pairs in standalone firms. The intra-firm spillovers are stronger when managers share social networks, suggesting that informal interactions facilitate peer effects.  The intra-firm convergence in executive pay is associated with weaker governance and lower firm value. Overall, we provide evidence on corporate socialism in executive pay. 


Precautionary Savings with Risky Assets: When Cash Is Not Cash (with Thomas Gilbert, Jarrad Harford, and Chris Hrdlicka)


                Journal of Finance, forthcoming


We study the investment securities that make up corporate cash holdings. Exploiting the 2009 accounting standard SFAS No. 157, which requires firms to report the composition and fair value of their financial instruments, we hand-collect detailed data on firms’ investment securities and assess their risk. Our estimates show that, on average, the value of risky securities is 27% of that of corporate cash holdings and 6% of total book assets. Contrary to the precautionary savings motive, risky security investments are concentrated in firms traditionally thought to have a high demand for precautionary savings that operate in the Technology and Health industries and have volatile cash flow and high Tobin’s Q. Our evidence is consistent with a speculative motive for holding cash, which is particularly strong in firms with “excess” or “trapped” cash reserves that pay managers with stock options. We also find that risky security investments imply greater systematic risk (beta) but lower risk-adjusted performance. The lack of positive alphas provides no evidence of managers creating value by speculating. 


Clouded Judgment: The Role of Sentiment in Credit Origination (with Kristle Cortés and Denis Sosyura)



 Journal of Financial Economics, forthcoming


Using daily fluctuations in local sunshine as an instrument for sentiment, we study its effect on day-to-day decisions of lower-level financial officers. Positive sentiment is associated with higher credit approvals, and negative sentiment has the opposite effect of a larger magnitude. These effects are stronger when financial decisions require more discretion, when reviews are less automated, and when capital constraints are less binding. The variation in approval rates affects ex-post financial performance and produces significant real effects. Our analysis of the economic channels suggests that sentiment influences managers' risk tolerance and subjective judgment.







Looking in the Rear View Window: The Effect of Managers’ Professional Experience on Corporate Financial Policy (with Amy Dittmar)



Review of Financial Studies 29(3), 565-602 (2016)


We track the employment history of over 9,000 managers to study the effects of professional experiences on corporate policies. Our identification strategy exploits exogenous CEO turnovers and employment in other firms. Firms run by CEOs who experienced distress have less debt, save more cash, and invest less than other firms, with stronger effects in poorly governed firms. Past experience has a stronger influence when it is more recent, occurs during salient periods of a managers’ career, or is associated with a negative rather than a positive outcome. We find similar effects on debt and cash, but not investment, for CFOs. The results suggest that policies vary with managers’ experiences and throughout their careers.





Peer Effects in Risk Aversion and Trust (with Kenneth Ahern and Tyler Shumway)



Review of Financial Studies 27(11), 3213-3240 (2014)


Existing evidence shows that risk aversion and trust are largely determined by environmental factors. We test whether one such factor is peer influence. Using random assignment of MBA students to peer groups and predetermined survey responses of economic attitudes, we find causal evidence of positive peer effects in risk aversion and no effects in trust. After the first year of the MBA program, the difference between an individual and her peers’ average risk aversion is only 41% as large as the difference was before starting the MBA. Finding no peer effects in trust is consistent with recent research showing that distinct cognitive processes govern risk aversion and trust.




Safer Ratios, Riskier Portfolios: Banks’ Response to Government Aid (with Denis Sosyura)


Journal of Financial Economics 113, 1-28 (2014)


Lead Article


Winner of research grant from Yale University Millstein Center for Corporate Governance, 2010


We study the effect of government assistance on bank risk taking. Using hand-collected data on bank applications for government assistance under the Troubled Asset Relief Program (TARP), we investigate the effect of both application approvals and denials. To distinguish banks’ risk taking behavior from changes in economic conditions, we control for the volume and quality of credit demand based on micro-level data on home mortgages and corporate loans. Our difference-in-difference analysis indicates that banks make riskier loans and shift investment portfolios toward riskier securities after being approved for government assistance. However, this shift in risk occurs mostly within the same asset class and, therefore, remains undetected by the closely-monitored capitalization levels, which indicate an improved capital position at approved banks. Consequently, these banks appear safer according to regulatory ratios, but show a significant increase in volatility and default risk.



Cash Flow Hedging and Liquidity Choices (with David Disatnik and Breno Schmidt)


Review of Finance 18(2), 715-748(2014)


Winner of the 2010 Teva Award for research in corporate finance and financial markets


This paper studies the interaction between corporate hedging and liquidity policies. We present a theoretical model that shows how corporate hedging facilitates greater reliance on cost-effective, externally-provided liquidity in lieu of internal resources. We test the model's predictions by employing a new empirical approach that separates cash flow hedging from other hedging instruments. Using detailed, hand-collected data, we find that cash flow hedging reduces the firm’s precautionary demand for cash and allows it to rely more on bank lines of credit. Furthermore, we find a significant positive effect of cash flow hedging on firm value, where prior evidence is mixed.



Divisional Managers and Internal Capital Markets (with Denis Sosyura)


Journal of Finance 68, 387-429 (2013)


Lead Article


Using hand-collected data on divisional managers at the S&P 500 firms, we provide one of the first studies of their role in capital budgeting. Divisional managers with social connections to the CEO receive more capital. Connections to the CEO outweigh measures of managers’ formal influence, such as seniority and board membership, and affect both managerial appointments and capital allocations. The effect of connections on investment efficiency depends on the tradeoff between agency and information asymmetry. Under weak governance, connections reduce investment efficiency and firm value via favoritism. Under high information asymmetry, connections increase efficiency and value via information transfer.


Riding the Merger Wave: Uncertainty, Reduced Monitoring, and Bad Acquisitions (with Breno Schmidt)

Journal of Financial Economics 107, 69-88 (2013)


We show that acquisitions initiated during periods of high merger activity (‘‘merger waves’’) are accompanied by poorer quality of analysts’ forecasts, greater uncertainty, and weaker CEO turnover-performance sensitivity. These conditions imply reduced monitoring and lower penalties for initiating inefficient mergers. Therefore, merger waves may foster agency-driven behavior, which, along with managerial herding, could lead to worse mergers. Consistent with this hypothesis, we find that the average long-term performance of acquisitions initiated during merger waves is significantly worse. We also find that corporate governance of in-wave acquirers is weaker, suggesting that agency problems may be present in merger wave acquisitions. 



The Politics of Government Investment (with Denis Sosyura)


Journal of Financial Economics 106, 24-48 (2012)


            Best Paper Award in Corporate Finance at the Asian Finance Association
            Annual Conference, 2010


Best Paper Award in Banking at La Trobe Finance and Governance
            Conference, 2010


This paper investigates the relation between corporate political connections and government investment. We study various forms of political influence, ranging from passive connections between firms and politicians, such as those based on politicians’ voting districts, to active forms, such as lobbying, campaign contributions, and employment of connected directors. Using hand-collected data on firm applications for TARP funds, we find that politically connected firms are more likely to be funded, controlling for other characteristics. Yet investments in politically connected firms underperform those in unconnected firms. Overall, we show that connections between firms and regulators are associated with distortions in investment efficiency.



Cash Holdings and Corporate Diversification


Journal of Finance 65, 955-992 (2010)


This paper studies the relation between corporate liquidity and diversification. A key finding is that multi-division firms hold significantly less cash than standalone firms because they are diversified in their investment opportunities. Lower cross-divisional correlations in investment opportunity and smaller gaps between investment opportunity and cash flow correspond to lower cash holdings, even after controlling for cash-flow volatility. The effects are strongest in financially constrained firms and in well-governed firms, and correspond to efficient fund transfers from low- to high-productivity divisions. Taken together, these results bring forth an efficient link between diversification in investment opportunity and corporate liquidity.




When Are Outside Directors Effective? (with John G. Matsusaka and Oguzhan Ozbas)


Journal of Financial Economics 96, 195-214 (2010)


This paper uses recent regulations that have required some companies to increase the number of outside directors on their boards to generate estimates of the effect of board independence on performance that are largely free from endogeneity problems. Our main finding is that the effectiveness of outside directors depends on the cost of acquiring information about the firm: when the cost of acquiring information is low, performance increases when outsiders are added to the board, and when the cost of information is high, performance worsens when outsiders are added to the board. The estimates provide some of the cleanest estimates to date that board independence matters, and the finding that board effectiveness depends on information cost supports a nascent theoretical literature emphasizing information asymmetry. We also find that firms compose their boards as if they understand that outsider effectiveness varies with information costs.


Costly External Finance, Corporate Investment, and the Subprime Mortgage Credit Crisis (with Oguzhan Ozbas and Berk Sensoy)


Journal of Financial Economics 97, 418-435 (2010)


We study the effect of the financial crisis that began in August 2007 on corporate investment. The crisis represents an unexplored negative shock to the supply of external finance for non-financial firms. We find that corporate investment declines significantly following the onset of the crisis, controlling for firm fixed effects and time-varying measures of investment opportunities. Consistent with a causal effect of a supply shock, the decline is greatest for firms that have low cash reserves or high net short-term debt, are financially constrained, or operate in industries dependent on external finance. To address concerns about the endogeneity of firms’ finances to changes in investment opportunities, we measure these financial positions as much as four years prior to the crisis and confirm that we do not find similar results following placebo crises in the summers of 2003-2006. We also do not find similar results following the negative demand shock caused by the events of September 11. These effects weaken considerably beginning in the third quarter of 2008, when the demand-side effects of the crisis became apparent, suggesting that supply constraints may no longer have been binding. Additional analysis suggests an important precautionary savings motive for seemingly excess cash that has not been emphasized in the literature.







Disagreement, Portfolio Optimization and Excess Volatility (with Moshe Levy)


Journal of Financial and Quantitative Analysis 45, 623-640 (2010)


A central task facing investors who believe in market efficiency is that of portfolio optimization. As it is far from obvious how to best estimate the ex-ante expected returns and covariances, it is quite plausible that investors would hold different beliefs regarding these parameters, and that the degree of disagreement about the parameters may change over time. Levy, Levy and Benita (2006) have shown that in the portfolio context disagreement regarding the expected returns does not affect asset prices. In this paper we study the pricing effects of disagreement regarding return variances. We show that disagreement about variances has systematic and significant pricing effects. Even if the average belief about the variance is constant, tiny fluctuations in the disagreement about the variance lead to substantial price fluctuations. This result may offer an explanation for the excess volatility puzzle: small changes in the degree of disagreement are very likely to occur, and they induce relatively large price changes. Yet, the changes in disagreement may be hard to directly detect empirically, leading to apparent “excess volatility”. 





 Selected Working Papers



Political Influence and Government Investment: Evidence from Contract-Level Data (with Jonathan Brogaard and Matthew Denes), 2016


We use contract-level data to study the effect of corporate political influence on the allocation, design, and real outcomes of government contracts. To isolate the treatment effect of political influence, we focus on campaign contributions in close elections and the 2009 American Recovery and Reinvestment Act. Firms with political influence win more contracts, with larger amounts, weaker competition, and looser oversight, and successfully renegotiate contract terms. While preferred access to government contracts improves performance and output, contractual laxity exacerbates agency problems and erodes efficiency. Overall, we provide estimates of the dual effect of political influence on firm outcomes. 


Dissecting Conglomerates (with Oliver Boguth and Mikhail Simutin), 2016


We develop a method to calculate valuation multiples of conglomerate divisions that does not rely on standalone firms. These valuations differ considerably from commonly used industry multiples, and range across industries from deep discounts to large premiums relative to standalone _rms. Contrary to prior studies, conglomerate investment is highly sensitive to investment opportunities as measured by division multiples. Consistent with theory, non-core divisions and those in weak or capital-intensive industries have higher valuations, whereas divisions in innovative or competitive industries have lower valuations. Overall, we provide first estimates of intra-conglomerate multiples that shed new light on conglomerate investment and value. 



The Dynamics of Cash (with Amy Dittmar), 2011


Little is known about how firms manage cash policy over time. This paper fills this gap by examining if and how firms manage cash toward a target cash ratio. Estimating partial adjustment models of cash, we find that firms actively adjust their cash toward a target; however, the speed of adjustment is slow and there is large dispersion in the speed of adjustment across firms. We investigate the causes for this and find evidence consistent with the presence of adjustment costs. We also examine the implications of these results for previous interpretations of cross-sectional results. To do this, we simulate firms’ cash paths allowing for costly adjustment and find that the emerging patterns question the interpretation of some of the standard results in the empirical cash literature.



Portfolio Optimization and the Distribution of Firm Size (with Moshe Levy), 2010


In the context of portfolio optimization, a firm’s market capitalization reflects the optimal portfolio weight of the firm, and is determined by the return parameters. The empirical distribution of firms’ market capitalizations is in excellent agreement with the lognormal distribution. This distribution is very skewed: the largest firms are about 1000 times larger than the median firm. The empirical distribution of average returns is not nearly as skewed: the maximal average return is only about 6 times larger than the median average return. Can the empirical firm size distribution be consistent with mean-variance portfolio optimization with realistic return parameters? We show that the expected returns implied by the empirical firm size distribution and portfolio optimization are actually in very good agreement with the empirical average returns. Moreover, the portfolio optimization framework can provide a constructive explanation for the exact lognormal functional form empirically observed. Thus, portfolio optimization is not only consistent with the empirical lognormal size distribution, it can actually explain it.




Selected Media Coverage



"Banks with political ties got bailouts, study shows", Reuters

"Did the Banks’ Political Connections Drive TARP?", Wall Street Journal

“Banks With Political Ties Got Bailouts, Study Shows”, New York Times

"US Business Summary", Washington Post

"Missed Payments Vexing to Frank", Boston Globe

"TARP distribution shows political favoritism", San Francisco Examiner

"UM researchers say politics guided bank bailout allocations", Detroit Free Press

“Study: Politically-Connected Banks Were More Likely To Get Bailed Out”, Huffington Post

"Welcome to the Back-Scratching Economy",

"US banks with political ties got more bailouts", Press TV

"Banks with political ties got bailouts, study shows",

"Politics Played Major Role in Bailout Choices",

"Bailout Banks Make Riskier Loans: Study", Yahoo Finance

"Banks that Got TARP Money Issued Riskier Loans, Says Study", Barron's

"Banks Who Received Bailout Funding Made Riskier Loans and Investments: Study ", Huffington Post

"Wall Street’s resurgent prosperity frustrates its claims, and Obama’s", Washington Post

The Effect of Managers’ Professional Experience on Corporate Cash Holdings”, Harvard Law School Forum on Corporate Governance and Financial Regulation

“Divisional Managers and Internal Capital Markets”, Harvard Law School Forum on Corporate Governance and Financial Regulation

“Did the bailout Encourage Risk-Taking?”, Harvard Law School Forum on Corporate Governance and Financial Regulation