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date: 10 December 2022

Governance by Persuasion: Hedge Fund Activism and Market-Based Shareholder Influencelocked

Governance by Persuasion: Hedge Fund Activism and Market-Based Shareholder Influencelocked

  • Alon Brav, Alon BravFuqua School of Business, Duke University; NBER; ECGI
  • Wei JiangWei JiangColumbia Business School, Columbia University; NBER; ECGI
  •  and Rongchen LiRongchen LiColumbia Business School, Columbia University

Summary

Hedge fund activism refers to the phenomenon where hedge fund investors acquire a strict minority block of shares in a target firm and then attempt to pressure management for changes in corporate policies and governance with the aim to improve firm performance. This study provides an updated empirical analysis as well as a comprehensive survey of the academic finance research on hedge fund activism. Beginning in the early 1990s, shareholder engagement by activist hedge funds has evolved to become both an investment strategy and a remedy for poor corporate governance. Hedge funds represent a group of highly incentivized, value-driven investors who are relatively free from regulatory and structural barriers that have constrained the monitoring by other external investors. While traditional institutional investors have taken actions ex-post to preserve value or contain observed damage (such as taking the “Wall Street Walk”), hedge fund activists target underperforming firms in order to unlock value and profit from the improvement. Activist hedge funds also differ from corporate raiders that operated in the 1980s, as they tend to accumulate minority equity stakes and do not seek direct control. As a result, activists must win support from fellow shareholders via persuasion and influence, representing a hybrid internal-external role in a middle-ground form of corporate governance.

Research on hedge fund activism centers on how it impacts the target company, its shareholders, other stakeholders, and the capital market as a whole. Opponents of hedge fund activism argue that activists focus narrowly on short-term financial performance, and such “short-termism” may be detrimental to the long-run value of target companies. The empirical evidence, however, supports the conclusion that interventions by activist hedge funds lead to improvements in target firms, on average, in terms of both short-term metrics, such as stock value appreciation, and long-term performance, including productivity, innovation, and governance. Overall, the evidence from the full body of the literature generally supports the view that hedge fund activism constitutes an important venue of corporate governance that is both influence-based and market-driven, placing activist hedge funds in a unique position to reduce the agency costs associated with the separation of ownership and control.

Subjects

  • Financial Economics
  • Law and Economics

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