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Profitable Investments or Dissipated Cash?: Evidence on the Investment-Cash Flow Relationship From Oil and Gas Lease Bidding

  • Marianne Bertrand
  • Sendhil Mullainathan

Both agency- and non-agency-based interpretations have been proposed to explain the strong positive empirical relationship between corporate cash flow and corporate investment. In this paper, we attempt to distinguish between these different interpretations using project-level data in the oil and gas industry. The specific projects we consider are mineral exploration leases on tracts of land. The standard positive relationship between investment and cash flow holds for these projects, in that we find that positive shocks to residual cash flow (netting out firm and time effects) are associated with higher spending on these projects. Interestingly, the increased investment comes from an increase in the price paid per tract with little to no change in the total number of tracts or total acreage of land bought. The positive association between price and cash flow holds even after controlling for a set of tract and firm characteristics that might be ex-ante related to expected return on a given tract. This data is most useful, however, because we can directly observe the eventual productivity of the projects undertaken. We find that the variation in bid price induced by higher cash flow is, if anything, negatively related to tract productivity. More importantly, the overall number of productive tracts does not increase with the cash flow in the year these tracts were bought. In other words, while higher cash flow is associated with higher spending on these projects, higher cash flow does not lead to higher revenues from these projects. Combining this finding with the lack of a quantity response, we conclude that our results are best described by an agency model where managers use cash flow to simplify their job (or live a “quiet life”) rather than “empire-build. ”

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Paper provided by Harvard - Institute of Economic Research in its series Harvard Institute of Economic Research Working Papers with number 2063.

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Date of creation: 2005
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Handle: RePEc:fth:harver:2063
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  1. Rob Porter, 1999. "Empirical Implications of Equilibrium Bidding in First-Price, Symmetric, Common Value Auctions," Working papers 99-19, Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT), Department of Economics.
  2. Jensen, Michael C, 1986. "Agency Costs of Free Cash Flow, Corporate Finance, and Takeovers," American Economic Review, American Economic Association, vol. 76(2), pages 323-29, May.
  3. Timothy Erickson & Toni M. Whited, 2000. "Measurement Error and the Relationship between Investment and q," Journal of Political Economy, University of Chicago Press, vol. 108(5), pages 1027-1057, October.
  4. Daniel Kahneman & Dan Lovallo, 1993. "Timid Choices and Bold Forecasts: A Cognitive Perspective on Risk Taking," Management Science, INFORMS, vol. 39(1), pages 17-31, January.
  5. Kaplan, Steven N & Zingales, Luigi, 1997. "Do Investment-Cash Flow Sensitivities Provide Useful Measures of Financing Constraints," The Quarterly Journal of Economics, MIT Press, vol. 112(1), pages 169-215, February.
  6. Steven Fazzari & R. Glenn Hubbard & Bruce C. Petersen, 1987. "Financing Constraints and Corporate Investment," NBER Working Papers 2387, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
  7. Caballero, Ricardo J., 1999. "Aggregate investment," Handbook of Macroeconomics, in: J. B. Taylor & M. Woodford (ed.), Handbook of Macroeconomics, edition 1, volume 1, chapter 12, pages 813-862 Elsevier.
  8. Hyun-Han Shin & René M. Stulz, 1998. "Are Internal Capital Markets Efficient?," The Quarterly Journal of Economics, MIT Press, vol. 113(2), pages 531-552, May.
  9. Ulrike Malmendier & Geoffrey Tate, 2005. "CEO Overconfidence and Corporate Investment," Journal of Finance, American Finance Association, vol. 60(6), pages 2661-2700, December.
  10. Marianne Bertrand & Esther Duflo & Sendhil Mullainathan, 2004. "How Much Should We Trust Differences-in-Differences Estimates?," The Quarterly Journal of Economics, MIT Press, vol. 119(1), pages 249-275, February.
  11. Marianne Bertrand & Sendhil Mullainathan, 2003. "Enjoying the Quiet Life? Corporate Governance and Managerial Preferences," Journal of Political Economy, University of Chicago Press, vol. 111(5), pages 1043-1075, October.
  12. Hendricks, Kenneth & Porter, Robert H, 1996. "The Timing and Incidence of Exploratory Drilling on Offshore Wildcat Tracts," American Economic Review, American Economic Association, vol. 86(3), pages 388-407, June.
  13. Aydogan Alti, 2003. "How Sensitive Is Investment to Cash Flow When Financing Is Frictionless?," Journal of Finance, American Finance Association, vol. 58(2), pages 707-722, 04.
  14. J B Heaton, 2002. "Managerial Optimism and Corporate Finance," Financial Management, Financial Management Association, vol. 31(2), Summer.
  15. Owen Lamont, 1996. "Cash Flow and Investment: Evidence from Internal Capital Markets," NBER Working Papers 5499, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
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