Sheltering Corporate Assets from Political Extraction
We hypothesize that firms structure their asset holdings so as to shelter assets from extraction by politicians and bureaucrats. In countries where the threat of political extraction is higher, we hypothesize that firms hold a lower fraction of their assets in liquid form. Consistent with this conjecture, using data for over 30,000 firms across 109 countries, we find that corporate holdings of liquid assets are negatively correlated with measures of political corruption. Further, annual investment in property, plant, equipment, and inventory plus dividends is positively correlated with measures of political corruption suggesting that owners channel their cash into harder to extract assets. To the extent that the threat of political extraction moves firms away from their otherwise optimal levels of liquid assets, our findings suggest that the threat of political extraction may reduce economic development not only through the direct costs of political payoffs, but also because the potential for asset extraction moves firms away from their otherwise optimal asset holdings.
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