CEO’s Castles and Company Performance

Where are the Shareholders’ Mansions? CEOs’ Home Purchases, Stock Sales, and Subsequent Company Performance by Crocker H. Liu, Arizona State University and David Yermack, New York University – Stern School of Business

We study real estate purchases by major company CEOs, compiling a database of the principal residences of nearly every top executive in the Standard & Poor’s 500 index. When a CEO buys real estate, future company performance is inversely related to the CEO’s liquidation of company shares and options for financing the transaction. We also find that, regardless of the source of finance, future company performance deteriorates when CEOs acquire extremely large or costly mansions and estates. We therefore interpret large home acquisitions as signals of CEO entrenchment. Our research also provides useful insights for calibrating utility based models of executive compensation and for understanding patterns of Veblenian conspicuous consumption.

To understand better the reasons behind the underperformance of companies whose CEOs acquire very large homesteads, we read news stories about major events affecting the firms in our sample in which a CEO acquires a property with at least 10 acres or a 10,000 square foot house. These news stories suggest parallels between the CEOs’ oversight of their personal assets and management of their companies. No less than nine of the 25 CEOs attempted major corporate acquisitions in the two years following their personal acquisitions of very large real estate,9 and seven of the 25 announced significant capital investment initiatives involving the construction or expansion of corporate facilities. An additional two firms became mired in accounting scandals shortly after their CEOs purchased mansions, and one firm saw a previously agreed merger collapse.

Using a database of principal residences of company CEOs, we study whether these executives’ decisions about home ownership contain information useful for predicting the future path of their companies’ stock prices. We find that CEOs who acquire extremely large properties exhibit inferior ex post stock performance, a result consistent with large mansions and estates being proxies for CEO entrenchment. We also find that the method of financing a home’s acquisition is informative about future stock returns. A general pattern of CEO sales of their firms’ shares and options exists over the twelve months leading up to the date of home acquisition. However, when the CEO does not sell any shares, his stock performs significantly better ex post than the stocks of firms whose CEOs do liquidate equity to finance their houses. The retention of company shares simultaneous with a new home purchase, despite the presence of an evident personal liquidity need, appears to send a signal of commitment by a CEO to his company.

That we put in power CEO’s that see themselves as nobility with the right to build castles (and many of these CEO castles dwarf all but the most conspicuous castle built by nobility) by taking the wealth produced by others from corporate coffers is a sign of our failure to select acceptable leaders for companies.

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3 thoughts on “CEO’s Castles and Company Performance

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