The rise in quarterly capitalism in corporate America—increased pressure to meet quarterly earnings predictions and cater to shareholder preferences for short-term returns—has gained significant coverage in the business world and popular press in recent years. Increasingly, popular opinion suggests that firms bow to shareholder pressures, taking steps to smooth earnings and boost share prices in the short-term; firms do so by cutting Research and Development (R&D) investment, engaging in extensive cost-cutting, or increasing dividends and share buybacks. Recent estimates at the industry level show that investor discount rates have increased in recent years, supporting the notion that shorttermism is on the rise. However, we do not have evidence at the firm level documenting whether and how market discounting is changing over time or how such discounting differs between firms according to firm behavior and characteristics. A recent article by Sampson and Shi estimates market discounting at the firm level as a proxy for investor time horizons, which not only reveals how time horizons have changed but also how they vary between firms. Below, we discuss some observations on changing investor behavior, followed by a review of the evidence presented by Sampson and Shi. We conclude with a brief evaluation of why increased market discounting suggests that investor time horizons are shortening as well as what this means for firms.
Rachelle Sampson and Yuan Shi, Are Investor Time Horizons Shortening?, 41 SEATTLE U. L. REV. 543 (2018).