Executive Pay Disparity and the Cost of Equity Capital
The Harvard Law School Forum on Corporate Governance and Financial Regulation 2013-09-15
In our paper, Executive Pay Disparity and the Cost of Equity Capital, forthcoming in the Journal of Financial and Quantitative Analysis, we investigate the association between executive pay disparity and the cost of equity capital. Understanding the association is important because the cost of capital is one of the key considerations for managers in their capital budgeting and corporate financing decisions. In fact, the cost of capital is a more direct yardstick of corporate investment and financing decisions than firm valuation. A higher cost of capital means fewer positive net present value (NPV) projects, leading to fewer growth opportunities. In addition, the cost of capital summarizes an investor’s risk-return tradeoff in his resource allocation decision (Pástor, Sinha, and Swaminathan (2008)).
In general, there are two perspectives on executive pay disparity. The tournament perspective views the large pay gap between the CEO and other executives as the prize for a tournament in which players compete for the CEO position (Lazear and Rosen (1981); Kale, Reis, and Venkateswaran (2009)). A large pay disparity motivates non-CEO senior executives to work hard and to invest in firm-specific human capital. This, in turn, helps build a large pool of skilled internal candidates for the CEO position. The availability of skilled internal candidates not only reduces the entrenchment of the incumbent CEO by increasing the bargaining power of the board, but also reduces CEO succession risk. Therefore, this perspective predicts a negative association between executive pay disparity and the cost of capital.