A long look at short-termism

That is the title of a working study from Credit Suisse (pdf), here is one excerpt:

The problem is that short-termism is very difficult to prove. As we will see, many of the common perceived symptoms of short-termism don’t hold up to scrutiny, and there are some legitimate reasons for the shortening of time horizons. While there remains plenty of room for improvement, especially when it comes to incentives, the issue of short-termism deserves more care than it has received in the popular discourse. With little exception, the debate appears to be very one-sided.

Here is another good bit of many:

Were compensation the simple root of the problem, then correction through regulation or other market forces would be relatively straightforward. But a link between pay and termism is difficult to establish. Academic research shows that CEO pay has closely followed the size of the firms in the economy independent of the form of remuneration. Further, executive compensation has moved toward long term incentives, boards of directors are more independent than in the past, and governance committees are “nearly universal.” Reviewing the challenges of conclusively demonstrating short-termism, one scholar wrote, “[I am] aware of no empirical evidence establishing that executive pay term is inadequately focused on long-term performance from either a shareholder or societal perspective, systematically.”


To summarize, a proper test of short-termism should address the micro-macro problem by relying on the outcome of the market pricing process rather than the views of individuals. While many constituents feel the market is short-term oriented—a feeling that has been expressed through the decades—asset prices don’t support this sense.

In fact there is a good deal of evidence that the sectors which require the most long-term attention attract investors and boards who understand that need.  Here is my previous post on this issue.

For the pointer I thank Michael Mauboussin.


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