Research / BFI Working PaperSep 17, 2019

Punish One, Teach A Hundred: The Sobering Effect of Punishment on the Unpunished

Francesco D'Acunto, Michael Weber, Jin Xie

Direct experience of a peer’s punishment might make non-punished peers reassess the probability and consequences of facing punishment and hence induce a change in their behavior. We test this mechanism in a setting, China, in which we observe the reactions to the same peer’s punishment by listed firms with different incentives to react – state-owned enterprises (SOEs) and non-SOEs. After observing peers punished for wrongdoing in loan guarantees to related parties, SOEs – which are less disciplined by traditional governance mechanisms than non-SOEs – cut their loan guarantees. SOEs whose CEOs have stronger career concerns react more than other SOEs to the same punishment events, a result that systematic differences between SOEs and non-SOEs cannot drive. SOEs react more to events with higher press coverage even if information about all events is publicly available. After peers’ punishments, SOEs also increase their board independence, reduce inefficient investment, increase total factor productivity, and experience positive cumulative abnormal returns. The bank debt and investment of related parties that benefited from tunneling drop after listed peers’ punishments. Strategic punishments could be a cost-effective governance mechanism when other forms of governance are ineffective.

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