MIT Sloan Alumna Judy Lewent on the future of finance

MIT Sloan Alumna Judy Lewent

Recently MIT Sloan alumna Judy Lewent was inducted into the Financial Executives International Hall of Fame. A former executive vice president and chief financial officer of Merck, Lewent was recognized for her performance, leadership and integrity as a financial professional who has made significant contributions to the betterment of her organization and profession. The following is an excerpt of her remarks at the event:

“It is a momentous time for finance. As the global economy teeters on the brink, much of the world stands by holding its collective breath. This is, no doubt, a time of great anxiety. That anxiety is shared, not just by 50% of the public or 75% or even 99%. Everyone shares it.

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Corporations hoard cash as a precautionary measure

Visiting Asst. Prof. David McLean

Academic studies have shown that over the past few decades, public firms are increasingly holding large amounts of cash. Curiously, much of this build up in cash savings can be attributed to cash saved from seasoned share issues, which are sales of equity by already public companies.

I examined the share-issuance cash savings of a large number of U.S. firms over a 38-year period. In the 1970s, $1.00 of issuance resulted in $0.23 of cash savings, yet in more recent years, that same $1.00 of issuance resulted in $0.60 of savings. Over my sample period, the amount of cash saved from share issuance increased at an average rate of 2.5% per year.

So what is going on here? My initial reaction was that the firms were issuing shares because their stock was mispriced, thereby taking advantage of naive investors. However, after digging deeper, I found that this was most likely not the case. It turns out that there are good economic reasons for firms to hold onto cash and even to issue shares for the purpose of cash savings.

Consider an emerging pharmaceutical company with a promising pipeline of projects. The company is still early in its lifecycle so its profits are marginal and its cash flows are volatile. The company spends a large amount on R&D and plans to continue doing so in the future. Because the company generates little cash flow, it depends on capital markets to finance its R&D spending.

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“Innovation” may be the current buzz, but it has deep roots that require constant tending

MIT Sloan Prof. Howard Anderson

In the 15th century, British noblemen decided that they needed brighter colors for their coats of arms to help their armies more easily distinguish them on muddy battlefields. They naturally approached suppliers in their own nation. But when British tradesmen refused to accept this innovative approach to their traditional ways, the noblemen turned to Germany, where tradesmen were more than willing. This in turn helped spawn the German chemical industry, then the German petrochemical industry, then the German pharmaceutical industry.  The British were left on the competitive sidelines.

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