Essays on Intangible Assets and Stock Returns

Young Dae Kang, PhD
Employee satisfaction, Business social responsibility, Socially responsible investing, Underreaction, Corporate culture, Brand Value, Intangible Assets, Excess Returns, Undervaluation

Abstract :

Employee Satisfaction and Long-run Stock Returns, 1984-2020: Economic theory predicts that, in the absence of mispricing, investing in socially responsible businesses should have lower expected returns in equilibrium. In contrast, in an influential paper, Edmans (2011) shows that a portfolio of the “100 Best Companies to Work For in America” (BCs) earns a positive and significant Carhart four-factor alpha. More than one decade later, we ask whether this result (a) holds out-of-sample, (b) is driven by exposure to newly discovered factors and characteristics, and (c) depends on the state of the economy. We find that up to 22% of the documented BC portfolio’s Carhart alpha could be attributed to exposures to more recently discovered factors such as investment, profitability, and quality. Nevertheless, using the state-of-art factor models and a sample from the period 1984 to 2020, an equal-weighted BC portfolio earns an abnormal return of 2% to 2.7% per year. The abnormal returns are not driven by firm characteristics, industry composition, or micro-cap stocks. The estimated alphas are positive in almost all periods within our sample (with no upward or downward trend) and are particularly large in “bad” times such as in the crisis periods of 2000-2002 and 2008-2009. Overall, our results suggest that the stock market still undervalues employee satisfaction, which seems to have the greatest value in “bad” times. We conclude with proposing potential reasons behind the (surprising) persistent outperformance of BCs.

Brand Values and Long-run Stock Returns, 2000-2020: In this paper, we study whether Best Brands (BBs) make poor, neutral, or great investments. We find that an equal-weighted portfolio of BBs in the US earns an excess return of 0.25~0.35% per month during the period 2000-2020. This result is remarkably robust across most sophisticated factor models and therefore it is not driven by exposure to known risk factors. The excess returns are not due to firm characteristics, industry composition, or small-cap stocks. Among BBs, the largest excess returns come from those with very low intangibles reported in their balance sheet (i.e. those that develop intangibles internally). Overall, our results are consistent with the idea that brand values are underestimated by the market due to the fact that most investments to develop brands internally are fully expensed, which tend to make the company look misleadingly too expensive. 


Publication date of the thesis

Thesis committee

Supervisor: Hamid Boustanifar, EDHEC Business School 

External reviewer: Alex Edmans, London Business School  

Other committee members: Emmanuel Jurczenko and Enrique Schroth, EDHEC Business School