Agency Costs and Financial Decision-Making

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  • Topic: Stock, Principal-agent problem, Agency cost
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Agency Costs and Financial Decision-Making

The Concept
An agency relationship is a contract under which one or more persons (the principal(s)) engage another person (the agent) to perform some service on their behalf which involves delegating some decision making authority to the agent. If both parties to the relationship are utility maximizers and they may have divergent goals and objectives, and there is good reason to believe that the agent will not always act in the best interests of the principal (Jensen, Michael C., and William H. Meckling. "Theory of the Firm, Managerial Behavior, Agency Costs, and Ownership Structure." Journal of Financial Economics 3 (October 1976), 305-360) The concept of agency cost recognizes there are fundamental differences in how shareholders, managers, and even bondholders interpret their respective relationships to an organization. While they may share some common goals and objectives, there is the potential for at least some objectives to emerge that are focused more on individual enrichment than on the well-being of the whole. For example, managers may be more focused on building a reputation for themselves, possibly creating their own power bases within the structure of the larger organizations. Shareholders may become more focused on earning dividends now and less on the future of the business. Bondholders may be concerned only with the project associated with the bond issue, and lose sight of how the overall stability of the company can have a negative impact on the return earned from that bond. ( Agency Costs is an economic concept which is defined as the cost incurred by an entity in relation to issues like varied goals and objectives of the management and shareholders and information asymmetry. Self-Interested Behavior

Agency theory suggests that, in imperfect labor and capital markets, managers will seek to maximize their own utility at the expense of corporate shareholders. Agents have the ability to operate in their own self-interest rather than in the best interests of the firm because of asymmetric information (e.g., managers know better than shareholders whether they are capable of meeting the shareholders' objectives) and uncertainty (e.g., myriad factors contribute to final outcomes, and it may not be evident whether the agent directly caused a given outcome, positive or negative). Evidence of self-interested managerial behavior includes the consumption of some corporate resources in the form of perquisites and the avoidance of optimal risk positions, whereby risk-averse managers bypass profitable opportunities in which the firm's shareholders would prefer they invest. Outside investors recognize that the firm will make decisions contrary to their best interests. Accordingly, investors will discount the prices they are willing to pay for the firm's securities. (Bamberg, Giinter, and Klaus Spremann, eds. Agency Theory, Information, and Incentives. Berlin: Springer-Verlag, 1987). A potential agency conflict arises whenever the manager of a firm owns less than 100 percent of the firm's common stock. If a firm is a sole proprietorship managed by the owner, the owner-manager will undertake actions to maximize his or her own welfare. The owner-manager will probably measure utility by personal wealth, but may trade off other considerations, such as leisure and perquisites, against personal wealth. If the owner-manager forgoes a portion of his or her ownership by selling some of the firm's stock to outside investors, a potential conflict of interest, called an agency conflict, arises. For example, the owner-manager may prefer a more leisurely lifestyle and not work as vigorously to maximize shareholder wealth, because less of the wealth will now accrue to the owner-manager. In addition, the owner-manager may decide to consume more perquisites, because some of the cost of the consumption of...
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