Diversification and Firm Performance

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Anil M. Pandya and Narendar V. Rao
Diversification is a strategic option that many managers use to improve their firms’ performance. This interdisciplinary research attempts to verify whether firm level diversification has any impact on performance. The study finds that on average, diversified firms show better performance compared to undiversified firms on both risk and return dimensions. It also tests the robustness of these results by classifying firms by performance class. The results show that among the best performing class of firms, undiversified firms have higher returns, but these returns are accompanied by high variance. Whereas, highly diversified firms show lower returns, and much lower variance. Results further show that diversified firms perform better than undiversified firms on risk and return dimensions, in the low and average performance classes. The paper concludes that a dominant undiversified firm may perform better than a highly diversified firm in terms of return but its riskiness will be much greater. If managers of such firms opt for diversification, their returns will decrease, but their riskiness will reduce proportionately more than the reduction in their returns. In such firms, there will be a tradeoff between risk and return. INTRODUCTION

Two seemingly irreconcilable facts motivate this study: one, diversification continues to be an important strategy for corporate growth; and two, while Management and Marketing disciplines favor related diversification, Finance makes a strong case against corporate diversification. With the help of a large sample, this interdisciplinary study tries to address this contradiction in the associative relationship between diversification and firm performance. Diversification is a means by which a firm expands from its core business into other product markets (Aaker 1980, Andrews 1980, Berry 1975, Chandler 1962, Gluck 1985). Research shows corporate management to be actively engaged in diversifying activities. Rumelt (1986) found that by 1974 only 14 percent of the Fortune 500 firms operated as single businesses and 86 percent operated as diversified businesses. Many researchers note a rise in diversified firms (Datta, Rajagopalan and Rasheed 1991, Hoskisson and Hitt 1990). European corporate managers according to a survey, not only favor it but actively pursue diversification (Kerin, Mahajan and Varadarajan 1990). Firms spend considerable sums acquiring other firms or bet heavily on internal R&D to diversify away from their core product/markets. Of late U. S. firms are beginning to moderate their zeal for diversification and are consolidating around their core businesses. But this trend has not affected large Asian corporations which continue to remain highly diversified. As in any economic activity there are costs and benefits associated with diversification, and ultimately, a firm's performance must depend on how managers achieve a balance between costs and benefits in each concrete case. Moreover, these benefits and costs may not fall equally on managers and investors. Management researchers argue that diversification prolongs the life of a firm. Researchers in finance argue diversification benefits managers because it buys them insurance, and shareholders usually bear all the costs of such insurance. Diversification can improve debt capacity, reduce the chances of bankruptcy by going into new product/ markets (Higgins and Schall 1975, Lewellen 1971), and improve asset deployment and profitability (Teece 1982, Williamson 1975). Skills developed in one business transferred to other businesses, can increase labor and capital productivity. A diversified firm can transfer funds from a cash surplus unit to a cash deficit unit without taxes or transaction costs (Bhide 1993). Diversified firms pool unsystematic risk and reduce the variability of operating cash flow and enjoy comparative...
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