Essays on corporate finance and product market competition
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This dissertation contains two essays on the aggressive behavior of corporations in product market competition. In the first essay, I investigate how market structure can impact a firm's risk of facing predation by rivals, and hence, its financial policy decisions. Using a simple model, I demonstrate that a firm faces a greater predation threat when it meets the same competitor in many markets, as this competitor is able to internalize more of the benefit, degrading the firm's ability to compete in the future through aggressive actions today. I then test the predictions of the model using 2003-2011 panel data on store location across retail store chains in the US. I find that firms tend to expand more aggressively in markets shared with a competitor experiencing a substantial increase in leverage, or a decline in a credit rating, when they face that competitor in more of the other markets. The expansion relationship was found to be stronger in data from the 2008-2009 financial crisis, a period when difficulty in rolling over or obtaining new debt made it especially hard for weak firms to absorb losses. I also show that a firm facing the same competitors in many markets choose lower levels of leverage and that it decreases that leverage when a merger in the industry increases the amount of competitive overlap it has with other firms. These results suggest that firms are aware of the predation risk due to a competitive overlap and select financial policies to minimize this risk. In the second essay, I study the impact of internally generated funds on product market competition. More specifically, I investigate the idea that firms compete aggressively when their competitors face cash flow shortfalls. Testing this idea is challenging because competitor's cash flow changes are potentially endogenous with respect to firm's behavior. I address this problem in three ways. First, I investigate firm's reaction in a given market when its competitors face cash flow shortfalls outside of that market; this analysis is conducted using store location data on retail store chains. Second, I focus on the 2008-2009 financial crisis period in which retail store chains were hit by a negative demand shock which was hardly expected ex ante. Finally, I use a shock to local economic conditions which varies across markets and the different distributions of store locations across firms as instruments for the changes in competitors' cash flows. I find that a firm expands more in a given market in which it competes with rivals which face a more negative cash flow shortfall in the other markets. This relation is stronger when the competitors were highly leveraged before the crisis. Finally, I illustrate evidence that a firm responds more aggressively to competitor's cash flow shortfalls if it competes with that competitor in many of the same markets; this result is consistent with the prediction of the model in Chapter 1. These essays contribute to the literature by adding new evidence on the predatory behavior of corporations in product market competition.