Were The BRT Signatories Virtue Signaling Without Virtue?

Nearly a year ago, the Business Roundtable fomented interest in so-called "stakeholder capitalism" by issuing this statement.  The statement garnered 181 signatories who proclaimed "a fundamental commitment to all of our stakeholders". 

In a forthcoming paper, Aneesh Raghunandan at the London School of Economics and Shivaram Rajgopal at the Columbia Business School took a look at the companies who signed the statement and reached some interesting conclusions.  They found that relative to within-industry peer firms, the signatories:

  • commit environmental and labor-related compliance violations more often (and pay more in compliance penalties);
  • have higher market shares;
  • spend more on lobbying policymakers; and
  • report lower stock returns alphas and worse operating margins.

According to the authors, a key takeaway of their study "is that investors ought to be vigilant when assessing claims of stakeholder-oriented practices by firms and ESG funds".  The study is available here.