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News and Events

Studies show the impact of access to politicians and information

Dec 16, 2020, 11:25 by Aaron Bennett
In “All the President’s Friends: Political Access and Firm Value”, Huang and Dean Jeffrey R. Brown decided to cross-reference White House visitor logs with the names of key executives at S&P 1500 companies to determine the value of political access.

Gies Associate Professor of Finance Jiekun Huang says he enjoys conducting research to better understand corporate decision-making and investor behavior. He has delved into a diverse set of topics ranging from corporate executives’ visits to the White House to the role the EDGAR system, hazy days, and overconfident executives play in the world of finance. 

Huang, who is the Vernon Zimmerman Faculty Fellow, joined the College as an assistant professor in 2013 after a stint at National University in Singapore. He earned his bachelor’s degree in economics and master’s degree in finance from Xiamen University in China and his Ph.D. from Boston College.

“We have a large group in the finance department with very diverse interests. I have benefited tremendously from exchanging ideas with my colleagues and getting different perspectives. In fact, the most helpful feedback I receive on my papers is from my colleagues here. I greatly enjoy the stimulating and collaborative research environment at Gies,” said Huang.

All the President’s Friends

His recent collaboration was with Dean Jeffrey R. Brown. The White House visitor logs made public by the Obama administration prompted them to work on “All the President’s Friends: Political Access and Firm Value”. They decided to cross-reference that information with the names of key executives at S&P 1500 companies to determine the value of political access.

Their paper shows a positive correlation between face-to-face corporate meetings with key White House policy makers and stock price reactions, especially for those visits covered in the media. It won the Wharton Research Data Services Best Paper Award at the 2018 Western Finance Association conference and has been accepted for publication in the Journal of Financial Economics.

“We found that the visit itself could be useful information,” said Huang, and lead to regulatory relief or a government contract. “Our goal was to analyze the data to shed light on the benefits associated with political access. Dean Brown’s background in government and public policy was immensely helpful to focus our analysis on key issues in political access,” he said. 

The S&P 1500 executives with the most visits to the White House between 2009 and 2015 represented these corporations: Honeywell (30 visits); EverCore Partners, General Electric and Xerox (21 visits), and HCA Holdings, JPMorgan Chase, and AT&T (18 visits).

Conversely, the research shows that when President Donald J. Trump won the election in 2016, those firms with access to the Obama administration showed significantly lower stock returns in the days following the election. Once President Trump took office in 2017, the White House no longer published the White House visitor logs. President-elect Joe Biden has announced he will once again make them public, opening up the opportunity to begin pursuing this type of research again.

Access Improves Information Production

Huang also co-authored “Informing the Market: The Effect of Modern Information Technologies on Information Production” with Meng Gao, a former Gies PhD. student. It was published in the Review of Financial Studies in April as an Editor’s Choice article. This is the first paper to exploit the staggered timing of the implementation of the SEC’s EDGAR system.

“We used to find out information about corporate disclosures the same way we checked out a library book. It was time consuming and it wasn’t very efficient,” said Huang. “Now both individual investors and analysts from large banks have easy access to corporate disclosures through the internet. It has really leveled the playing field.”

The research found that by making corporate information easily accessible, the EDGAR enabled individual investors to process the information and place more informed trades. Likewise, financial analysts benefited from the electronic dissemination of information to the public in that their earnings forecasts became more accurate after the implementation of EDGAR.

The Influence of Hazy Days and Gender

Huang collaborated with Nianhang Xu and Honghai Yu on Pollution and performance: Do Investors Make Worse Trades on Hazy Days, which was published this month in Management Science. It showed a negative relation between air pollution and individual investors’ trading performance. The research looked at more than 87,000 people from 34 cities in China and highlights a cost that ambient air pollution imposes on stock market investors.

“Given the pecuniary losses from trading incurred by investors due to air pollution, regulatory policies that aim at improving air quality may yield much larger benefits than previously recognized,” said Huang.

Huang also coauthored Gender and Corporate Finance: Are Male Executives Overconfident Relative to Female Executives with Darren J. Kisgen, which was published in the Journal of Financial Economics. The research showed that firms with male executives undertake more acquisitions but have announcement returns about 2% lower than those made by firms with female executives. They also find that male executives place narrower bounds on earnings estimates and are less likely to exercise stock options early, consistent with men exhibiting relative overconfidence compared to women.

In addition to his research, Huang teaches Advanced Corporate Finance (FIN 321, 521), addressing both the theoretical and applied aspects of firms' financing decisions. He is often on the university’s list of teachers ranked as excellent by their students.

“Due to the pandemic, I am adopting an online, flipped classroom approach for the first time this semester. It requires a ton of work, but I am glad that the feedback from students so far has been positive. I really enjoy spending time interacting with students and listening to their needs. It not only helps improve students’ learning experience, but also helps make me a better instructor,” Huang said.

Huang, who grew up in a small town in southeast China, said he didn’t have much idea about the role of finance when he entered college. However, he quickly got fascinated by the world of finance research. “When reading the financial press, I had always been intrigued by new academic findings featured in the news articles. I felt that doing finance research would be exciting and rewarding because of its practical relevance, which prompted me to pursue an academic career in finance,” he said.

Huang and his wife moved to Champaign after spending 9 years in Boston and Singapore. They have a 9-year-old son and a 6-year-old daughter. “We very much love the community here. It is a wonderful place to raise kids. They made great friends here and enjoy outdoor activities such as basketball and bike riding.”