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Sarbanes-Oxley, agency conflicts and the marginal value of capital expenditure

Gurmeet S. Bhabra (Department of Accounting and Finance, School of Business, University of Otago, Dunedin, New Zealand)
Jacob Rooney (University of Otago, Dunedin, New Zealand)

Managerial Finance

ISSN: 0307-4358

Article publication date: 26 August 2019



The purpose of this paper is to examine the relationship between the strength of corporate governance and the value of firm-level investment policies following the passage of the Sarbanes–Oxley (SOX) Act of 2002 and the associated changes to the listing requirements of major stock exchanges. In particular the authors seek to examine potential changes in the market’s assessed value of capital expenditures after the passage of the SOX Act relative to before.


The authors employ a difference-in-difference methodology, centred on the year of the passage of the SOX Act to test for the role of governance on the marginal value of capital expenditures. Excess stock returns are calculated by subtracting Fama and French (1993) size and book-to-market portfolio value-weighted returns from the firms’ annual stock returns. Each firm is grouped into one of 25 size and book-to-market portfolios for each year in the sample, with size and the book-to-market ratio proxying for sensitivity to common risk factors in stock returns (Fama and French, 1993).


The authors find that markets responded to the change in governance brought about by the new regulation by altering the value of firm-level capital expenditures in a way that is generally consistent with predictions of agency theory. While the overall findings imply a reduction in agency conflicts post-SOX, there is some evidence that certain firms may have suffered excessive costs of compliance, while still others saw managers become excessively risk averse.

Research limitations/implications

The study has implications related to the efficacy of legislation. Cross-sectional variation in the effect of SOX on the marginal value of capital expenditures suggests that one-size-fits-all legislative approach can have both expected as well as unintended consequences. The study limits its analysis to examining the impact of three significant provisions of the Act. While, the value implications of the Act are largely captured by the selected three, a more comprehensive study could expand on the set of provisions studies to obtain a more granular level impact.

Practical implications

This research should add to the growing body of the literature examining the effect of SOX on firms’ real activities and decisions, as well as contribute to the debate on whether the Act was beneficial or costly to firms. With particular reference to the impact of capital expenditure on firm value, the research contributes to the sparse literature examining the contribution of capital expenditures to firm value and the role that agency conflicts play in this relationship. Additionally, this research adds to the growing body of the literature that examines the costs and benefits of the sweeping new regulations brought on by the adoption of SOX.

Social implications

Given the importance of investment policy for economic productivity and growth, the insights provided by findings in this research should benefit lawmakers both within the USA as well as in countries where corporate misconduct and fraud is a concern.


This is the first study that examines the impact of the SOX Act on the way capital markets value firm-level investment in capital expenditures. Since use of corporate resources by managers is fraught with agency conflicts, the role of SOX in potentially alleviating this conflict as revealed by the tests in this study are very valuable.



Bhabra, G.S. and Rooney, J. (2019), "Sarbanes-Oxley, agency conflicts and the marginal value of capital expenditure", Managerial Finance, Vol. 46 No. 2, pp. 237-253.



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