An analysis of the nature and effectiveness of corporate governance in smaller listed Australian companies

Plastow, Kevin Patrick (2011) An analysis of the nature and effectiveness of corporate governance in smaller listed Australian companies. PhD thesis, Queensland University of Technology.


The objective of this thesis is to investigate the corporate governance attributes of smaller listed Australian firms. This study is motivated by evidence that these firms are associated with more regulatory concerns, the introduction of ASX Corporate Governance Recommendations in 2004, and a paucity of research to guide regulators and stakeholders of smaller firms. While there is an extensive body of literature examining the effectiveness of corporate governance, the literature principally focuses on larger companies, resulting in a deficiency in the understanding of the nature and effectiveness of corporate governance in smaller firms.

Based on a review of agency theory literature, a theoretical model is developed that posits that agency costs are mitigated by internal governance mechanisms and transparency. The model includes external governance factors but in many smaller firms these factors are potentially absent, increasing the reliance on the internal governance mechanisms of the firm. Based on the model, the observed greater regulatory intervention in smaller companies may be due to sub-optimal internal governance practices. Accordingly, this study addresses four broad research questions (RQs). First, what is the extent and nature of the ASX Recommendations that have been adopted by smaller firms (RQ1)? Second, what firm characteristics explain differences in the recommendations adopted by smaller listed firms (RQ2), and third, what firm characteristics explain changes in the governance of smaller firms over time (RQ3)? Fourth, how effective are the corporate governance attributes of smaller firms (RQ4)?

Six hypotheses are developed to address the RQs. The first two hypotheses explore the extent and nature of corporate governance, while the remaining hypotheses evaluate its effectiveness. A time-series, cross-sectional approach is used to evaluate the effectiveness of governance. Three models, based on individual governance attributes, an index of six items derived from the literature, and an index based on the full list of ASX Recommendations, are developed and tested using a sample of 298 smaller firms with annual observations over a five-year period (2002-2006) before and after the introduction of the ASX Recommendations in 2004.

With respect to (RQ1) the results reveal that the overall adoption of the recommendations increased from 66 per cent in 2004 to 74 per cent in 2006. Interestingly, the adoption rate for recommendations regarding the structure of the board and formation of committees is significantly lower than the rates for other categories of recommendations. With respect to (RQ2) the results reveal that variations in rates of adoption are explained by key firm differences including, firm size, profitability, board size, audit quality, and ownership dispersion, while the results for (RQ3) were inconclusive. With respect to (RQ4), the results provide support for the association between better governance and superior accounting-based performance. In particular, the results highlight the importance of the independence of both the board and audit committee chairs, and of greater accounting-based expertise on the audit committee. In contrast, while there is little evidence that a majority independent board is associated with superior outcomes, there is evidence linking board independence with adverse audit opinion outcomes. These results suggest that board and chair independence are substitutes; in the presence of an independent chair a majority independent board may be an unnecessary and costly investment for smaller firms.

The findings make several important contributions. First, the findings contribute to the literature by providing evidence on the extent, nature and effectiveness of governance in smaller firms. The findings also contribute to the policy debate regarding future development of Australia’s corporate governance code. The findings regarding board and chair independence, and audit committee characteristics, suggest that policy-makers could consider providing additional guidance for smaller companies. In general, the findings offer support for the “if not, why not?” approach of the ASX, rather than a prescriptive rules-based approach.

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ID Code: 44036
Item Type: QUT Thesis (PhD)
Supervisor: Gallery, Gerry & Gallery, Natalie
Keywords: corporate governance, Australian companies
Divisions: Current > QUT Faculties and Divisions > QUT Business School
Current > Schools > School of Accountancy
Institution: Queensland University of Technology
Deposited On: 18 Aug 2011 00:32
Last Modified: 18 Aug 2011 00:32

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