A test of the free cash flow hypothesis: The case of bidder returns Larry H.P. Lang Rene M. Stulz Ralph A. Walkling (Journal of Financial Economics 29, 1991, pp. 315-335) The Free Cash Flow Hypothesis вЂў The free cash flow hypothesis advanced by Jensen (1988) states that managers endowed with free cash flow will invest it in negative net present value (NPV) projects rather than pay it out to shareholders. вЂў Jensen defines free cash flow as cash flow left after the firm has invested in all available positive NPV projects. вЂў This paper tests this hypothesis on a sample of large investments made by firms, namely decisions to acquire control of other firms through tender offers. вЂў We use TobinвЂ™s q, defined as the ratio of the market value of the firmвЂ™s assets to their replacement cost, to distinguish between firms that have positive NPV investment opportunities under current management and those that do not. вЂў High q firms are likely to have positive NPV projects. Hence, these firms are expected to use their internally generated funds productively. For these firms, the acquisition of other companies is expected to be a positive NPV project. If the acquisition is unexpected, its announcement should cause an increase in the bidderвЂ™s stock price. Further, the stock-price reaction should not be related to the bidding firmвЂ™s cash flow. вЂў Low q firms are not likely to have positive NPV projects. Hence, they should pay out cash flow to shareholders or invest in zero NPV projects if such projects are available rather than make acquisitions that decrease shareholder wealth. For these firms, the free cash flow hypothesis implies that the shareholder wealth effect of the tender offer announcement is inversely related to cash flow, since free cash flow considerations are more likely to influence managementвЂ™s actions when cash flow is large. The data вЂў Both the target and bidding firms are on the Center for Research in Securities Prices at the University of Chicago (CRSP) daily returns tape for 300 days before the first takeover announcement. вЂў The bidder acquired some shares. вЂў The tender offer occurs after October 1968. Methodology вЂў Use standard event study methodology. Market model parameters are estimated on a period from 300 to 60 days before the first announcement of takeover activity. вЂў Free cash flow is measured by operating income before depreciation minus interest expense, taxes, preferred dividends, and common dividends, all divided by book value of total assets (Lehn and Paulsen, 1989). вЂў High q firms have a three-year average of TobinвЂ™s q that exceeds one. вЂў High cash flow firms have a ratio of cash flow to total assets above the median for the sample. Conclusions вЂў This paper develops a measure of free cash flow using TobinвЂ™s q to distinguish between firms that have good investment opportunities and those that do not. вЂў In a sample of successful tender offers, bidder returns are significantly negatively related to cash flow for low q bidders but not for high q bidders. Further. the relation between cash flow and bidder returns differs significantly for low q and high q bidders. вЂў This result holds for several cash flow measures suggested in the literature and also in multivariate regressions controlling for bidder and contest-specific characteristics. Conclusions вЂў The empirical results support the free cash flow hypothesis and suggest that it is economically significant. вЂў An increase in free cash flow equal to 1% of a bidderвЂ™s total assets is associated with a decrease in the bidderвЂ™s gain from the takeover equal to approximately 1% of the value of the bidderвЂ™s common stock, and free cash flow explains more of the cross-sectional variation in bidder returns than the joint effect of the number of bidders and the attitude of target management.