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Firm investment behavior: the role of leverage, liquidity and cash flow volatility: African evidence.

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The main corporate financial strategic pillars that drive a firm’s value are mainly financing and investment. Conventional finance theories hold that leverage is power that amplifies investment. Cash flows and liquidity are the lifeblood of any firm which gives life to and fuels higher investments. To this end, there is an indispensable interplay between financing, investment, cash flows and liquidity. Existing studies on investment decisions are largely centered on developed economies but no studies, to the best of my knowledge, have been done in developing economies like those in Africa. However, there is persistent behavioural and structural heterogeneity between firms in developing and developed economies, resulting in diverging economic implications for a firm’s behaviour. This study was motivated by the observation that leverage levels in African firms are generally low but now on the rise as compared to developed economies, investment levels are stagnant, low liquidity of stock markets coupled with cash flows that are too volatile. Given the progressively vital role developing economies have for global growth, this study sought to find how this trend in leverage levels is impacting on investment in Africa, a concern for the global economy. Given the inseparability of investment and leverage from liquidity and cash flow, the study also examines the role of liquidity and cash flows in investment decision making. This study extends the reduced form investment model to a dynamic panel data model estimated with a novel technique; the generalised method of moments (GMM) on the panel data of 815 listed African non-financial firms. The methodology controls for unobservable heterogeneity, endogeneity, autocorrelation, heteroscedasticity and probable bi-directional relationships. The study found evidence that leverage constrains investment and its impact is more pronounced in firms with low-growth opportunities. These results suggest that investment policy does not solely depend on the neoclassical fundamentals but also on financing strategy and are inclined to the hypothesis that leverage plays a disciplinary role to avoid over-investment. The study also found that stock market liquidity is associated with higher average capital expenditures. The effect of liquidity on investment was found to be heterogeneous with financial constraints and growth opportunities. The study reveals that cash flows are not only an important determinant of investment decisions, but the variability of the cash flows also has a significant bearing on the investment policy. The experimental analysis shows that an increase in debt may reduce the negative effect of leverage on investment. However, the shallow, illiquid debt markets of African firms would mean higher costs and this countermands any benefits from debt. Based on these, findings, the study recommends that African firms should consider relying more on internally generated funds and the stock markets so as not to suppress any available cash flows and improved liquidity. African firms should trade off the effects of managing volatility and the resulting negative impact of cash flow volatility on investment levels.


Doctoral degree. University of KwaZulu-Natal, Durban.