Measures of firm risk-taking: revisiting Bowman’s paradox
Purpose The purpose of this paper is to contribute to the existing literature on the relationship between firm-level risk and returns and to explore other ways of measuring firm risk-taking. Literature overwhelmingly shows a negative relationship between firm-level risk and returns based on accounting data, which is counter-intuitive from the rational perspective of risk-aversion. This paper revisits this so-called Bowman’s paradox by examining the wealth of literature on the topic and empirically tests alternative measures of firm risk-taking that could provide a counter-argument on the existence of the paradox. Design/methodology/approach After formulating the criteria for such a measure, potential measures of firm risk-taking were developed based on variability of some key financial ratios and empirically tested using US listed companies’ data for several time periods from 1992 to 2016. Literature has explored the use of these financial ratios (e.g. R&D expenses as percentage of sales) based only on their magnitude. This paper is novel in that it examines the variability and not just the magnitude of these parameters. Findings Results showed the same counter-intuitive negative relationship between firm risk-taking and returns but the paper was able to identify an area for future theory development that hopefully will lead to a firm risk-taking measure that would exhibit the elusive positive relationship with returns. Originality/value The literature review of this paper brought together and provided a succinct classification of the various explanations for Bowman’s paradox that allowed the identification of a potentially rich area of research. It identified a gap in the literature which is the formulation of suitable measures of firm risk-taking and made investigations in this area.