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- Business Groups; Pyramidal Ownership; Internal Capital Markets
The purpose of this research is to explore the motivation of business group firms to adopt pyramidal ownership structures. The traditional approach claims that pyramids are useful in tunneling resources to other affiliates by transferring value to firms with high cash flow rights of controlling shareholders. Using a unique dataset of 7,180 Ecuadorian firms, I analyze the transmission of profits' shocks among group firms to assess the existence and the amount of tunneling. The comprehensive ownership information allows me to identify pyramidal and horizontally owned group firms separately and better understand the nature of their ownership structure. The results provide support for the existence of tunneling in Ecuadorian business groups. About 70% of the profits of the average group firm are transferred to another affiliate, although only half of this money shows up on its books. An alternative explanation for the flow of money among group firms is the existence of internal capital markets to substitute for imperfections in the external market. I test this hypothesis by comparing the impact of cash flow availability in the investment decision of group firms with that of stand-alone firms. Group firms' cash flow to investment sensitivity appears to be only half of the value for comparable standalone firms. Moreover, group liquidity is also a determinant of the average group firm's investment, especially for pyramidal firms. The analysis sheds light on the nature of business groups in Latin America, their ownership patterns, and their resource allocation decisions.