The inexorable push towards globalization has stalled in the last few years, but the change it has created is irreversible. The largest companies in the world are multinationals, deriving large portions of their revenues from outside domestic markets, and even the most inward looking investors are dependent upon global economies for their returns. As a consequence, measuring and incorporating country risk into decision making is a requirement in both corporate finance and valuation. It is in pursuit of that objective that I revisit the country risk issue twice every year, once at the start of the year and once mid-year, at which time I also update a paper that I have on the topic, that you are welcome to read or browse or ignore.
Each year, for the last 25 years, I have spent the first week playing Moneyball, with financial data. I gather accounting and market data on all publicly traded companies, listed globally, and then try to extract whatever lessons that I can from the data, to use in investing, corporate finance and valuation for the rest of the year. I report the data, classified by industry group and by country, on my website, in the hope that others might find it useful. While, like last year, I will be summarizing what I see in the data in a series of posts over the rest of January, I decided to use this one to both provide some perspective and cautionary notes not only on my data but on numbers, in general.
In corporate finance, the decision on whether to borrow money, and if so, how much has divided both practitioners and theorists for as long as the question has been debated. Corporate finance, as a discipline, had its beginnings in Merton Miller and Franco Modigliani’s classic paper on the irrelevance of capital structure. Since then, theorists have finessed the model, added real life concerns and come to the unsurprising conclusion that there is no one optimal solution that holds across companies. At the same time, practitioners have also diverged, with the more conservative ones (managers and investors) arguing that debt brings more pain than gain and that you should therefore borrow as little as possible, and the most aggressive players positing that you cannot borrow too much.