Our findings can be summarized as follows. The vast majority of CFOs indicate that their investment plans are quite insensitive to potential decreases in their borrowing costs. Only 8% of firms would increase investment if borrowing costs declined 100 basis points, and an additional 8% would respond to a decrease of 100 to 200 basis points. Strikingly, 68% did not expect any decline in interest rates would induce more investment. In addition, we find that firms expect to be somewhat more sensitive to an increase in interest rates. Still, only 16% of firms would reduce investment in response to a 100 basis point increase, and another 15% would respond to an increase of 100 to 200 basis points.
…arguably provide some support for the view that investment is not as tightly linked to interest rates as traditional theory would suggest.
As noted above, firms that expected their investment plans to be unresponsive to any conceivable decrease (or increase) in borrowing cost were given the space to provide a reason, and most offered one. The most commonly cited reason for insensitivity was the firm’s ample cash reserves or cash flow. Two other popular reasons were: (i) interest rates are already low (absolutely, or compared to firm’s rate of return); and (ii) the firm’s investment was based largely on product demand or long-term plans rather than on current interest rates. Only about 10% of firms providing a reason for not responding to a decrease cited a lack of profitable opportunities, and only a handful offered high uncertainty as a reason.
The data indicate that hurdle rates remain surprisingly high of late and, in the aggregate, apparently quite insensitive to interest rates over time.
…Shell left its hurdle rates unchanged for two decades until it “nudged them down” in 1997, and now intends to keep them at present levels for years to come.
But many managers remain deeply sceptical about the theory behind discount rates. Even though it spits out percentages to several decimal points, the capital-asset pricing model, as the conceptual framework for calculating the rates is called, is controversial in itself. “The whole basis of setting hurdle rates is flawed,” says Mr Hodge. “If you change the hurdle rate you're hiding away a management decision in a piece of spurious arithmetic.”