We study the relation between state ownership and cash holdings in China’s share-issue privatized firms from 2000 to 2012. We find that the level of cash holdings increases as state ownership declines. For the average firm in our sample, a 10 percentage-point decline in state ownership leads to an increase of aboutRMB 55 million in cash holdings. This negative relation can be attributable to the soft-budget constraint (SBC) inherent in state ownership. The Chinese financial system is dominated by the state-owned banks, an environment very conducive for the SBC effect. We further examine and quantify the effect of state ownership on the value of cash and find that the marginal value of cash increases as state ownership declines. The next RMB added to cash reserves of the average firm is valued at RMB 0.96 by the market. The marginal value of cash in firms with zero state ownership is RMB 0.36 higher than in firms with majority state ownership. The SBC effect exacerbates agency problems inherent in state-controlled enterprises, contributing to their lower value of cash.
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