We examine institutional investors' preferences for corporate governance mechanisms. We find little evidence of an association between total institutional ownership and governance mechanisms. However, using revealed preferences, we identify a small group of “governance-sensitive” institutions that exhibit persistent associations between their ownership levels and firms' governance mechanisms. We also find that firms with a high level of ownership by institutions sensitive to shareholder rights have significant future improvements in shareholder rights, consistent with shareholder activism. Further, we find that factors describing the characteristics of institutions' portfolios are correlated with governance preferences. Large institutions, those holding a large number of portfolio stocks, and those with preferences for growth firms are more likely to be sensitive to corporate governance mechanisms, suggesting those mechanisms may be a means for decreasing monitoring costs and may be more essential for firms with a high level of growth opportunities. Finally, our results suggest that common proxies for governance sensitivity by investors (e.g., legal type, blockholding) do not cleanly measure governance preferences.
JEL Classifications: G11; G20; G34.