The Relation Between Earnings Management and Non-GAAP Reporting

ArticleinContemporary Accounting Research 34(2) · November 2016with 194 Reads
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Abstract
en Managers have a variety of tools at their disposal to influence stakeholder perceptions. Earnings management and the strategic reporting of non‐GAAP earnings are just two of the available menu choices. We explore how real earnings management and accruals management influence the probability that a company will disclose a non‐GAAP adjusted earnings metric in its earnings press release and the likelihood that it will do so aggressively. We first investigate situations where managers already meet analysts’ expectations either based on strong operating performance or after employing real and accruals management. We find that when solid operating performance alone allows firms to meet expectations, managers do not employ earnings management or non‐GAAP reporting. However, when managers meet expectations using real and accruals management, they are significantly less likely to report a non‐GAAP earnings metric. Next, we explore scenarios where companies fall short of expectations. We find that when they just miss expectations after managing GAAP earnings, they are significantly more likely to employ non‐GAAP reporting, suggesting that the timing and relatively costless nature of non‐GAAP reporting allows managers to appear to meet expectations on a non‐GAAP basis when managed GAAP earnings fall short. Moreover, we find that companies are more likely to report non‐GAAP earnings (and to do so aggressively) when (i) they are unable to use real or accruals earnings management, (ii) are constrained by prior‐period accruals management, and (iii) their operating performance is poor. Taken together, our results are consistent with a substitute relation between non‐GAAP reporting and both real and accruals management. La relation entre gestion du résultat et publication d'information non conforme aux PCGR fr Les gestionnaires disposent d'une variété d'outils leur permettant d'exercer une influence sur la perception des parties prenantes. La gestion du résultat et la publication stratégique de résultats non conformes aux PCGR ne sont que deux des possibilités que leur offre cet arsenal. Les auteurs se demandent comment la gestion du résultat réel et la gestion des régularisations influent sur la probabilité qu'une société publie une mesure du résultat ajusté non conforme aux PCGR dans ses communiqués sur les résultats et sur la possibilité qu'elle le fasse avec audace (c'est‐à‐dire en excluant des éléments récurrents). Ils se penchent en premier lieu sur des situations dans lesquelles les gestionnaires comblent déjà les attentes des analystes, soit en affichant un rendement élevé de l'exploitation soit en recourant à la gestion du résultat réel et à la gestion des régularisations. Les auteurs constatent que, lorsque le rendement élevé de l'exploitation permet à lui seul à l'entreprise de combler les attentes, les gestionnaires n'ont recours ni à la gestion du résultat ni à la publication d'information non conforme aux PCGR. Toutefois, lorsque les gestionnaires comblent les attentes en recourant à la gestion du résultat réel et à la gestion des régularisations, ils sont sensiblement moins susceptibles de publier des mesures du résultat non conformes aux PCGR. Les auteurs étudient en second lieu les scénarios dans lesquels les sociétés ne comblent pas les attentes. Ils constatent que, lorsqu'elles s'approchent de ces attentes, une fois géré le résultat conforme aux PCGR, ces sociétés sont beaucoup plus susceptibles de recourir à l'information non conforme aux PCGR, ce qui semble indiquer que le choix du moment et la nature relativement peu onéreuse de l'information non conforme aux PCGR permettent aux gestionnaires de paraître combler les attentes, hors PCGR, lorsque les résultats gérés conformes aux PCGR sont inférieurs aux attentes. De plus, les auteurs notent que les sociétés sont davantage susceptibles de faire état de résultats non conformes aux PCGR (et cela avec audace) lorsqu'elles sont dans l'impossibilité de recourir à la gestion du résultat réel ou à la gestion des régularisations, que les régularisations de l'exercice précédent leur imposent des limites, et que le rendement de leur exploitation est faible. Dans l'ensemble, les résultats de l’étude confirment l'existence d'une relation substitutive entre l'information financière non conforme aux PCGR, d'une part, et la gestion du résultat réel et des régularisations, d'autre part.

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    This paper provides evidence on the characteristics of firms that include pro forma earnings information in their press releases, whether the usefulness of pro forma earnings to investors varies systematically with these characteristics, and whether the investor response to pro forma earnings is consistent with market efficiency or mispricing. Using a sample of 249 press releases from 1997-99, we find that firms with low GAAP earnings informativeness are more likely to disclose pro forma earnings than other firms. We also find that strategic considerations, measured using the direction of GAAP earnings surprises, are an important determinant of pro forma reporting. In addition, our examination of the relative and incremental information content of pro forma earnings shows that investors find pro forma earnings to be more useful when GAAP earnings informativeness is low or when strategic considerations are absent. Tests of the predictive ability of pro forma earnings for future profitability and returns are mixed, and we therefore cannot conclusively determine whether the investor reaction to pro forma earnings at the time of the press release is consistent with market efficiency or mispricing. The paper contributes to the growing literature on pro forma earnings and more generally to the literature on voluntary and strategic disclosure.
  • Article
    We empirically examine the effects of intensified scrutiny over non-GAAP reporting on the quality of non-GAAP earnings exclusions. We find that, on average, exclusions are of higher quality (i.e., more transitory) following intervention by the Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) into non-GAAP reporting. We further find that firms that stopped releasing non-GAAP earnings numbers after the SEC intervention had lower quality exclusions in the pre-intervention period. These results are consistent with the SEC's objectives of improving the quality of non-GAAP earnings figures. However, when we decompose total exclusions into special items and other exclusions, we find evidence that the quality of special items has decreased in the post-intervention period, which suggests that managers adapted to the new disclosure environment by shifting more recurring expenses into special items. This suggests that there may be unintended consequences arising from the heightened scrutiny over non-GAAP reporting.
  • Article
    Our study examines the circumstances of non-GAAP financial reporting by 492 U.S. companies that announced restatements from 1995 to 1999. We analyze the occurrence and resolution of litigation over restatements; and, we explore the role of accounting items in bringing and resolving this litigation. To do so, we focus on the income statement. We provide evidence on the nature and pervasiveness of accounting misstatements and how, if at all, they affect litigation. We assess the nature of restatements by whether normal, recurring earnings from primary perations (core) or other components of earnings (non-core) are misstated and their pervasiveness by estimating the number of primary accounts misstated. In our sample, companies with core restatements have higher frequencies for intentional misstatements (fraud) and subsequent bankruptcy or delisting. They likewise have, on average, more material misstatements, more negative security price reactions to restatement announcements, and more negative security price changes over the six months preceding and following restatement announcements. However, controlling for these and other factors, we find a significant association between accounting items and litigation, whether occurrences or resolutions. Specifically, core restatements - driven primarily by revenue misstatements, a component of core earnings - and more pervasive restatements each play a role, while misstatements of non-core earnings alone do not.
  • Article
    Recent reports in the business press allege that managers take actions to avoid negative earnings surprises. I hypothesize that certain firm characteristics are associated with greater incentives to avoid negative surprises. I find that firms with higher transient institutional ownership, greater reliance on implicit claims with their stakeholders, and higher value relevance of earnings are more likely to meet or exceed expectations at the earnings announcement. I also examine whether firms manage earnings upward or guide analysts' forecasts downward to avoid missing expectations at the earnings announcement. I examine the relation between firm characteristics and the probability (conditional on meeting analysts' expectations) of having (1) positive abnormal accruals, and (2) forecasts that are lower than expected (using a model of prior earnings changes). Overall, the results suggest that both mechanisms play a role in avoiding negative earnings surprises.
  • Article
    This paper evaluates alternative models for detecting earnings management. The paper restricts itself to models that assume the construct being managed is discretionary accruals, since such models are commonly used in the extant accounting literature. Existing models range from simple models in which discretionary accruals are measured as total accruals, to more sophisticated models that separate total accruals into a discretionary and a non-discretionary component. Prior to this paper, there had been no systematic evidence bearing on the relative performance of these alternative models at detecting earnings management. This paper evaluates the relative performance of the competing models by comparing the specification and power of commonly used test statistics across the measures of discretionary accruals generated by each model. The specification of the test statistics is evaluated by examining the frequency with which they generate type I errors for a random sample of firm-years and for samples of firm-years with extreme financial performance. We focus on samples with extreme financial performance because the stimuli investigated in previous research are frequently correlated with financial performance. The first sample of firms are targeted by the Securities and Exchange Commission for allegedly overstating annual earnings and the second sample is created by artificially introducing earnings management into a random sample of firms.
  • Article
    We study the stock market's reaction to three events in the litigation process: (1) the revelation of potential fraud; (2) the filing a lawsuit; and (3) the judicial resolution of the lawsuit. We find a large and statistically significant negative reaction to the first event, and a smaller but still statistically significant reaction to the second. We find no significant reaction to the resolution of the motion to dismiss. We find little overlap between the variables that previous research has found to be correlate with the incidence of the litigation and the variables that correlate with the resolution of the motion to dismiss. We also find little overlap between the variable that correlate with the outcome of the motion to dismiss and the variables that explain the variance in stock market returns for these dates. We conclude that the outcome of litigation is not generally anticipated by stock market participants and that market returns are not influenced by the outcome of litigation.
  • Article
    This paper examines the consequences of real activities manipulation. Using financial statement data, I identify firms that appear to engage in any of the following real activities manipulation (RM): reducing R&D to increase income, reducing SG&A to increase income, timing of income recognition from the disposal of long-lived assets and investments, and cutting prices to boost sales in the current period and/or overproducing to decrease COGS expense. I then examine whether RM is associated with firms just meeting two earnings benchmarks (zero and last year’s earnings). The results indicate that real activities manipulation of R&D, SG&A, and production are positively associated with firms just meeting these earnings benchmarks. Next, I examine the extent to which real activities manipulation affects subsequent performance. A negative association between just meeting earnings benchmarks by using RM and subsequent performance supports prior research suggesting managers opportunistically use earnings management to the detriment of shareholders (i.e., managerial opportunism). A positive association is consistent with managers using operational discretion to attain benefits that allow better future performance or to signal future firm value. I find that firm-years reflecting RM to just meet earnings benchmarks have higher subsequent firm performance (compared to firm-years that do not engage in RM and miss or just meet the earnings benchmarks). In this setting, using RM to influence the output of the accounting system is not opportunistic, but consistent with managers attaining benefits that allow better future performance or signaling.
  • Article
      This study explores the market response to achieving analyst earnings expectations, distinguishing between expectations achieved through earnings forecast guidance and earnings management. We consider three earnings management tools: real earnings management, working capital accruals management, and classification shifting. Analysis indicates that UK firms use earnings forecast guidance and classification shifting to achieve analyst expectations. The market does not reward firms that achieve expectations through forecast guidance, and achievers that classification shift receive a lower market reward than genuine achievers. The market response aligns with information on future profitability and rational pricing tests show that there is no overall mispricing of achievers. Evidence of stock price incentives to engage in earnings forecast guidance is found only within more opportunistic downward forecast revisions mainly driven by high market growth expectations.
  • Article
    This study investigates security analysts' reactions to public management guidance and assesses whether managers successfully guide analysts toward beatable earnings targets. We use a panel data set between 1995 and 2001 to examine the fiscal-quarter-specific determinants of management guidance and the timing, extent, and outcomes of analysts' reactions to this guidance. We find that management guidance is more likely when analysts' initial forecasts are optimistic, and, after controlling for the level of this optimism, when analysts' forecast dispersion is low. Analysts quickly react to management guidance and are more likely to issue final meetable or beatable earnings targets when management provides public guidance. Our evidence suggests that public management guidance plays an important role in leading analysts toward achievable earnings targets.
  • Article
    This paper investigates whether the market rewards firms meeting current period earnings expectations, and whether any such reward reflects the implications of meeting expectations in the current period for future earnings or reflects a distinct market premium. We document that abnormal annual returns are significantly greater for firms meeting expectations, controlling for the information in the current year’s earnings. We then test whether firms meeting expectations experience higher returns simply because their expected future earnings are also higher. We find firms meeting expectations have significantly higher earnings forecasts and realized earnings than firms that do not. We find that controlling for these higher future earnings, firms meeting expectations in one or two years do not receive a greater valuation than their fundamentals would suggest. We find, however, that the market assigns a higher value to firms that meet expectations consistently, controlling for an estimate of the firm’s fundamental value.
  • Article
    We examine the market reaction to a sample of 403 restatements announced from 1995 to 1999. We document an average abnormal return of about −9 percent over a 2-day announcement window. We find that more negative returns are associated with restatements involving fraud, affecting more accounts, decreasing reported income and attributed to auditors or management (but not the Securities and Exchange Commission). There appears to be an additional penalty for announcements that do not quantify the restatement. Finally, we provide evidence on the relation between restatement announcements and analyst earnings forecast dispersion, bid–ask spreads and subsequent revisions in analyst earnings forecasts.
  • Article
    We investigate the role of book-tax conformity in firms' financial reporting activities using a unique set of publicly traded firms that were forced to switch for tax purposes from the cash method to the accrual method. Prior to the mandated change, little trade-off existed between tax planning and financial reporting goals for these firms. After the change, recognition criteria for tax and financial reporting purposes became more alike, increasing the trade-off between financial reporting and tax objectives. Our results suggest that required use of the accrual method for tax purposes causes firms to defer income for financial statement purposes.
  • Article
    We show that SEO firms engage in real activities manipulation, and the decline in post-SEO performance due to the real activities management is more severe than that due to accrual management. Our evidence is important, because it shows that post-SEO operating underperformance is driven not just by accrual reversals, but also reflects the real consequences of operational decisions made to manage earnings. We also show how firms’ choices of real versus accrual-based earnings management activities around SEOs vary predictably as a function of the firm's ability to use accrual management and the costs of doing so.
  • Article
    I find evidence consistent with managers manipulating real activities to avoid reporting annual losses. Specifically, I find evidence suggesting price discounts to temporarily increase sales, overproduction to report lower cost of goods sold, and reduction of discretionary expenditures to improve reported margins. Cross-sectional analysis reveals that these activities are less prevalent in the presence of sophisticated investors. Other factors that influence real activities manipulation include industry membership, the stock of inventories and receivables, and incentives to meet zero earnings. There is also some, though less robust, evidence of real activities manipulation to meet annual analyst forecasts.
  • Article
    When cumulative net operating income (accounting value-added) outstrips cumulative free cash flow (cash value-added), subsequent earnings growth is weak. If investors with limited attention focus on accounting profitability, and neglect information about cash profitability, then net operating assets, the cumulative difference between operating income and free cash flow, measures the extent to which reporting outcomes provoke over-optimism. During the 1964–2002 sample period, net operating assets scaled by total assets is a strong negative predictor of long-run stock returns. Predictability is robust with respect to an extensive set of controls and testing methods.
  • Article
    This study investigates whether market participants perceive pro forma earnings to be more informative and more persistent than GAAP operating income by analyzing a sample of 1,149 actual pro forma press releases. We find that pro forma announcers report frequent GAAP losses and are mostly concentrated in the service and high-tech industries. Our analyses of short-window abnormal returns and revisions in analysts’ one-quarter-ahead earnings forecasts indicate that pro forma earnings are more informative and more permanent than GAAP operating earnings. Our evidence suggests that market participants believe pro forma earnings are more representative of “core earnings” than GAAP operating income.
  • Article
    This paper examines systematic differences in earnings management across 31 countries. We propose an explanation for these differences based on the notion that insiders, in an attempt to protect their private control benefits, use earnings management to conceal firm performance from outsiders. Thus, earnings management is expected to decrease in investor protection because strong protection limits insiders’ ability to acquire private control benefits, which reduces their incentives to mask firm performance. Our findings are consistent with this prediction and suggest an endogenous link between corporate governance and the quality of reported earnings.
  • Article
    Abnormal accounting accruals are unusually high around stock offers, especially high for firms whose offers subsequently attract lawsuits. Accruals tend to reverse after stock offers and are negatively related to post-offer stock returns. Reversals are more pronounced and stock returns are lower for sued firms than for those that are not sued. The incidence of lawsuits involving stock offers and settlement amounts are significantly positively related to abnormal accruals around the offer and significantly negatively related to post-offer stock returns. Our results support the view that some firms opportunistically manipulate earnings upward before stock issues rendering themselves vulnerable to litigation.
  • Article
    We survey and interview more than 400 executives to determine the factors that drive reported earnings and disclosure decisions. We find that managers would rather take economic actions that could have negative long-term consequences than make within-GAAP accounting choices to manage earnings. A surprising 78% of our sample admits to sacrificing long-term value to smooth earnings. Managers also work to maintain predictability in earnings and financial disclosures. We also find that managers make voluntary disclosures to reduce information risk and boost stock price but at the same time, try to avoid setting disclosure precedents that will be difficult to maintain.
  • Article
    We examine the specification and power of tests based on performance-matched discretionary accruals, and make comparisons with tests using traditional discretionary accrual measures (e.g., Jones and modified-Jones models). Performance matching on return on assets controls for the effect of performance on measured discretionary accruals. The results suggest that performance-matched discretionary accrual measures enhance the reliability of inferences from earnings management research when the hypothesis being tested does not imply that earnings management will vary with performance, or where the control firms are not expected to have engaged in earnings management.
  • Article
    This paper finds that firms that meet or beat current analysts’ earnings expectations (MBE) enjoy a higher return over the quarter than firms with similar quarterly earnings forecast errors that fail to meet these expectations. Further, such a premium to MBE, although somewhat smaller, exists in the cases where MBE is likely to have been achieved through earnings or expectations management. The findings also indicate that the premium to MBE is a leading indicator of future performance. This premium and its predictive ability are only marginally affected by whether the MBE is genuine or the result of earnings or expectations management.
  • Article
    Assistant Professor of Finance, New York University. The author acknowledges the helpful suggestions and comments of Keith V. Smith, Edward F. Renshaw, Lawrence S. Ritter and the Journal' reviewer. The research was conducted while under a Regents Fellowship at the University of California, Los Angeles.
  • Article
    Full-text available
    The practice of reporting manager-adjusted 'pro forma' earnings numbers in quarterly earnings press releases has attracted considerable attention in recent years in the United States. Prior research suggests that while some managers report these adjusted numbers to better reflect core earnings, others may use these earnings adjustments to meet strategic earnings targets on a pro forma basis when they fall short based on GAAP reporting standards. Assuming the latter motivation could potentially mislead investors, the difficulty lies in distinguishing the 'good guys' from the 'bad guys.' Using hand-collected pro forma earnings data, we investigate the extent to which different types of earnings adjustments affect the spread between pro forma earnings and GAAP earnings from continuing operations. Moreover, we investigate which types of adjustments managers use to meet strategic earnings targets. In addition to the exclusion of one-time items like restructuring charges, the results indicate that managers often exclude recurring expenses such as depreciation, research and development, and stock-based compensation to meet these strategic targets. The exclusion of recurring items is especially indicative of aggressive pro forma reporting. Finally, we find that firms that report adjusted earnings numbers only sporadically are more likely than firms that adjust earnings figures on a regular basis to use pro forma reporting to achieve strategic earnings targets by excluding recurring items. Copyright (c) 2009 The Authors Journal compilation (c) 2009 Blackwell Publishing Ltd.
  • Article
    Most earnings restatements are blamed on error, or misunderstanding of GAAP, but suspicion persists that many of these restatements are instead due to intentional earnings management. We analyze balance sheet bloat, or unusually high levels of working capital account balances, for evidence of sustained, income-increasing earnings management "prior" to initial non-GAAP financial reports. We establish a pattern of systematically increasing balance sheet bloat for firms later issuing clearly fraudulent financial reports. Next, we compare bloat for apparently non-fraud restatements to fraud and control samples. We find non-fraud restatement companies' bloat is higher than control companies for two years preceding the initial misstated financial report. But, these firms accumulate less balance sheet bloat than companies with restatements clearly involving fraud. This suggests meaningful, but not pervasive, earnings management underlying even apparently non-fraudulent restatements. We extend our analysis to discretionary accruals and real activity earnings management. Copyright (c) 2010 Blackwell Publishing Ltd.
  • Article
    Full-text available
    Prior research has estimated piece-meal the determinants of audit fees, non-audit fees and abnormal accruals. Intuition, informal analysis, and a variety of theories suggest that audit fees, non-audit fees, and abnormal accruals are jointly determined. We address this endogeneity issue by modeling the confluence of audit fees, fees for non-audit services and abnormal accruals in a system of simultaneous equations. Our joint estimation provides a starting point to look simultaneously at several competing theories. Using audit and non-audit fee data from the UK for 1994–2000, we find evidence consistent with knowledge spillovers (or economies of scope) from auditing to non-audit services and from non-audit services to auditing. While knowledge spillovers from non-audit services to auditing have been found in prior research [e.g. see Simunic, 1984], the presence of knowledge spillovers from auditing to non-audit services is a new result. Contrary to recent results in Ferguson et al. (2000) and Frankel et al. (2002), we do not find support for the assertion that fees for non-audit services increase abnormal accruals. In fact, contrary to the results in Ashbaugh et al. (2003) and Chung and Kallapur (2003), we find that non-audit fees decrease abnormal accruals, which we attribute to the productive effects of non-audit services. We also find evidence that audit fees increase abnormal accruals, consistent with behavioral theories of unconscious influence or bias in the auditor-client relation. The findings are robust to tests with US data.