Rating Agency Adjustments to GAAP Financial Statements and Their Effect on Ratings and Credit Spreads
New York University (NYU) - Leonard N. Stern School of Business; New York University (NYU) - Department of Accounting, Taxation & Business Law
March 8, 2014
AAA 2009 Financial Accounting and Reporting Section (FARS) Paper
Using a dataset of financial statements that are adjusted by Moody's for its credit analysis, I document extensive and large differences between firms' reported U.S. GAAP numbers and firms' adjusted numbers. Off-balance sheet financing accounts for the largest difference. The adjusted leverage ratio exceeds the reported leverage ratio by 20% (70%) for the median (average) firm. Adjusted profitability ratios and cash flow to debt ratios differ from their U.S. GAAP equivalents primarily because of greater adjusted interest expense and greater adjusted debt numbers. This implies that essentially all firms in the sample understate their leverage. In addition to adjusting reported accounting numbers, credit analysts adjust ratings down by an average of 0.38 notches due to credit risk from qualitative factors. I predict and find that rating agency adjustments are associated with greater credit spreads and a flatter credit spread term structure. This implies that credit ratings are a function of quantitative adjustments to U.S. GAAP numbers and the rating agency's qualitative assessment of credit risk arising from soft factors. The results suggest that rating agency's quantitative and soft adjustments capture true default risk and rating agencies efficiently process accounting and soft information. Thus ratings can serve as a contracting device to incorporate off-balance-sheet debt adjustments and credit-risk increasing soft factors.
Number of Pages in PDF File: 49
Keywords: Rating agencies, off-balance sheet finance, corporate credit risk
JEL Classification: G33, G32, G10, D82
Date posted: September 11, 2008 ; Last revised: March 11, 2014
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