Earnings Management? Erroneous Inferences Based on Earnings Frequency Distributions
Peter D. Easton
University of Notre Dame - Department of Accountancy
July 7, 2009
A vast literature following Hayn  and Burgstahler and Dichev  attributed the so-called “discontinuities” in earnings distributions around zero to earnings management. Despite recent evidence that these discontinuities are likely caused by other factors, researchers and teachers continue to point to the shapes of these distributions as evidence of earnings management. We provide three sets of further evidence that these discontinuities are likely caused by factors other than earnings management: (1) we provide, as an example, a detailed analysis of the severe effects of sample selection in a recent study; this study erroneously concludes that the shape of an earnings distribution is evidence of earnings management, (2) we provide a simple explanation for the shape of the earnings distribution that is most often cited as evidence of earnings management; the relation between earnings and prices differs with the magnitude and the sign of earnings, and (3) we provide further examples that support the main point of our paper; evidence beyond the mere shape of a distribution must be brought to bear before researchers can draw conclusions regarding the presence/absence of earnings management.
Keywords: earnings management, integral method, scale, sample selection
Date posted: April 19, 2010
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