Asymmetric Timeliness of Earnings, Market-to-Book and Conservatism in Financial Reporting
Ross L. Watts
Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) - Sloan School of Management
MIT Sloan Research Paper No. 4550-05
Simon Business School Working Paper No. FR 04-21
When annual earnings are regressed on annual returns, the returns coefficient is higher when returns are negative. The difference between the coefficients of earnings on positive and negative returns is called asymmetric timeliness of earnings and, in the accounting literature, is used extensively as a conservatism measure. The objective of this paper is to investigate the relation between asymmetric timeliness and the market-to-book ratio (MTB), using a theory of accounting conservatism that reflects the role of accounting as observed in practice. Recent literature has focused on the negative relation between the two measures. Using our theory of conservatism, we predict and observe empirically that the relation between asymmetric timeliness over a period and MTB at the end of the period is positive when asymmetric timeliness is measured cumulatively over long horizons. Our paper further highlights that when asymmetric timeliness is measured over short periods not including the firm's IPO, it is dependent on the composition of equity value at the beginning of that period. This dependence is responsible for the negative association observed between asymmetric timeliness estimated over short periods and MTB at the end of the period. Our theory and empirical results further suggest that asymmetric timeliness is a better measure of total conservatism at a point in time when it is estimated cumulatively over multiple years preceding that time. Overall, our results are consistent with our theory that accounting does not record changes in rents and is asymmetrically timely in recording changes in separable asset values.
Keywords: Conservatism, asymmetric timeliness, accruals, earnings management, international accounting, executive compensation, debt financing
JEL Classification: M41, M43, M44, M47, G12, G34, G35, J33working papers series
Date posted: December 20, 2004
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