Earnings Precision and the Relations between Earnings and Returns

53 Pages Posted: 30 Apr 2008 Last revised: 23 Oct 2017

See all articles by David Burgstahler

David Burgstahler

University of Washington

Elizabeth Chuk

University of California Irvine

Date Written: October 18, 2017


The low estimates of earnings response coefficients (hereafter, ERCs) reported in the literature have sometimes been interpreted as indicating that earnings information is relatively unimportant (Beaver, Lambert, and Morse 1980; Lev 1989). Prior literature typically documents ERCs in the range of 1 to 3 (Kothari 2001), which is an order of magnitude lower than theoretically plausible earnings capitalization factors (hereafter, ECFs) in the range of 10 to 30. This paper uses a simple Bayesian model to highlight and explain differences between the coefficient relating security returns to observable unexpected earnings (i.e., the ERC) versus the coefficient relating changes in firm value to unobservable revisions in expected earnings (i.e., the ECF). In this model, the ERC is the product of a Bayesian weight and the ECF, which implies that the ERC is lower than the ECF and that variation in the relative precision of the earnings signal translates directly into variation in the ERCs. Results for a large sample of widely followed firms from 1992-2014 show that proxies for precision explain a broad empirical range of relations between earnings and returns. In fact, we find that high-precision subsamples comprising 29% of the sample have ERCs greater than 27 and subsamples comprising the majority of observations have ERCs greater than 14. Thus, our model and results reconcile the large gap between typical empirical estimates of ERCs versus plausible values for ECFs, and suggest that earnings information is a far more important determinant of value than the low ERCs in the prior literature would seem to imply.

Keywords: Earnings precision, earnings response coefficients, analyst forecasts, uncertainty

JEL Classification: G14, M40

Suggested Citation

Burgstahler, David C. and Chuk, Elizabeth, Earnings Precision and the Relations between Earnings and Returns (October 18, 2017). Available at SSRN: https://ssrn.com/abstract=1119400 or http://dx.doi.org/10.2139/ssrn.1119400

David C. Burgstahler (Contact Author)

University of Washington ( email )

555 Paccar Hall, Box 353226
Seattle, WA 98195-3226
United States
206-543-6316 (Phone)
206-685-9392 (Fax)

Elizabeth Chuk

University of California Irvine

UC Irvine
Irvine, CA California 92697
United States

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