Managerial Behavior and the Bias in Analysts' Earnings Forecasts

43 Pages Posted: 2 Sep 1998

See all articles by Lawrence D. Brown

Lawrence D. Brown

Temple University - Department of Accounting

Date Written: July 2, 1998

Abstract

Managerial behavior differs considerably when managers report quarterly profits versus losses. When they report profits, managers seek to just meet or slightly beat analyst estimates. When they report losses, managers do not attempt to meet or slightly beat analyst estimates. Instead, managers often do not forewarn analysts of impending losses, and the analyst's signed error is likely to be negative and extreme (i.e., a measured optimistic bias).

Brown (1997 Financial Analysts Journal) shows that the optimistic bias in analyst earnings forecasts has been mitigated over time, and that it is less pronounced for larger firms and firms followed by many analysts. In the present study, I offer three explanations for these temporal and cross-sectional phenomena. First, the frequency of profits versus losses may differ temporally and/or cross-sectionally. Since an optimistic bias in analyst forecasts is less likely to occur when firms report profits, an optimistic bias is less likely to be observed in samples possessing a relatively greater frequency of profits. Second, the tendency to report profits that just meet or slightly beat analyst estimates may differ temporally and/or cross-sectionally. A greater tendency to 'manage profits' (and analyst estimates) in this manner reduces the measured optimistic bias in analyst forecasts. Third, the tendency to forewarn analysts of impending losses may differ temporally and/or cross-sectionally. A greater tendency to 'manage losses' in this manner also reduces the measured optimistic bias in analyst forecasts.

I provide the following temporal evidence. The optimistic bias in analyst forecasts pertains to both the entire sample and the losses sub-sample. In contrast, a pessimistic bias exists for the 85.3% of the sample that consists of reported profits. The temporal decrease in the optimistic bias documented by Brown (1997) pertains to both losses and profits. Analysts have gotten better at predicting the sign of a loss (i.e., they are much more likely to predict that a loss will occur than they used to), and they have reduced the number of extreme negative errors they make by two-thirds. Managers are much more likely to report profits that exactly meet or slightly beat analyst estimates than they used to. In contrast, they are less likely to report profits that fall a little short of analyst estimates than they used to. I conclude that the temporal reduction in optimistic bias is attributable to an increased tendency to manage both profits and losses. I find no evidence that there exists a temporal change in the profits-losses mix (using the I/B/E/S definition of reported quarterly profits and losses).

I document the following cross-sectional evidence. The principle reason that larger firms have relatively less optimistic bias is that they are far less likely to report losses. A secondary reason that larger firms have relatively less optimistic bias is that their managers are relatively more likely to report profits that slightly beat analyst estimates. The principle reason that firms followed by more analysts have relatively less optimistic bias is that they are far less likely to report losses. A secondary reason that firms followed by more analysts have relatively less optimistic bias is that their managers are relatively more likely to report profits that exactly meet analyst estimates or beat them by one penny. I find no evidence that managers of larger firms or firms followed by more analysts are relatively more likely to forewarn analysts of impending losses. I conclude that cross-sectional differences in bias arise primarily from differential 'loss frequencies,' and secondarily from differential 'profits management.'

The paper discusses implications of the results for studies of analysts forecast bias, earnings management, and capital markets. It concludes with caveats and directions for future research.

JEL Classification: M41, M43, G29

Suggested Citation

Brown, Lawrence D., Managerial Behavior and the Bias in Analysts' Earnings Forecasts (July 2, 1998). Available at SSRN: https://ssrn.com/abstract=113508 or http://dx.doi.org/10.2139/ssrn.113508

Lawrence D. Brown (Contact Author)

Temple University - Department of Accounting ( email )

Philadelphia, PA 19122
United States

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