A Guide to Earnings Quality
23 Pages Posted: 31 Oct 2013
Date Written: October 30, 2013
This teaching guide is based on a comprehensive survey as well as in-depth interviews of Chief Financial Officers (CFOs). We ask the CFOs about the definition and drivers of earnings quality, with a special emphasis on the prevalence and detection of earnings misrepresentation. CFOs believe that the hallmarks of earnings quality are sustainability, absence of one-time items, and backing by actual cash flows. Earnings quality is determined in about equal measure by controllable factors like internal controls and corporate governance, and non-controllable factors like industry membership and macroeconomic conditions. On earnings misrepresentation, CFOs believe that in any given period a remarkable 20% of firms intentionally distort earnings, even though they are adhering to generally accepted accounting principles. The economic magnitude of the misrepresentation is large, averaging about 10% of reported earnings. While most misrepresentation involves earnings overstatement, interestingly, one third of the firms that are misrepresenting performance are low-balling their earnings or reversing a prior intentional overstatement. Finally, CFOs provide a list of red flags that can be used to detect earnings misrepresentation.
Detailed tables and references are available at http://ssrn.com/abstract=2103384.
Keywords: Earnings management, earnings misrepresentation, real earnings management, earnings fraud, earnings overstatement, earnings distortion, earnings quality, one-time items, sustainable earnings, persistent earnings, accruals, real earnings management, earnings red flags, corporate governance
JEL Classification: M40, M41, M42, M48, G32, G38
Suggested Citation: Suggested Citation