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A Guide to Earnings Quality

23 Pages Posted: 31 Oct 2013  

Ilia D. Dichev

Emory University - Department of Accounting

John R. Graham

Duke University; National Bureau of Economic Research (NBER)

Campbell R. Harvey

Duke University - Fuqua School of Business; National Bureau of Economic Research (NBER); Duke Innovation & Entrepreneurship Initiative

Shivaram Rajgopal

Columbia Business School

Date Written: October 30, 2013

Abstract

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

Dichev, Ilia D. and Graham, John R. and Harvey, Campbell R. and Rajgopal, Shivaram, A Guide to Earnings Quality (October 30, 2013). Available at SSRN: https://ssrn.com/abstract=2347428 or http://dx.doi.org/10.2139/ssrn.2347428

Ilia Dichev

Emory University - Department of Accounting ( email )

1300 Clifton Road
Atlanta, GA 30322-2722
United States

John Graham

Duke University ( email )

Box 90120
Durham, NC 27708-0120
United States
919-660-7857 (Phone)
919-660-8030 (Fax)

National Bureau of Economic Research (NBER)

1050 Massachusetts Avenue
Cambridge, MA 02138
United States

Campbell Harvey (Contact Author)

Duke University - Fuqua School of Business ( email )

Box 90120
Durham, NC 27708-0120
United States
919-660-7768 (Phone)
919-660-8030 (Fax)

National Bureau of Economic Research (NBER)

1050 Massachusetts Avenue
Cambridge, MA 02138
United States

Duke Innovation & Entrepreneurship Initiative ( email )

215 Morris St., Suite 300
Durham, NC 27701
United States

Shivaram Rajgopal

Columbia Business School ( email )

3022 Broadway
New York, NY 10027
United States

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