Earnings Management and Deferred Taxes: The Valuation Allowance for Deferred Tax Assets
Gregory S. Miller
University of Michigan, Stephen M. Ross School of Business
Douglas J. Skinner
The University of Chicago - Booth School of Business
A long-standing issue in the accounting literature is whether corporate managers exercise their accounting discretion to influence reported earnings. This paper extends this research by investigating whether managers manipulate the 'valuation allowance' for deferred tax assets. This account has several features that recommend it as a good place to look for earnings management. First, since this account is fairly 'new' (1992), there are no well-established formulae, or even any clear guidelines, for deciding on the appropriate level for this allowance. Second, the appropriate level of the allowance depends on managers' expectations about future earnings. For both of these reasons managers must exercise an unusual amount of discretion in choosing the appropriate level for this account. Finally, for many firms this provision is large enough to effect material adjustments to accounting earnings. We find that there is a good deal of variation across firms in the level of the valuation allowance. Part of this variation is explained by factors that appropriately reflect managers' expectations about whether their firms' deferred tax assets will be realized. In addition, after controlling for these factors, we find support for two earnings-management hypotheses: both the debt/equity hypothesis and income-smoothing have empirical support.
JEL Classification: M41, M43
Date posted: June 16, 1998