Determinants of Revenue Reporting Practices for Internet Firms
Robert M. Bowen
University of San Diego - Department of Accountancy; University of Washington - Foster School of Business
Angela K. Davis
University of Oregon
Columbia Business School
Contemporary Accounting Research, Vol. 19, No. 4, Winter 2002
The financial press and accounting regulators (e.g., the SEC and FASB) have expressed concern about pressures on Internet firms to report high levels of revenue. This study verifies the association between market capitalization and revenue, and examines economic factors that potentially influence Internet company managers' decisions to adopt allegedly aggressive revenue recognition policies. Specifically, we examine factors hypothesized to influence reporting of advertising barter revenue and grossed-up sales levels.
We begin by providing descriptive evidence on the use of barter and grossed-up revenue across Internet sectors. While common in some sectors, we find that use of these accounting policies is not pervasive overall. We limit our empirical analyses to Internet companies that have the opportunity to report grossed-up or advertising barter revenue. Our cross-sectional predictions are based on both external and internal incentives to maximize revenues as well as constraints that may limit management's discretion. We predict that the following factors increase the likelihood that a firm will report grossed-up and/or barter revenue: shorter time before needing additional external financing, more active individual investor interest in the firm's stock, more active pursuit of growth via acquisitions, and greater use of stock options in employee compensation. We also posit that barter transactions might be an inexpensive way for firms to evaluate the viability of future marketing or content alliances with potential partners. Finally, we predict constraints on management discretion to be related to the reputation/quality of the firm's auditor and underwriter, and the extent of management ownership.
We find that firms with greater cash burn rates and higher levels of activity on Motley Fool message boards are consistently associated with barter and grossed-up revenue reporting. This suggests that the pressure to seek external funding and the extent of active individual investor interest in a firm influence Internet managers' use of allegedly aggressive revenue reporting practices. In addition, it appears that firms reporting barter revenue are more likely to enter into marketing and content alliances, suggesting the potential for future alliances may be another motivation for managers to enter into barter transactions.
Keywords: tax, VAT, fiscal policy
JEL Classification: M41, M43, H25, G24
Date posted: October 14, 2002