Earnings Management to Avoid Debt Covenant Violations and Future Performance
Accounting Research Network, 2020
63 Pages Posted: 26 Oct 2020
Date Written: September 6, 2020
In this study, we examine the trade-offs between earnings management (both accruals and real) and covenant violations by examining how they are associated with future accounting and stock market performance. We analyze a matched-pair sample of covenant violation firms with non-violation firms that have a similar risk of a covenant violation. We have three main findings. First, our evidence indicates that covenant violations are costly events for shareholders as lenders appear to use their control rights in ways that increase the likelihood of loan repayment but impose costs for shareholders. Second, there is limited evidence indicating covenant-related accrual-earnings management activities impose significant costs on shareholders, but we find shareholders are worse off following unsuccessful real earnings management. Third, our evidence indicates that, on average, shareholders at high violation risk firms are better off when their firms successfully engage in accruals earnings management to avoid a violation compared to shareholders at firms that violate a covenant but do not manage earnings. Thus, covenant-related earnings management may be in the best interests of shareholders and is not necessarily evidence of shareholder-manager agency conflicts.
Keywords: earnings management; debt covenants violations; future firm performance
JEL Classification: M41, G10
Suggested Citation: Suggested Citation