When Do Firms Highlight Their Effective Tax Rate?
60 Pages Posted: 17 Sep 2020 Last revised: 20 Jul 2021
Date Written: July 2021
This study examines GAAP effective tax rate (ETR) visibility as a distinct disclosure choice in firms’ financial statements. By applying a game-theory disclosure model for the voluntary disclosure strategies of firms, in a tax setting, we argue that firms face a trade-off in their ETR disclosure decisions. On the one hand, firms have an incentive to enhance their ETR disclosure when the ratio offers shareholders “favourable conditions”, for example, higher expected after-tax cash-flows. On the other hand, the disclosure of a favourable low ETR could attract the attention of tax auditors and the public and ultimately result in disclosure costs. We empirically test disclosure behaviour by examining the relation between disclosure visibility and different ETR conditions that reflect different stakeholder-specific costs and benefits. While we find that unfavourable ETR conditions are not highlighted, we observe higher disclosure visibility for favourable ETRs (smooth, close to the industry average, and decreasing ETRs). Additional analyses reveal that this high visibility is characteristic of firm years with only moderately decreasing ETRs at usual ETR levels, while extreme ETRs are not highlighted. Interestingly and in contrast to our main results, a subsample of family firms does not seem to highlight favourable ETRs.
Keywords: Effective tax rate, Cost-benefit trade-off, Disclosure decision, Reputational costs, Tax disclosure
JEL Classification: H25, H26, M41, M49
Suggested Citation: Suggested Citation