Managing Earnings to Appear Truthful: The Effect of Public Scrutiny on Exactly Meeting a Threshold
51 Pages Posted: 4 Nov 2020
Date Written: September 30, 2020
The past two decades have not eliminated managers’ willingness to manage earnings to meet and beat earnings thresholds, but have increased investors’ skepticism of earnings that exactly meet those thresholds, providing perverse incentives to not meet earnings expectations exactly. Using a low-external-context experiment, we find that managers avoid exactly meeting a benchmark, even when they must alter true earnings and incur a monetary cost to do so. We manipulate the effect of intensified scrutiny of managers and find that when earnings exactly meet a benchmark, managers are more likely to misreport earnings when they report under high public scrutiny. This is particularly the case for managers who are sensitive to others’ perceptions (and thus low on the Dark Triad scale). Further, we show that this misreporting increases managers’ belief that the market will accept their reports, consistent with managers misreporting for self-presentational goals. Thus, we examine a new incentive to manage earnings: misreporting to appear truthful. These results help explain otherwise undetectable behavior around earnings benchmarks and are important as managers are increasingly scrutinized by critical media, activists, and political oversight bodies, and as they face skepticism via more intimate forms of disclosure and communication, such as social media.
Keywords: Experimental Economics, Earnings Management, Benchmarks, Financial Reporting, Public Scrutiny, Dark Triad
JEL Classification: C91, C92, G1, M41, M43
Suggested Citation: Suggested Citation