Earnings Management around the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act of 2017
50 Pages Posted: 27 Jan 2021
Date Written: October 30, 2020
This paper examines earnings management around the reduction in the corporate tax rate from 35% to 21% as enacted by the ‘Tax Cuts and Jobs Act’ (TCJA) of 2017. Building on a theoretical model that considers a higher level of book-tax conformity of ‘real earnings management’ (REM) in relation to ‘accrual-based earnings management’ (AEM), we hypothesize that firms concertedly use these manipulation techniques for different purposes. Specifically, we predict and find that firms engage in REM to shift income from the high-tax period prior to the TCJA to the low-tax period after of the TCJA to realize tax benefits. In contrast, we predict and find that firms use AEM, which has a lower degree of book-tax conformity, to simultaneously increase book income. Consistent with intertemporal income shifting, we also find that these effects reverse in 2018. Overall, our results document a potential unintended consequence of the TCJA on firm behavior that should be useful to policymakers, regulators, and researchers to evaluate the largest tax reform since 1986.
Keywords: Tax Cuts and Jobs Act (TCJA), tax reform, income shifting, tax avoidance, real earnings management, accrual-based earnings management.
JEL Classification: G12, G14, H25, M41, M48.
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