Do Firms Time Changes in Accounting Estimates to Manage Earnings?
51 Pages Posted: 28 Sep 2021 Last revised: 3 Nov 2021
Date Written: September 23, 2021
We investigate whether firms time their decisions to make changes in accounting estimates (CAEs) in consideration of their earnings benchmarks. Using CAE data from 2006-2018, we find that 28.1 percent of income-increasing CAEs are implemented in quarters where pre-CAE earnings are below a forecasted earnings benchmark but inclusion of the CAE effectively allows the firm to meet the benchmark. We find that income-increasing CAEs are more likely implemented when a firm’s pre-CAE earnings are further below the benchmark. We also find that firms are more likely to implement income-decreasing CAEs under two scenarios: 1) when pre-CAE earnings are relatively high, as a way to either smooth earnings or to “bury bad news,” and 2) when pre-CAE earnings are already low, as a way to take a financial “big bath” and position the firm for positive future earnings. Additionally, we present evidence that firms using CAEs to achieve an earnings benchmark face financial consequences in terms of poorer immediate stock price performance and subsequent return on assets. Our conclusions hold after performing several additional analyses, including consideration of other discretionary options, addressing endogeneity concerns and conducting falsification tests. In sum, we contribute to the earnings management literature by presenting consistent evidence that firms appear to time CAEs to meet earnings benchmarks or achieve other reporting objectives.
Keywords: Change in accounting estimate (CAE), earnings management, earnings benchmarks, discretionary financial reporting
JEL Classification: M41
Suggested Citation: Suggested Citation