How are Earnings Managed? An Examination of Specific Accruals

Posted: 15 Feb 2004

See all articles by Christine I. Wiedman

Christine I. Wiedman

University of Waterloo

Carol A. Marquardt

City University of New York (CUNY) – Baruch College

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There is relatively little evidence on the specific accruals used to manage earnings. This paper examines this issue by considering the use of specific accruals in three earnings management contexts: equity offerings, management buyouts, and firms avoiding earnings decreases. We argue that the costs of managing earnings through different income statement items vary and that the benefits of earnings management through each of these items depend upon the context. We thus make differential predictions regarding which specific accrual will be used to manage earnings in each of the three contexts we consider. To measure earnings management for specific accruals, we develop performance-matched measures to capture the unexpected component of accounts receivable, inventory, accounts payable, accrued liabilities, depreciation expense, and special items.

Consistent with our predictions, we find that firms issuing equity appear to prefer managing earnings upward by accelerating revenue recognition. Specifically, we find that accounts receivable for these firms are unexpectedly high. Conversely, for the management buyout context we predict and find unexpected accounts receivable to be negative. For firms trying to avoid reporting an earnings decrease, we expect firms to be less concerned with earnings persistence and therefore more likely to use more transitory, and less costly, items to achieve their goal. We find that special items are significantly more positive for this group. This paper provides a further step towards understanding how the incentives behind earnings management affect the method used to achieve earnings goals and also illustrates the usefulness of examining individual accruals in specific contexts.

Keywords: earnings management, specific accruals, equity offerings, meeting benchmarks

JEL Classification: M41, M43

Suggested Citation

Wiedman, Christine I. and Marquardt, Carol, How are Earnings Managed? An Examination of Specific Accruals. Contemporary Accounting Research, Vol. 21, No. 2, Summer 2004. Available at SSRN:

Carol Marquardt

City University of New York (CUNY) – Baruch College ( email )

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