The Usefulness of Accounting Estimates for Predicting Cash Flows and Earnings
64 Pages Posted: 6 May 2005 Last revised: 2 Feb 2009
Date Written: January 20, 2009
Estimates and projections are embedded in most financial statement items. These estimates potentially improve the relevance of financial information by providing managers the means to convey to investors forward-looking, inside information (e.g., on future collections from customers via the bad debt provision). On the other hand, the quality of financial information is compromised by: (i) the increasing difficulty of making reliable forecasts in a fast-changing, often turbulent economy, and (ii) the frequent managerial misuse of estimates to manipulate financial data. Given the ever-increasing prevalence of estimates in accounting data, whether these opposing forces result in an improvement in the quality of financial information or not is among the most fundamental issues in accounting.
We examine in this study the contribution of accounting estimates embedded in accruals to the quality of financial information, as reflected by their usefulness in the prediction of enterprise cash flows and earnings. Our extensive out-of-sample tests, reflecting both the statistical and economic significance of estimates, indicate that accounting estimates beyond those in working capital items do not improve the prediction of cash flows. Estimates do, however, improve the prediction of next year's earnings, though not of subsequent years' earnings. Our economic significance tests corroborate that accounting estimates do not improve cash flow or earnings prediction. We conclude that the usefulness of accounting estimates to investors is limited, and provide suggestions for improving their usefulness.
JEL Classification: M41, G14, M43, M44
Suggested Citation: Suggested Citation