The Persistence of Earnings and Cash Flows and the Role of Special Items: Implications for the Accrual Anomaly
Posted: 16 Sep 2006
We argue that high accruals are likely to be the outcome of rules with an income statement perspective, while low accruals are likely to be the outcome of rules with a balance sheet perspective and that this has implications for the properties of earnings. Specifically, earnings persistence is affected both by the magnitude and sign of the accruals. Accruals improve the persistence of earnings relative to cash flows in high accrual firms, but reduce earnings persistence in low accrual firms. We show that the low persistence of earnings in low accrual firms is primarily driven by special items. We then show that special item-low accrual firms have higher future stock returns than other low accrual firms. This is consistent with investors misunderstanding the transitory nature of special items. Further analysis reveals that special item-low accrual firms have poor past performance and declines in investor recognition (analyst coverage and institutional holdings). Special items continue to explain future returns after controlling for these factors.
Keywords: accrual anomaly, earnings persistence, cash flows, special items, investor recognition
JEL Classification: G10, G29, M41, M44
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