Understanding Cost Management: What Can We Learn from the Evidence on 'Sticky Costs'?
Shannon W. Anderson
University of California, Davis - Graduate School of Management
William N. Lanen
University of Michigan, Stephen M. Ross School of Business
Anderson, Banker and Janakiraman  find that the absolute change in SG&A cost associated with decreased sales activity is systematically less than that associated with increased sales activity (so-called “sticky” costs). They interpret this as evidence of overt cost management. We review theory, empirical tests, and data employed in the sticky cost literature and argue that sticky cost behavior is not sufficient to discriminate between managerial and mechanical theories of cost management. We conclude that, using the empirical specification and data of prior studies, any observed cost behavior is consistent with cost management and focus instead on whether adjustment costs that are hypothesized to influence cost management decisions are associated with sticky cost behavior. We identify problems with an incomplete theory about adjustment costs (and assumed asymmetries) as well as problems in how plausible theories relate to the empirical test and aggregate financial accounting data used in these studies.
Number of Pages in PDF File: 44
Keywords: cost management, sticky costs, adjustment costs
JEL Classification: M41, M46, L23, L93, J30, D21
Date posted: March 27, 2007 ; Last revised: May 10, 2009