Research Paper Series

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Departments: Accounting & Management Control

Exit theory predicts a governance role of non-managerial blockholders’ exit threats; but this role could be ineffective if the managers’ potential private benefits exceed their loss in stock-price declines caused by non-managerial blockholders’ exit. We test this prediction using the Split-Share Structure Reform (SSSR) in China, which provided a large, exogenous, and permanent shock to the cost for non-managerial blockholders to exit. Using a difference-in-differences design combined with propensity-score matching, we find that firms whose non-managerial blockholders experience an increase in exit threat have a greater improvement in performance than those whose non-managerial blockholders experience no increase. The improvement is as much as 37.2% of the average pre-SSSR treatment sample operating performance. Moreover, the governance effect of exit threats becomes ineffective in the group of firms with the highest concern for private benefits of control. Finally, a battery of theory-motivated tests show that the documented effects are unlikely explained by non-managerial blockholder intervention or some well-known intended effects of SSSR.

Keywords: Exit-Threat Theory, Private Benefits of Control, Liquidity, China, Split-Share Structure Reform, Operating Performance, Quasi-Experiment


Departments: Accounting & Management Control, GREGHEC (CNRS)

This study examines how a firm’s business relationship with the U.S. government, in particular, sales to the government, impacts its loan contract terms and how the effect is different from that of major corporate customers. We find that firms with major government customers have a lower number of covenants and are less likely to have performance pricing provisions in their loan contracts than other firms, whereas major corporate customers do not have such impacts. We do not find evidence that major government customers affect the supplier firm’s loan spread, security, or maturity. We conjecture that lenders benefit from the strict monitoring activities of the government customer and reduce the use of covenants and performance pricing in loan contracts when the borrowing firm has a government customer.

Keywords: Government Customers, Loan Contract Terms


Departments: Accounting & Management Control, GREGHEC (CNRS)

Prior research provides mixed evidence on whether the transition to IAS/IFRS deters or contributes to greater earnings management (earnings smoothing). The dominant explanation for the conflicting results is self-selection. Early voluntary adopters had incentives to increase the transparency of their reporting in order to attract outside capital, and, therefore, earnings management (smoothing) went down after adoption, while those firms that waited until IFRS adoption became mandatory in EU countries lacked incentives for transparent reporting leading to increases in earnings management (smoothing) after IFRS adoption. We argue that IAS/IFRS standards changed substantially from the early voluntary adoption period to the mandatory adoption year (2005). Compared to earlier IAS/IFRS standards and many countries’ domestic GAAP standards, we maintain that the IFRS standards that went into effect in 2005 provide greater flexibility of accounting choices because of vague criteria, overt and covert options, and subjective estimates that are allowed under these principle-based standards. We argue that this greater flexibility coupled with the lack of clear guidance on how to implement these new standards has led to greater earnings management (smoothing). Consistent with this view, we find an increase in earnings management (smoothing) from pre-2005 to post-2005 for Early Adopters and Late Adopters in countries that allowed early IAS/IFRS adoption, and for Mandatory Adopters in countries that did not allow early IFRS adoption. Our major findings hold after eliminating firms more likely to have mechanically-induced increases in earnings smoothing properties as a result of IFRS adoption and across countries with and without concurrent improvements in enforcement of accounting standards. We also find that firms from countries with less (more) local GAAP flexibility exhibit greater (less) evidence of increases in earnings smoothing following mandatory adoption of IFRS standards in 2005. Collectively, our results suggest that the increased flexibility of new IAS/IFRS standards and lack of clear guidance in implementing these standards are major factors that explain earnings management (smoothing) changes around IFRS adoption.

Keywords: IFRS, earnings management, smoothing


Departments: Accounting & Management Control, GREGHEC (CNRS)

We present new evidence on the violation of priority of claims in bankruptcy and recovery rates for secured creditors, unsecured creditors, equity holders using a sample of firms that filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy between 1993 and 2004. Our study reveals a number of new insights: First, we find a significant reduction in the violations of priority of claims compared to research on prior periods with equity holders appearing to have lost their ability to extract concessions in violation to priority of claims. Second, the results are consistent with the hypothesis that unsecured creditors accept a violation to priority of their claims in order to obtain a faster resolution. Third, the results suggest that secured creditors are less likely, and unsecured creditors are more likely, to experience a violation to priority of their claims when secured creditors exercise increased control over the debtor (as proxied by debtor in possession financing). Finally, violations to secured creditors priority of claims are more likely when filings occur in Delaware and the Southern District of New York than elsewhere.

Keywords: Bankruptcy, Priority of Claims, Chapter 11, APR Violations, Debtor-in-possession financing, Delaware


Departments: Accounting & Management Control, GREGHEC (CNRS)

The observed smoothing of earnings (i.e. negative contemporaneous correlation between accruals and cash flows) is the joint product of the role of accruals in smoothing out transitory fluctuations in operating cash flows (noise reduction role) and the role of accruals in providing timely gain and loss recognition (contracting role). These two roles of accruals have opposite effects on earnings smoothing properties. We demonstrate that failing to control for changes in timely gain and loss recognition as firms shift to IFRS can lead to erroneous inferences regarding the effects of IFRS adoption on earnings smoothing, and consequently on researcher’ conclusions about how IFRS adoption has affected accounting quality. Our results are consistent with IFRS adoption resulting in a change in the contracting role rather than the noise reduction role of accruals. A decrease in timely loss recognition, an increase in timely gain recognition, and a net decrease in asymmetric timely loss recognition are what drives the change in observed smoothing of earnings.

Keywords: Earnings smoothing, IFRS, Timely gain and loss recognition


Departments: Accounting & Management Control, GREGHEC (CNRS)

While increases in earnings are common, we identify a setting in which they signal a separating equilibrium. Firms that “defy gravity’ (DG) by reporting increases in earnings despite experiencing a decline in sales from continuing operations, signal their viability as a going- concern, and achieve separation from other firms with decreasing sales. We find that DG signals higher future earnings, cash flows, and one-year-ahead stock returns. More importantly, we find that the DG signal is more credible when more costly to produce: DG firms subsequently perform better when (1) they are ex ante in poorer financial health, (2) the magnitude of the earnings shortfall is larger (they have higher downward cost rigidity), (3) they pass up the opportunity of taking a ‘big bath’ in times of crisis (years where declines in earnings can be blamed on economy-wide shocks), and (4) when they have less flexibility to manage earnings upwards. Finally, because some degree of pooling remains within DG firms, we show that the DG signal is more credible when it is produced contemporaneously with abnormal CEO buying. To our knowledge, this study is the first to provide empirical evidence that earnings increases that are more costly to achieve are more credible signals of future performance.

Keywords: Signaling, Costliness, Credibility, Earnings


Departments: Strategy & Business Policy, GREGHEC (CNRS), Accounting & Management Control

We study the impact of a new nationally advertised six-month intensive training program to encourage social entrepreneurship among youth. Program costs were on the order of 12,000 euros per participant. We conduct a randomized field experiment where 50 applicants were randomly allocated to the program and 50 similar applicants were rejected. We measure social entrepreneurial skills, intentions, aspirations and actions, progress towards launching a venture, and some non-cognitive skills pre and post treatment. Treatment effects were marginal on ventures’ progression six months after program completion. We find no treatment effects on non-cognitive skills, intentions or aspirations. Those that had made more progress on their venture prior to the start of the program were more likely to make progress afterwards, irrespective of whether they joined the program or not. Training people to become entrepreneurs seems to be difficult and costly.

Keywords: Field experiment, Social entrepreneurship, Entrepreneurship


Departments: Accounting & Management Control, GREGHEC (CNRS)

This paper examines how corporate reliance on budgets is affected by major changes in the economic environment. We combine survey and archival data from the economic crisis that began in 2008. The results indicate that, as a result of the economic crisis, budgeting became more important for planning and resource allocation but less important for performance evaluation. Additional evidence from interviews and data gathered in a focus group further illustrate these results and show the changes organizations have introduced to respond to the economic crisis. Taken together, and contrary to more general conclusions from the literature such as an overall increase or decrease in the importance of budgeting, we find that companies emphasize certain budgeting functions over others during economic crises.

Keywords: Budgeting, budgeting functions, economic crisis, crisis management


Departments: Accounting & Management Control, GREGHEC (CNRS)

Prior research has documented the continued existence of an expectation gap, defined as the divergence between the public’s and the profession’s conceptions of auditor’s duties, despite the auditing profession’s attempt to adopt standards and practices to close this gap. In this paper, we consider one potential explanation for the persistence of the expectation gap: the role of media bias in shaping public opinion and views. We analyze press articles covering 40 U.S. corporate fraud cases discovered between 1992 and 2011. We compare the auditor’s duties, described by the auditing standards, with the description of the fraud cases as found in the press articles. We draw upon prior research to identify three sources of the expectation gap: deficient performance, deficient standards, and unreasonable expectations. The results of our analysis provide evidence that: (1) The performance gap can be reduced by strengthening auditor’s willingness and ability to apply existing auditing standards concerning fraud detection; (2) The standards gap can be narrowed by improving existing auditing standards; (3) Unreasonable expectations, however, involve elements beyond the profession’s sphere of control. As a result, the expectation gap is unlikely to disappear given the media’s tendency to bias, with an overemphasis of unreasonable expectations in their coverage of frauds and press articles tending to reinforce the view that the auditor should take more responsibility for detecting fraud, irrespective of whether this is feasible at a reasonable cost. In addition to the primary role of the press in perpetuating the expectation gap, a second reason for continuation of the expectation gap is that the rational auditor will have difficulty in assessing subjective components of fraudulent behavior.

Keywords: Expectation gap, Media bias, Corporate fraud, Management behavior, Press, Fraud-related professional standards


Departments: Accounting & Management Control, GREGHEC (CNRS)

This article aims to clarify the consequences of accounting conservatism from a stewardship (principal-agent) point of view. Prior literature argues that the limited liability of the agent always results in a demand for conservatism, and that conservatism is beneficial because it deters earnings management. I challenge both arguments. Firstly, I show and derive the conditions under which an aggressive (or liberal) accounting information system might be preferred to a conservative one when the agent has limited liability. Risk aversion plays a crucial role, with a higher degree of risk aversion encouraging increased aggressiveness. Secondly, I provide the stylized example of choosing between rules-based (Rules ) and principles-based (Principles ) accounting. The latter, involving greater subjectivity, might increase the likelihood of earnings manipulation, but enables the agent to communicate relevant, albeit self-serving, private information. Both effects result in Principles being less conservative than Rules. I show that Principles might, nonetheless, be optimal, depending on the value of the likelihood ratio of manipulation versus the provision of relevant information. Manipulation and self-serving reports, which introduce an aggressive bias, might be the price to pay for more informative accounts.

Keywords: Earnings management, Accounting conservatism, Limited liability, Ranking of accounting information systems, Principal Agent


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