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Keywords:

  • Communication;
  • Corporate annual reports;
  • Disclosure;
  • Graphs

The use of graphs to disclose financial information in corporate annual reports represents a significant dimension of financial disclosure management. This study replicates and extends previous research into financial graphs by documenting the nature and extent of graph use and departures from representational neutrality among the 1991 corporate annual reports of the top one hundred companies listed on the Australian Stock Exchange. Eighty-nine per cent of companies use graphs; the mean number is 9.4, with diversified companies using the most graphs. The most commonly graphed financial variables are sales, profit, EPS and DPS. Evidence is found that graph use is contingent upon favourable performance. In addition, material measurement distortion is found in 34 per cent of all key financial graphs. Eighty-six per cent of companies have slope parameters which depart more than 10° from the optimum, thus impairing communicative effectiveness. A range of design strategies are employed which are consistent with the adoption of an impression management schema. No persistent systematic differences between forms of distortion and industry group are found. Comparison with prior single-country studies reveals that graphs are used more extensively in Australia than in the U.S.A., the U.K. or Canada, but that there is less evidence of impression management. This latter finding is consistent with the view that there are fewer short-term and capital-market pressures in Australia.