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The Extreme Future Stock Returns Following I/B/E/S Earnings Surprises


  • We would like to thank Richard Leftwich (the editor), an anonymous referee, Mark Bradshaw, Ian Gow, Amy Hutton, Rueven Lehavy, Lihong Liang, Scott Richardson, and workshop participants at the Carnegie Mellon summer camp, Dartmouth University, George Washington University, London Business School, Massachusetts Institute of Technology, University of Melbourne, University of Michigan, University of Montana, University of Pennsylvania, Queens University, University of Queensland, and the American Accounting Association 2004 Annual Meeting. The data used in this study are publicly available from the sources indicated in the text.


We investigate the stock returns subsequent to quarterly earnings surprises, where the benchmark for an earnings surprise is the consensus analyst forecast. By defining the surprise relative to an analyst forecast rather than a time-series model of expected earnings, we document returns subsequent to earnings announcements that are much larger, persist for much longer, and are more heavily concentrated in the long portion of the hedge portfolio than shown in previous studies. We show that our results hold after controlling for risk and previously documented anomalies, and are positive for every quarter between 1988 and 2000. Finally, we explore the financial results and information environment of firms with extreme earnings surprises and find that they tend to be “neglected” stocks with relatively high book-to-market ratios, low analyst coverage, and high analyst forecast dispersion. In the three subsequent years, firms with extreme positive earnings surprises tend to have persistent earnings surprises in the same direction, strong growth in cash flows and earnings, and large increases in analyst coverage, relative to firms with extreme negative earnings surprises. We also show that the returns to the earnings surprise strategy are highest in the quartile of firms where transaction costs are highest and institutional investor interest is lowest, consistent with the idea that market inefficiencies are more prevalent when frictions make it difficult for large, sophisticated investors to exploit the inefficiencies.