Causes and Consequences of Earnings Manipulation: An Analysis of Firms Subject to Enforcement Actions by the SEC*


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    Accepted by John Wild. This paper was presented at the 1995 CAR Conference, generously supported by Alberta's Chartered Accountants through the Accounting Education Foundation of Alberta, the Canadian Institute of Chartered Accountants, the Ernst & Young Foundation, the CGA Canada Research Foundation, the Peat Marwick Thorne Educational Foundation, the Society of Management Accountants of Canada, and the University of Alberta. We thank Jim Jiambalvo and two anonymous referees for their suggestions. We also thank workshop participants at University of British Columbia, Columbia University, the Financial Decision and Control Conference at the Harvard Business School, Hong-Kong Institute of Science and Technology, University of Maryland, Ohio State, University of Pennsylvania, University of Washington, Seattle, University of Wisconsin -Madison, Southern Methodist University, Vanderbilt University, the American Accounting Association Meetings and the tenth annual Contemporary Accounting Research Conference for valuable comments. Any errors are our own We gratefully acknowledge funding by the Division of Research, Harvard Business School and a Faculty Research Grant from the University of Pennsylvania. We thank Brian Ear for diligent research assistance, I/B/E/S International Inc. for analyst forecast data and Paul Asquith and Lisa Meulbroek for providing us with short interest data.


Abstract. This study investigates firms subject to accounting enforcement actions by the Securities and Exchange Commission for alleged violations of Generally Accepted Accounting Principles. We investigate: (i) the extent to which the alleged earnings manipulations can be explained by extant earnings management hypotheses; (ii) the relation between earnings manipulations and weaknesses in firms' internal governance structures; and (iii) the capital market consequences experienced by firms when the alleged earnings manipulations are made public. We find that an important motivation for earnings manipulation is the desire to attract external financing at low cost. We show that this motivation remains significant after controlling for contracting motives proposed in the academic literature. We also find that firms manipulating earnings are: (i) more likely to have boards of directors dominated by management; (ii) more likely to have a Chief Executive Officer who simultaneously serves as Chairman of the Board; (iii) more likely to have a Chief Executive Officer who is also the firm's founder, (iv) less likely to have an audit committee; and (v) less likely to have an outside blockholder. Finally, we document that firms manipulating earnings experience significant increases in their costs of capital when the manipulations are made public.

Résumé. Les auteurs analysent les entreprises assujetties aux mesures d'exécution prises par la Securities and Exchange Commission dans les cas de présomption de transgression des principes comptables généralement reconnus. Ils s'intéressent aux aspects suivants de la question: i) la mesure dans laquelle les présomptions de manipulations des bénéfices peuvent être expliquées par les hypothèses existantes de gestion des bénéfices; ii) la relation entre les manipulations de bénéfices et les faiblesses des structures de régie interne des entreprises; et iii) la réaction du marché financier à l'endroit des entreprises au sujet desquelles les présomptions de manipulation des bénéfices sont rendues publiques. Les auteurs constatent qu'un incitatif majeur à la manipulation des bénéfices est le désir d'obtenir du financement externe à moindre coût. Ils démontrent que cet incitatif demeure important même après le contrôle des motifs contractuels que mettent de l'avant les travaux théoriques. Ils constatent également que les entreprises qui manipulent les bénéfices sont: i) davantage susceptibles d'avoir des conseils d'administration dominés par la direction; ii) davantage susceptibles d'avoir un chef de la direction qui joue simultanément le rôle de président du conseil; iii) davantage susceptibles d'avoir un chef de la direction qui est également le fondateur de l'entreprise; iv) moins susceptibles d'avoir un comité de vérification; et v) moins susceptibles d'avoir un bloc de titres détenus par un actionnaire extérieur. Enfin, les auteurs établissent le fait que le coût du capital, pour les entreprises qui manipulent les bénéfices, enregistre des hausses appréciables lorsque ces manipulations sont rendues publiques.