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The effect of alternative goals on earnings management studies: An earnings benchmark examination

James C. Hansen

Journal of Accounting and Public Policy, 2010, vol. 29, issue 5, 459-480

Abstract: Firms' management manages earnings because they have incentives or goals to do so. Earnings management studies have to account for these different goals as tests of earnings management can be compromised by the effect of conflicting goals. I illustrate this in the setting of Dechow et al. (2003). Their study examines whether firms with small profits and firms with small losses (loss-avoidance benchmark) have differing levels of discretionary accruals. Dechow et al. (2003) find that firms just above the loss-avoidance benchmark do not have discretionary accruals that are significantly different than firms just below the benchmark. However, they do not consider firms just below the loss-avoidance benchmark that might be using discretionary accruals to avoid missing an alternative benchmark. I find that after I consider these alternate earnings benchmark goals, firms just above the benchmark have significantly higher discretionary accruals. This provides direct evidence that the 'kink' in the distribution of earnings arises from earnings management. I find similar results for the earnings changes benchmark. These findings highlight the need to consider alternative earnings benchmark goals when examining firms immediately around benchmarks.

Date: 2010
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