While hundreds of research papers discuss earnings quality, there is no agreed-upon definition. We take a unique perspective on the topic by focusing our efforts on the producers of earnings quality: Chief Financial Officers. In our paper, The Misrepresentation of Earnings, which was recently made publicly available on SSRN, we explore the definition, characteristics, and determinants of earnings quality, including the prevalence and identification of earnings misrepresentation. To do so, we conduct a large-scale survey of 375 CFOs on earnings quality. We supplement the survey with 12 in-depth interviews with CFOs from prominent firms.
Posts Tagged ‘GAAP’
Companies commonly supplement their reported earnings under U.S. generally accepted accounting principles (GAAP) with non-GAAP financial measures that they believe more accurately reflect their results of operations or financial position or that are commonly used by investors to evaluate performance. A non-GAAP financial measure is a numerical measure of a company’s historical or future financial performance, financial position or cash flows that includes or excludes amounts from the most directly comparable GAAP measure. Non-GAAP financial measures are used by companies to bridge the divide between corporate reporting that is standardized under GAAP and reporting that is tailored to a particular industry or circumstance.
The Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) permits companies to present non-GAAP financial measures in their public disclosures as well as registration statements filed under the Securities Act of 1933 (Securities Act) and periodic reports filed under the Securities Exchange Act of 1934 (Exchange Act), subject to compliance with Regulation G and Item 10(e) of Regulation S-K (Item 10(e)). These regulations were adopted to ensure that investors are provided with financial information that is fulsome and not misleading.
The Division of Risk, Strategy and Financial Innovation, or “RSFI”, was formed, in part, to integrate rigorous data analytics into the core mission of the SEC. Often referred to as the SEC’s “think tank,” RSFI consists of highly trained staff from a variety of backgrounds with a deep knowledge of the financial industry and markets. We are involved in a wide variety of projects across all Divisions and Offices within the SEC and I believe we approach regulatory issues with a uniquely broad perspective.
Because my Division has a slightly cumbersome name – which is why you might hear us colloquially called “RiskFin” (though I prefer the more inclusive and accurate “RSFI,” as you can see) – today in my remarks I thought I’d focus on one word in our magisterial title: “Risk.” Risk, particularly as relates to the financial markets, can be a capacious term, and my Division certainly touches on many of those various meanings. But we are particularly focused on developing cutting-edge ways to integrate data analysis into risk monitoring.
In our paper, Fair Value Accounting for Financial Instruments: Does it improve the Association between Bank Leverage and Credit Risk?, which was recently made publicly available on SSRN, we contribute to the debate on whether financial instruments should be measured at fair value in financial statements. Accounting standard setters have been deliberating the role of fair values for financial instruments for decades. A fair value is the price at which two willing parties would exchange an asset or settle a liability. Starting after the savings and loan crisis in the late 1980s, the Financial Accounting Standards Board (FASB) has increased the extent to which financial instruments are recognized at fair value (see Godwin, Petroni, and Wahlen 1998). In 2010, the FASB proposed to require that all financial instruments be recognized at fair value, with limited exceptions for receivables and payables and some companies’ own debt (FASB 2010). The proposal was controversial, with over 2,800 comment letters submitted, the vast majority of which objected to the fair value measurement of loans, deposits, and financial liabilities. The FASB is redeliberating this project and has tentatively decided that all financial instruments should be measured at fair value except certain debt financial assets and most financial liabilities (including deposits), which would be measured at amortized cost (FASB 2011).
To empirically provide insight on the controversy, we assess whether a fair value leverage ratio can explain measures of a bank’s credit risk better than a leverage ratio based on a mixture of fair values and historical costs consistent with the mixed-attribute model of US Generally Accepted Accounting Principles (GAAP) and a leverage ratio based on even fewer fair values than GAAP, which is consistent with regulatory Tier 1 capital. We focus on balance sheet leverage because it is very commonly used for assessing firm risk. We define a bank’s credit risk as the risk that the bank defaults on its obligations, and we focus on credit risk because understanding a bank’s credit risk is essential to understanding its financial condition.
In my paper, Managerial Investment and Changes in GAAP: An Internal Consequence of External Reporting, which was recently made publicly available on SSRN, I investigate whether changes in Generally Accepted Accounting Principles (GAAP) affect corporate investment decisions. I hypothesize that the relation between changes in GAAP and investment manifests for at least two non-mutually exclusive reasons. First, I hypothesize that changes in GAAP can affect investment because the numbers reported in financial statements have a direct bearing on contractual outcomes. For example, debt contracts often contain covenants based on numbers reported in financial statements (Leftwich ). Consequently, if a change in GAAP has an unfavorable (favorable) impact on current and future financial statements, and debt covenants are not adjusted to incorporate the changes, the change in GAAP will likely tighten (loosen) covenant slack. As a result, managers may alter their actions to avoid covenant violation. Specifically, since most investments have an uncertain future outcome and some positive probability that the outcome is a loss, they increase the probability of violating covenants in the future by adversely impacting future financial ratios. Consequently, managers might respond to changes in GAAP that adversely affect financial statements by cutting investment in risky assets with the goal of preserving net worth and preventing deterioration of financial ratios.
In the paper, Accounting Standards and Debt Covenants: Has the “Balance Sheet Approach” Led to a Decline in the Use of Balance Sheet Covenants?, forthcoming in the Journal of Accounting and Economics as published by Elsevier, I examine whether the “balance sheet approach” has led to a decline in the use of balance sheet covenants. Debt contracts, and especially private loan agreements, frequently include accounting-based debt covenants. Many of these covenants require the borrower to maintain a threshold level of some financial ratio or measure. A broad range of financial measures are employed in these financial covenants. Some are written on earnings from the income statement; the borrower may be required to maintain a minimum level of earnings relative to their interest expense (interest coverage) or their total debt (debt-to-earnings). Similarly, covenants are also written on values from the balance sheet; these include covenants requiring a minimum level for the book value of equity (net worth) or a maximum amount of debt in the capital structure (leverage). If the borrower fails to maintain a covenant threshold, the debt enters technical default. In technical default, the creditor has the option to attempt action against the borrower; a common consequence is renegotiation with stricter contract terms.
In the paper, Non-GAAP and Street Earnings: Evidence from SFAS 123R, recently made publicly available on SSRN, we examine how key market participants—managers and analysts—responded to SFAS 123R‘s controversial requirement that firms recognize stock-based compensation expense. Despite mandated recognition of the expense, some firms’ managers exclude it from non-GAAP earnings and some firms’ analysts exclude it from Street earnings.
In our paper, How Did Financial Reporting Contribute to the Financial Crisis? forthcoming in the European Accounting Review, we scrutinize the role that financial reporting for fair values, asset securitizations, derivatives, and loan loss provisioning played in contributing to the Financial Crisis. Because banks were at the center of the Financial Crisis, we focus our discussion and analysis on the effects of financial reporting by banks. We begin by discussing the objectives of financial reporting and bank regulation to help clarify that information standard setters require firms provide to the capital markets and information required by bank regulators for prudential supervision will not necessarily be the same. This distinction is important to understanding why financial reporting played a limited role in contributing to the Financial Crisis.
In our paper, Are International Accounting Standards-Based and US GAAP-Based Accounting Amounts Comparable? which was recently made publicly available on SSRN, we seek to determine the extent to which application of International Financial Reporting Standards (IFRS) as applied by non-US firms (hereafter, IFRS firms) results in accounting amounts that are comparable to those resulting from application of US Generally Accepted Accounting Principles (GAAP) by US firms. We do this by addressing two questions. The first is whether comparability is higher after IFRS firms apply IFRS than when they applied non-US domestic standards. The second is whether after IFRS firms adopt IFRS comparability differs depending on whether a firm adopted IFRS mandatorily, depending on the legal origin of an IFRS firm’s country, and for more recent reporting years. Although there is a growing literature examining whether application of IFRS affects quality of accounting amounts and has economic implications in capital markets, no study directly examines the extent to which application of IFRS by IFRS firms results in accounting amounts that are comparable to those based on application of US GAAP by US firms.
The Securities and Exchange Commission recently filed its first civil enforcement action under Regulation G, alleging that a public company intentionally misclassified certain ordinary operating expenses as nonrecurring expenses in order to increase its earnings. SEC v. SafeNet, Inc., Litig. Rel. No. 21290 (Nov. 12, 2009). Regulation G provides that, if a public company discloses material information that includes a financial measure not calculated in conformity with generally accepted accounting principles (GAAP), the company must reconcile the non-GAAP financial measure to the most directly comparable GAAP financial measure. Regulation G also prohibits public companies from disseminating false or misleading non-GAAP financial measures or presenting non-GAAP financial measures in a manner that would mislead investors or obscure the company’s GAAP results.
The SEC alleged that the company failed to comply with Regulation G by making improper adjustments to the company’s expenses. The improper adjustments allegedly included reclassifying ordinary expenses as nonrecurring integration expenses, reducing accruals for professional fees and reducing inventory reserve accruals. According to the SEC’s complaint, these adjustments were made without factual support in order to inflate the company’s earnings, and the company provided false and misleading explanations to its independent auditors when the auditors questioned the adjustments. The SEC complaint also alleged that former corporate officers and internal accountants engaged in a fraudulent scheme to backdate stock option grants without recording the requisite compensation expense for the option grants and used improper accounting adjustments to achieve earnings targets.