Monday, November 05, 2007

Does short-term debt lead to more "earnings management"?

In another paper from the FMAs, Gupta and Fields look at whether more short term debt leads to more "earnings management."

Does short-term debt lead to more "earnings management"?

Short answer: YES.

Longer answer:

Intuitively the idea behind the paper is that if a firm has to go back to the capital markets, they do not want to do so when times are bad. Of course, sometimes times are bad. In those times, management may be tempted to "manage" earnings so that things do not appear as bad as they may be.

The findings? Sure enough, managers seemingly manage their firm's earnings more when the firm has more short term debt.

A few look-ins:

From the Abstract (this is the best summary of the entire paper):
"...results indicate that (i) firms with more current debt are more susceptible to managing earnings, (ii) this relation is stronger for firms facing debt market constraints (those without investment grade debt) and (iii) auditor characteristics such as auditor quality and tenure help diminish this relation...."

Which fits intuition. Why?
* The more the constraints, the more incentive the management has to manage earnings since if they do not, they may not be able to refinance.
* Auditors would frown upon this behavior and the stronger the auditor, the less likely it is that the manager would manage earnings.

How does this "earnings management" manifest itself? The most common way (although not the only way) that managers manipulate earnings is through the use of accruals . Thus, the authors examine this and find:
"A one standard-deviation increase in short-term debt (total current liabilities) increases discretionary accruals by 1.69% and increase total accruals by 2.28%. Our evidence supports the idea that debt maturity significantly impacts the tendency of firms to manage earnings."
Which is a really interesting finding!

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