Making the Numbers? "Short Termism” & the Puzzle of Only Occasional Disaster
AbstractMuch recent work in strategy and popular discussion suggests that an excessive focus on “managing the numbers” --delivering quarterly earnings at the expense of longer term investments--makes it difficult for firms to make the investments necessary to build competitive advantage. “Short termism” has been blamed for everything from the decline of the US automobile industry to the low penetration of techniques such as TQM and continuous improvement. Yet a vigorous tradition in the accounting literature establishes that firms routinely sacrifice long-term investment to manage earnings and are rewarded for doing so. This paper presents a model that can reconcile these apparently contradictory perspectives. We show that if the source of long-term advantage is modeled as a stock of capability that accumulates gradually over time, a firm’s proclivity to manage short-term earnings at the expense of long-term investment can have very different consequences depending on whether the firm’s capability is close to a critical “tipping threshold”. When the firm operates above this threshold, managing earnings smoothes revenue with few long-term consequences. Below it, managing earnings can tip the firm into a vicious cycle of accelerating decline. Our results have important implications for understanding managerial incentives and the internal processes that lead to sustained advantage.
Download InfoIf you experience problems downloading a file, check if you have the proper application to view it first. In case of further problems read the IDEAS help page. Note that these files are not on the IDEAS site. Please be patient as the files may be large.
Bibliographic InfoPaper provided by National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc in its series NBER Working Papers with number 16367.
Date of creation: Sep 2010
Date of revision:
Contact details of provider:
Postal: National Bureau of Economic Research, 1050 Massachusetts Avenue Cambridge, MA 02138, U.S.A.
Web page: http://www.nber.org
More information through EDIRC
Find related papers by JEL classification:
- L25 - Industrial Organization - - Firm Objectives, Organization, and Behavior - - - Firm Performance
You can help add them by filling out this form.
For technical questions regarding this item, or to correct its authors, title, abstract, bibliographic or download information, contact: ().
If references are entirely missing, you can add them using this form.