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Earnings Management? Erroneous Inferences Based on Earnings Frequency Distributions




ABSTRACT A vast literature following Hayn [1995] and Burgstahler and Dichev [1997] attributed the so-called "discontinuities" in earnings distributions around zero to earnings management. Despite recent evidence that these discontinuities are likely caused by other factors, researchers and teachers continue to point to the shapes of these distributions as evidence of earnings management. We provide three sets of further evidence that these discontinuities are likely caused by factors other than earnings management: (1) we provide, as an example, a detailed analysis of the severe effects of sample selection in a recent study; this study erroneously concludes that the shape of an earnings distribution is evidence of earnings management, (2) we provide a simple explanation for the shape of the earnings distribution that is most often cited as evidence of earnings management; the relation between earnings and prices differs with the magnitude and the sign of earnings, and (3) we provide further examples that support the main point of our paper; evidence beyond the mere shape of a distribution must be brought to bear before researchers can draw conclusions regarding the presence/absence of earnings management. Copyright (c), University of Chicago on behalf of the Accounting Research Center, 2009.

Suggested Citation

  • Cindy Durtschi & Peter Easton, 2009. "Earnings Management? Erroneous Inferences Based on Earnings Frequency Distributions," Journal of Accounting Research, Wiley Blackwell, vol. 47(5), pages 1249-1281, December.
  • Handle: RePEc:bla:joares:v:47:y:2009:i:5:p:1249-1281

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    Cited by:

    1. Gaganis, Chrysovalantis & Hasan, Iftekhar & Pasiouras, Fotios, 2016. "Regulations, institutions and income smoothing by managing technical reserves: International evidence from the insurance industry," Omega, Elsevier, vol. 59(PA), pages 113-129.
    2. Dechow, Patricia & Ge, Weili & Schrand, Catherine, 2010. "Understanding earnings quality: A review of the proxies, their determinants and their consequences," Journal of Accounting and Economics, Elsevier, vol. 50(2-3), pages 344-401, December.
    3. Burgstahler, David & Chuk, Elizabeth, 2015. "Do scaling and selection explain earnings discontinuities?," Journal of Accounting and Economics, Elsevier, vol. 60(1), pages 168-186.
    4. Wei Jiang & Meiting Lu & Yaowen Shan & Tingting Zhu, 2016. "Evidence of Avoiding Working Capital Deficits in Australia," Australian Accounting Review, CPA Australia, vol. 26(1), pages 107-118, March.
    5. Gilliam, Thomas A. & Heflin, Frank & Paterson, Jeffrey S., 2015. "Evidence that the zero-earnings discontinuity has disappeared," Journal of Accounting and Economics, Elsevier, vol. 60(1), pages 117-132.
    6. Sanjay W. Bissessur & David Veenman, 2016. "Analyst information precision and small earnings surprises," Review of Accounting Studies, Springer, vol. 21(4), pages 1327-1360, December.
    7. Badertscher, Brad A. & Collins, Daniel W. & Lys, Thomas Z., 2012. "Discretionary accounting choices and the predictive ability of accruals with respect to future cash flows," Journal of Accounting and Economics, Elsevier, vol. 53(1), pages 330-352.
    8. Akinobu Shuto & Takuya Iwasaki, 2013. "The Effect of Institutional Factors on Discontinuities in Earnings Distribution: Public Versus Private Firms in Japan," Discussion Paper Series DP2013-32, Research Institute for Economics & Business Administration, Kobe University, revised Jul 2014.
    9. repec:eee:advacc:v:41:y:2018:i:c:p:25-45 is not listed on IDEAS
    10. repec:eee:reacre:v:23:y:2011:i:2:p:114-129 is not listed on IDEAS
    11. Mark Wilson, 2011. "Earnings Management in Australian Corporations," Australian Accounting Review, CPA Australia, vol. 21(3), pages 205-221, September.
    12. repec:bla:acctfi:v:57:y:2017:i:1:p:239-260 is not listed on IDEAS
    13. Sharad Asthana, 2017. "Diversification by the audit offices in the US and its impact on audit quality," Review of Quantitative Finance and Accounting, Springer, vol. 48(4), pages 1003-1030, May.
    14. Yim, Andrew, 2013. "Mixture and Continuous 'Discontinuity' Hypotheses: An Earnings Management Model with Auditor-Required Adjustment," MPRA Paper 44702, University Library of Munich, Germany.

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