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Accounting conservatism, business strategy, and ambiguity

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  • Hsieh, Chia-Chun
  • Ma, Zhiming
  • Novoselov, Kirill E.

Abstract

We investigate whether accounting conservatism can be explained as a rational response to ambiguity. Decision analysis shows that decision rules that work well under ambiguity put greater weight on negative than on positive outcomes, i.e., exhibit caution. Accounting conservatism increases the timeliness of bad news that is more relevant under cautious decision rules and thereby helps corporate managers and investors implement them. We, therefore, hypothesize that firms facing greater ambiguity report more conservatively. We adopt two different measures to proxy for the firm-specific level of ambiguity. First, we identify firms pursuing the “prospector” versus “defender” business strategies. Compared with defenders, who focus on utilizing existing resources, prospectors actively create their future by seeking new business opportunities and thus face greater ambiguity. Second, we conduct an additional set of tests based on environmental scanning, which reduces ambiguity. Both sets of results suggest that firms facing greater ambiguity report more conservatively.

Suggested Citation

  • Hsieh, Chia-Chun & Ma, Zhiming & Novoselov, Kirill E., 2019. "Accounting conservatism, business strategy, and ambiguity," Accounting, Organizations and Society, Elsevier, vol. 74(C), pages 41-55.
  • Handle: RePEc:eee:aosoci:v:74:y:2019:i:c:p:41-55
    DOI: 10.1016/j.aos.2018.08.001
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    More about this item

    Keywords

    Ambiguity; Uncertainty; Caution; Prudence; Accounting conservatism;
    All these keywords.

    JEL classification:

    • D81 - Microeconomics - - Information, Knowledge, and Uncertainty - - - Criteria for Decision-Making under Risk and Uncertainty
    • G32 - Financial Economics - - Corporate Finance and Governance - - - Financing Policy; Financial Risk and Risk Management; Capital and Ownership Structure; Value of Firms; Goodwill
    • M41 - Business Administration and Business Economics; Marketing; Accounting; Personnel Economics - - Accounting - - - Accounting

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