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Accounting Choice and Earnings Quality: The Case of Software Development

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  • Mustafa Ciftci

Abstract

In this study I explore how accounting choice affects earnings quality in the software development industry. SFAS No. 86, which requires capitalization of software development costs (SDC), is the only exception in the US to SFAS No. 2, which requires immediate expensing of all research and development (R&D) expenditures. Aboody and Lev (1998) suggest that capitalized SDC are value-relevant. Thus, expensing of these costs might introduce noise into earnings. However, it has been suggested that future benefits associated with SDC are highly uncertain (Software Publishers Association). Consequently, capitalization might introduce noise into earnings by capitalizing unproductive expenditures. Hence, it is not clear how managers' choice between capitalization and expensing will affect earnings quality. I first find that there is a decline in the quality of earnings in the software industry after the adoption of SFAS No. 86, whereas no such decline is observed in other high-tech industries. Second, I find that, within the software industry, the quality of earnings for expensers is greater than for capitalizers. Finally, I find that, among the capitalizers, those with a large increase in software capital have lower earnings quality than others. Overall, the results suggest that capitalization of software costs does not improve earnings quality.

Suggested Citation

  • Mustafa Ciftci, 2010. "Accounting Choice and Earnings Quality: The Case of Software Development," European Accounting Review, Taylor & Francis Journals, vol. 19(3), pages 429-459.
  • Handle: RePEc:taf:euract:v:19:y:2010:i:3:p:429-459
    DOI: 10.1080/09638180.2010.496551
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