The role of accrual accounting in restricting dividends to shareholders
This paper addresses the question why net earnings and other accrual accounting numbers are frequently used to restrict dividends to shareholders. Even though this role of accrual accounting is widely accepted in the literature, a theory explaining the role of accruals in dividend restrictions is still in its early stages. Building on the principal-agent framework, I argue that basic features of the accrual process can be viewed as arising from the demand for dividend restrictions mitigating debt-related incentive problems. This explanation is consistent with the observation that, historically, debt contracting, dividend restrictions and the development of accrual accounting have been closely related. The basic idea is that the use of transactions and events in the accrual process leads to a contingent specification of the upper bound on dividends in an earnings-based constraint. Transactions and events used in the accrual process can be viewed as imperfect, but verifiable indicators for (unverifiable) determinants of debt-related incentive problems. This general idea is applied to incentive problems that regularly arise in a multi-period context. The paper demonstrates that the accrual process may mitigate distortions in shareholders' investment decisions using provisions and depreciation charges as examples.
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Volume (Year): 7 (1998)
Issue (Month): 4 ()
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