Earnings management and audit adjustments: An empirical study of IBEX 35 constituents
Doubts about the reliability of a company's qualitative financial disclosure increase market participant expectations from the auditor's report. The auditing process is supposed to serve as a monitoring device that reduces management incentives to manipulate reported earnings. Empirical research confirms that it could be an efficient device under some circumstances and recognizes that our estimates of the informativeness of audit reports are unavoidably biased (e.g., because of a client's anticipation of the auditing process). This empirical study supports the significant role of auditors in the financial market, in particular in the prevention of earnings management practice. We focus on earnings misstatements, which auditors correct with an adjustment, using a sample of past and current constituents of the benchmark market index in Spain, IBEX 35, and manually collected audit adjustments reported over the 1997-2004 period (42 companies, 336 annual reports, 75 earnings misstatements). Our findings confirm that companies more often overstate than understate their earnings. An investor may foresee earnings misreporting, as manipulators have a similar profile (e.g., more leveraged and with lower sales). However, he may receive valuable information from the audit adjustment on the size of earnings misstatement, which can be significantly large (i.e., material in almost all cases). We suggest that the magnitude of an audit adjustment depends, other things constant, on annual revenues and free cash levels. We also examine how the audit adjustment relates to the observed market price, trading volume and stock returns. Our findings are that earnings manipulators have a lower price and larger trading volume compared to their rivals. Their returns are positively associated with the magnitude of earnings misreporting, which is not consistent with the possible pricing of audit information.
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