Earnings Management and Default Risk
ABSTRACT This thesis comprehensively investigates the relationship between default risk (DR) and earnings management (EM) by addressing inconsistencies in prior research regarding the level and direction of EM in response to varying levels of DR. The thesis extends beyond severe financial distress to include firms with low and medium levels of distress. It examines the non-monotonic relationship between DR and EM, considering accrual earnings management (AEM), real earnings management (REM), and total earnings management (TEM). The thesis also examines the impact of DR on the relative use of REM versus AEM. The moderating effect of the global financial crisis (GFC) on the relationship between DR and EM is also explored.
Using a sample of 29,228 firm-year observations from 4,514 US-listed firms during 2001-2019, the study employs both the traditional two-step and the more recent one-step approaches to identify EM. Sensitivity analysis is conducted, including and excluding mining firms.
The findings reveal a non-monotonic relationship between DR and REM, with a concave pattern observed for all measures of REM. Initially, REM increases as DR rises, but it subsequently declines with further increases in DR. AEM, on the other hand, shows a convex or monotonically decreasing relationship with DR, although statistical significance is not consistently observed. The results for TEM align with those of REM, indicating the dominance of REM in TEM. These findings remain consistent when excluding mining industry observations and using different measures for EM and DR.
The implications of these findings are significant for managers, firms, regulators, lenders, investors, and other stakeholders. The non-monotonic relationship between DR and REM offers insights for decision-making and determining appropriate levels of EM during varying levels of DR. Regulators can utilise this relationship to identify potential risk areas and develop effective regulations. Lenders can assess financial statements more vigilantly, and investors can make more accurate risk assessments and informed investment decisions. The robustness of the results and the inclusion of different EM measures provide valuable insights to auditors, analysts, and government professionals, enhancing their understanding of the complexities and risks associated with EM during varying levels of DR.
The study also uncovers that the relative use of AEM and REM is complimentary, but the impact of DR dampens the increase in REM for a given increase in AEM. This result holds across primary and alternative measures of DR and is of significant interest to managers, firms, regulators, and other stakeholders. It provides insights into the interplay between AEM and REM, enabling informed decisions about EM strategies under different levels of DR. Regulators can leverage this information to identify potential risk areas and develop effective regulations to mitigate EM practices that could lead to financial instability. Lenders and investors benefit from understanding how DR affects the relative use of AEM and REM, enabling them to assess financial statements and manage investment risk more accurately. The study’s findings contribute to a deeper understanding of EM dynamics and have practical implications for various stakeholders in the financial ecosystem.
Furthermore, the thesis investigates EM measures during the GFC and the moderating effect of the GFC on the relationship between DR and EM. The inclusion of REM and TEM, in addition to AEM, provides a comprehensive understanding of how firms managed their earnings during the GFC, offering insights into the effectiveness and implications of different EM strategies during a financial crisis. It confirms the decline of AEM during the GFC, reinforcing existing knowledge about the impact of the crisis on EM practices. Additionally, it identifies a negative impact of the GFC on REM and TEM, providing further evidence of the challenges and changes in EM strategies faced by firms during the economic crisis. The study also finds an insignificant moderating effect of the GFC on the relationship between DR and REM, as well as DR and TEM, shedding light on EM variation across different economic stages.
Overall, this thesis contributes to the EM literature by examining the non-monotonic impact of DR on EM measures, comparing different approaches to identify EM, exploring the moderating effect of DR on the relative use of AEM and REM, and investigating EM measures during the GFC. The insights from this research assist managers in decision-making, firms in adapting financial management strategies, regulators in developing policies, lenders in risk assessment, and investors in understanding the complexities and risks associated with EM. The findings have practical implications for various stakeholders in the financial realm, guiding decision-making, regulatory efforts, risk assessment, and investment strategies.
Keywords: earnings management, accruals earnings management, real earnings management, default risk, global financial crisis, one-step approach, two-step approach.