25 Results


Accounting Data, Market Values, and the Cross Section of Expected Returns World

Over the past 30 years, the central question in asset pricing is understanding what drives the variation in expected returns. Despite its importance, empirical research in this area has remained problematic because the key variable, expected returns, is not observable. This paper promotes an accounting-fundamentals-based approach to estimating expected returns. It contributes to the stream of empirical studies devoted to developing the estimation of, and understanding the behavior of, expected returns. It also provides a practical tool that can be used to analyze investment choices in international equity contexts. Read More

Implied Materiality and Material Disclosures of Credit Ratings

Materiality—a concept at the core of financial, sustainability, and integrated reporting—means the "reportability" of economic, environmental, social, and governance (risk) issues. Using the lens of materiality, the authors of this paper examine principles underlying the methodologies and business models of credit reporting agencies (CRAs), finding that CRAs have potential governance shortcomings that need to be addressed by the boards of the CRAs themselves. The governance remedies recommended here aim to restore credit rating institutions to their historic role in the proper functioning of the global capital markets. Read More

Auditor Lobbying on Accounting Standards

Understanding the political process that leads to accounting standards may provide insights into both their procedural legitimacy and how they will eventually be used. In a study of the role of major auditors in the accounting standard-setting process, the authors provide a systematic characterization of auditors' changing incentives. They also examine how those incentives influence auditor lobbying across nearly every financial reporting standard issued from 1973 through 2006. Overall, results suggest that the auditors' own incentives play a prominent role in their lobbying activities for the rules of U.S. GAAP (Generally Accepted Accounting Principles). Read More

Research Symposium 2014

Harvard Business School professors presented their research to colleagues, with topics including speaking up at work, a manager's responsibility to capitalism, and a strategy to fix the health care system. Open for comment; 0 Comments posted.

Counting Up the Effects of Sarbanes-Oxley

More than a decade after its inception, the effects of Sarbanes-Oxley seem, if anything, beneficial, say Harvard's Suraj Srinivasan and John C. Coates. Why then do so many critics remain? Open for comment; 6 Comments posted.

Integrated Reporting and Investor Clientele

As a relatively new phenomenon in the world of corporate reporting, integrated reporting (IR) has gained traction across both the corporate and investor community in the last 10 years. A recent pilot program of the International Integrated Reporting Council, for example, included more than 100 large multinational companies supported by an investor network with more than 40 members. Although IR has the potential to fundamentally change corporate reporting, we still know relatively little about its causes and consequences. Proponents of IR argue that the attraction of long-term investors is a benefit of adopting IR. While anecdotal evidence has suggested the presence of a link, no empirical evidence to date has been provided to establish such a relation. In this paper, the author examines how the practice of IR affects the investor base of the firm. Specifically, analyzing data on more than 1,000 firms between 2002 and 2010, he finds that firms practicing IR have a more long-term investor base and fewer transient investors. In addition, evidence supports a causal mechanism from IR to the investor base of a firm. Investor activism on sustainability issues is shown to be effective in improving IR, but such investor-induced changes in IR do not affect the composition of the investor base. Overall, the paper contributes to emerging scholarship that seeks to understand the causes and consequences of sustainability and integrated reporting. It also contributes to studies examining how companies cater to different types of investors. Read More

A Company’s Evolving View of Gender Equity

Looking at the evolution of gender in US society over nearly 20 years, a new study by Lakshmi Ramarajan, Kathleen L. McGinn, and Deborah Kolb traces how one prominent professional-service firm internalized the shifting concerns. Closed for comment; 2 Comments posted.

The Auditing Oligopoly and Lobbying on Accounting Standards

The US auditing industry has been characterized as an oligopoly, which has successively tightened from eight key players to four over the last 25 years. This tightening is likely to change the incentives of the surviving big auditors, with implications for their role in our market economy. Motivated by the economic and public policy implications of the tightening audit oligopoly, the authors of this paper investigate the changing relation between the big firms and accounting standards. Accounting standards are a key input in the audit process and, through their effects on financial reporting, can impact capital allocation decisions in the economy. Results show that the big auditors are more likely to identify decreased reliability in proposed standards as the auditing oligopoly has tightened: This suggests that big auditors perceive higher litigation and political costs from the increased visibility that accompanies tighter oligopoly. The findings are also consistent with tighter oligopoly decreasing competition among the surviving firms to satisfy client preferences in accounting standards. The findings do not support the concern that tightening oligopoly has rendered the surviving big firms "too big to fail." Read More

Are the Big Four Audit Firms Too Big to Fail?

Although the number of audit firms has decreased over the past few decades, concerns that the "Big Four" survivors have become too big to fail may be a stretch. Research by professor Karthik Ramanna and colleagues suggests instead that audit firms are more concerned about taking risks. Closed for comment; 13 Comments posted.

New Agenda for Corporate Accountability Reporting

Professor Karthik Ramanna explains three ways to make corporate accountability reports potentially more useful to constituencies that include shareholders, communities, bondholders, and customers. Open for comment; 2 Comments posted.

Causes and Consequences of Linguistic Complexity in Non-US Firm Conference Calls

Does the form in which financial information is presented have consequences for the capital markets? The authors examine the level of linguistic complexity of more than 11,000 conference call transcripts from non-US firms between 2002 and 2010. Findings show that the linguistic complexity of calls varies with country-level factors such as language barriers, but also with firm characteristics. Firms with more linguistic complexity in their conference calls show less trading volume and price movement following the information releases. Overall, these results may be useful to foreign firms that wish to communicate with investors globally. Analysts and investors around the world may also find the results helpful since they might be able to push managers to speak in a less complex manner. This study is the first to analyze conference calls in a cross-country setting. Read More

The Impact of Corporate Sustainability on Organizational Process and Performance

Robert G. Eccles, Ioannis Ioannou, and George Serafeim compared a matched sample of 180 companies, 90 of which they classify as High Sustainability firms and 90 as Low Sustainability firms, in order to examine issues of governance, culture, and performance. Findings for an 18-year period show that High Sustainability firms dramatically outperformed the Low Sustainability ones in terms of both stock market and accounting measures. However, the results suggest that this outperformance occurs only in the long term. Managers and investors who are hoping to gain a competitive advantage in the short term are unlikely to succeed by embedding sustainability in their organization's strategy. Overall, the authors argue that High Sustainability company policies reflect the underlying culture of the organization, where environmental and social performance, in addition to financial performance, are important, but these policies also forge a strong culture by making explicit the values and beliefs that underlie the mission of the organization. Read More

Non-Audit Services and Financial Reporting Quality: Evidence from 1978-1980

What are the costs and benefits of auditors providing non-audit services? In this paper, the authors investigate whether high non-audit services (NAS) fees relative to audit fees are associated with poor quality financial reporting. Associate Professor Suraj Srinivasan and colleagues look specifically at a sample of S&P 500 firms during the years 1978-80. The authors thus provide an early history analysis of a long-standing regulatory concern that NAS fees create an economic dependence that causes the auditor to acquiesce to the client's wishes in financial reporting, reducing the quality of the audit. This concern led the Sarbanes-Oxley Act to prohibit auditors from providing most consulting services. The authors find that, contrary to regulatory concerns, NAS are associated with better quality financial reporting: lower earnings management and higher earnings informativeness. Conclusions rely on the specific institutional features of the years 1978-80. Read More

The International Politics of IFRS Harmonization

Contrary to its staid image in popular culture, accounting has reigned at the forefront of globalization over the last decade. As of 2010, about 100 countries, including all of the world's major economies, either have adopted a common set of accounting principles known as International Financial Reporting Standards, have initiated an IFRS harmonization program, or have in place a national strategy to respond to IFRS. In fact, the proliferation of IFRS worldwide is one of the most important developments in corporate governance today. Through a series of case studies on Canada, China, and India, Assistant Professor Karthik Ramanna analyzes key similarities and differences in the international political dynamics that contribute to countries' responses to IFRS. His framework helps explain and predict countries' decisions on IFRS harmonization, as well as the potential structure and impact of IFRS in the future. Read More

Signing at the Top: The Key to Preventing Tax Fraud?

In filling out self-reported documents such as tax forms, we declare the information truthful with our signature, but usually we sign at the end of the form. Researchers Francesca Gino and Lisa Shu discuss whether governments and companies can bolster honesty simply by moving the honesty pledge and signature line to the top of the form, before people encounter the opportunity to cheat. Closed for comment; 4 Comments posted.

Top Executive Background and Financial Reporting Choice: The Case of Goodwill Impairment

In the management literature, some theories hold that corporate actions and strategic choices can be partially predicted by knowing the functional background of executives. The authors provide evidence on how CEOs and CFOs who were former investment bankers, auditors, and private equity/venture capital executives managed decisions around goodwill impairments (essentially goodwill charge-offs)—a complex accounting choice involving a high degree of managerial discretion. Research by HBS professor Francois Brochet and doctoral candidate Kyle Welch. Read More

Towards an Understanding of the Role of Standard Setters in Standard Setting

Accounting standards promulgated by the Financial Accounting Standards Board (FASB) play an important role in the development and maintenance of capital markets worldwide, so it is important to understand how these standards come to be. Prior research has focused on the effect of corporate lobbying on the development of FASB standards, but has largely overlooked the role of the FASB members themselves. Looking at these individuals between 1973 and 2007, Harvard Business School doctoral candidate Abigail M. Allen and professor Karthik Ramanna examine how board members' professional experience, length of service on the board, and political leanings influenced accounting standards. Read More

One Report: Integrated Reporting for a Sustainable Strategy

What a company externally reports shapes how it behaves internally. The key question is, "What should companies report?" Read More

HBS Workshop Encourages Corporate Reporting on Environmental and Social Sustainability

The concept of integrated reporting could help mend the lack of trust between business and the public, Harvard Business School Dean Nitin Nohria tells attendees at a seminal workshop. Closed for comment; 7 Comments posted.

Why Do Countries Adopt International Financial Reporting Standards?

Why do some countries adopt the European Union (EU)-based International Financial Reporting Standards (IFRS) when others do not? To expand our understanding of the determinants and consequences of IFRS adoption on a global sample, HBS professor Karthik Ramanna and MIT Sloan School of Management coauthor Ewa Sletten studied variations over time in the decision to adopt these standards in more than a hundred non-EU countries. Understanding countries' adoption decisions can provide insights into the benefits and costs of IFRS adoption. Read More

Accounting Information as Political Currency

The study of accounting and the political process has long been viewed through the political cost hypothesis, the basic premise of which is that firms manage earnings in order to extract first-order benefits (or avoid first-order costs) from regulators. This paper develops and tests a distinct, yet likely, complementary hypothesis: Firms manage reported earnings in order to supply first-order benefits to regulators. Focusing on Democratic and Republican candidates in congressional races in 2004, Ramanna and Roychowdhury test whether the management of accounting information is in some circumstances akin to a political contribution from firms to politicians: in other words, whether accounting information can be used as political currency. The authors predict and find that identified corporate donors to candidates in closely watched races in 2004 managed information related to outsourcing, a hot-button issue in those races. Read More

Contracting in the Self-reporting Economy

Intellectual property can be used by its owner directly, licensed to a third party for a fixed royalty, or licensed to a third party for a variable royalty. The variable royalty arrangement depends on self-reporting by the licensee, which in turn induces demand for auditing by the licensor. This research studies a setting with the following features: a production cost advantage on the part of the outside party that creates gains from licensing; a limited liability constraint that prevents the licensee from owing more royalties than the gross profits of licensing the intellectual property and prevents the licensor from capturing all of the economic surplus via a fixed royalty agreement; and accounting and auditing costs that reduce the benefits of a variable royalty agreement. Read More

Financial Reporting Goes Global

Globalization is the key issue in determining the future of financial accounting, says professor Gregory S. Miller. And as more countries consider adopting an international accounting standard, India is positioned to be a strong leader. Read More

Are Conditions Right for the Next Accounting Scandal?

Will risk-averse corporate audit committees' natural tendencies to engage the biggest accounting firms insure that the current accounting oligopoly will become even stronger? Closed for comment; 12 Comments posted.

Most Accountants Aren’t Crooks—Why Good Audits Go Bad

The Sarbanes-Oxley Act sets stiff penalties for auditors and executives who commit fraud. Problem is, says Harvard Business School professor Max H. Bazerman and his collaborators, most bad audits are the result of unconscious bias, not corruption. Here's a new look at how to audit the auditors. Read More