Finance: Accounting & Control

78 Results

 

The Use of Broker Votes to Reward Brokerage Firms’ and Their Analysts’ Research Activities

Broker votes are one of the most pervasive yet least understood reporting practices on Wall Street. The votes are essentially ratings of the value of brokers' investment research services. These ratings are produced by institutional investors (the "buy side") and solicited by broker dealers (the "sell side"). Little research to date, however, has examined the determinants of broker votes, their consequences, and their economic function. In this paper the authors use data gathered from a mid-sized investment bank for the years 2004 to 2007 in order to study how broker votes are related to institutional investors' commission payments and analysts' client services and compensation. Results overall suggest that broker votes help to facilitate implicit contractual relationships between sell-side brokers, their affiliated analysts, and their buy-side clients. Broker votes are neither mere popularity contests nor a simple reflection of trading in analysts' covered stocks. Instead, they appear to be a key component of the investment research industry's contracting technology, acting as the nexus for a set of relationships between sell-side brokers, their affiliated analysts, and their buy-side clients. The findings thus deepen our understanding of how information is exchanged on Wall Street and help to explain why the practice of collecting and aggregating client votes—a costly internal reporting procedure—has stood the test of time and has been replicated across countless sell-side research departments. Read More

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

Companies Choreograph Earnings Calls to Hide Bad News

Data from thousands of Wall Street earnings conference calls suggests that many companies hide bad performance news by calling only on positive analysts, according to new research by Lauren Cohen and Christopher Malloy. Open for comment; 3 Comments posted.

Accountability of Independent Directors-Evidence from Firms Subject to Securities Litigation

Shareholders have two publicly visible means for holding directors accountable: They can sue directors and they can vote against director re-election. This paper examines accountability of independent directors when firms experience litigation for corporate financial fraud. Analyzing a sample of securities class-action lawsuits from 1996 to 2010, the authors present a fuller picture of the mechanisms that shareholders have to hold directors accountable and which directors they hold accountable. Results overall provide an empirical estimate of the extent of accountability that independent directors bear for corporate problems that lead to securities class-action litigation. These findings are useful for independent directors to assess the extent of risk they face from litigation, shareholder voting, and departure from boards of sued firms. While the percentage of named directors is small compared with the overall population of directors, individual directors can weigh their risk differently. From a policy perspective, the findings provide insight on the role that investors play in holding directors accountable for corporate performance. Read More

Measurement Errors of Expected Returns Proxies and the Implied Cost of Capital

In accounting and finance the implied cost of equity capital (ICC)—defined as the internal rate of return that equates the current stock price to discounted expected future dividends—is an increasingly popular class of proxies for the expected rate of equity returns. Though ICCs are intuitively appealing and have the potential to help researchers better understand the cross-sectional variation in expected returns, much remain unknown about the sources of their measurement errors and how to correct for them; thus their use in regression settings should be interpreted with caution. This paper studies the measurement errors properties of GLS, a popular implementation of ICCs developed by Gebhardt, Lee, and Swaminathan (2001). The paper finds that ICCs can have persistent measurement errors that are associated with firms' risk or growth characteristics, and thus produce spurious results in regression settings. It also finds that ICC measurement errors are driven by not only analyst forecast biases but also functional form assumptions, suggesting that correcting for the former alone is unlikely to fully resolve these measurement-error issues. Together, these findings emphasize the importance of complementing ICC regressions with realized returns to establish robust inferences on expected returns. Read More

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. Open for comment; 13 Comments posted.

Cost of Capital Dynamics Implied by Firm Fundamentals

Despite ample evidence that expected returns are time varying, there has been relatively little empirical research on estimating the dynamics of firm-level expected returns. Capturing the dynamics of firm-level expected returns is important, because it allows for a better understanding of firm risk over time and can inform investors in tailoring their portfolios to match their desired investment horizons. Findings show that cost of capital is time varying and highly persistent. The authors also demonstrate that the model produces empirical proxies of expected returns that can predict future stock returns up to three years into the future and sorts portfolio returns with near monotonicity. Aside from its practical contributions, this paper adds to a budding finance and accounting literature that studies the properties of expected return dynamics. Read More

Securities Litigation Risk for Foreign Companies Listed in the US

In the US, securities class action litigation provides investors with a mechanism to hold companies and managers accountable for violations of securities laws. This study examines the incidence of securities class action litigation against foreign companies listed in the US and the mechanism driving the litigation risk. Looking at more than 2,000 securities class action lawsuits between 1996 and 2010, the authors find that significant litigation risk does exist for foreign issuers, but at rates considerably lower than for US companies. The authors also identify potential factors in lower litigation rates: 1) transaction costs and 2) the lower rate of trigger events such as accounting restatements, missing management forecasts, or sharp drops in stock prices that are needed in a lawsuit context to allege intentional and wrong prior disclosures on the part of managers. This suggests that while the effective enforcement of securities laws is constrained by transaction costs, availability of high quality information (that reveals potential misconduct) can contribute to a well-functioning litigation market for foreign firms listed in the US. Read More

Admitting Mistakes: Home Country Effect on the Reliability of Restatement Reporting

The authors study restatements by foreign firms listed in the US, compare the extent of restatements by the foreign firms to that of domestic US firms, and examine the role of home country characteristics on the likelihood of the foreign firms restating their financials. When foreign firms list in the US, they become subject to the same accounting rules and regulations as US firms. However, results suggest that foreign firms listed in the US restate significantly less than comparable US firms. This difference is not because the foreign firms have superior accounting quality but because of opportunistic avoidance of issuing a restatement. The difference is driven primarily by firms originating from countries with weaker institutions. Overall, findings imply that restatements are a less accurate measure of the extent of reporting problems in an international setting compared to US domestic firms. Read More

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

Incentivizing Calculated Risk-Taking: Evidence from an Experiment with Commercial Bank Loan Officers

Recent research presents convincing evidence that incentives rewarding loan origination may cause severe agency problems and increase credit risk, either by inducing lax screening standards or by tempting loan officers to game approval cutoffs even when such cutoffs are based on hard information. Yet to date there has been no evidence on whether performance-based compensation can remedy these problems. In this paper, the authors analyze the underwriting process of small-business loans in an emerging market, using a series of experiments with experienced loan officers from commercial banks. Comparing three commonly implemented classes of incentive schemes, they find a strong and economically significant impact of monetary incentives on screening effort, risk-assessment, and the profitability of originated loans. The experiments in this paper represent the first step of an ambitious agenda to fully understand the loan underwriting process. Read More

Book Excerpt: ’The Future of Boards’

In an excerpt from The Future of Boards, Professor Jay Lorsch discusses why directors are newly questioning their roles. Closed for comment; 0 Comments posted.

The Future of Boards

In The Future of Boards: Meeting the Governance Challenges of the Twenty-First Century, Professor Jay Lorsch brings together experts to examine the state of boards today, what lies ahead, and what needs to change. Open for comment; 3 Comments posted.

Causes and Consequences of Firm Disclosures of Anticorruption Efforts

Academic research on corruption has typically focused on its macro causes and consequences. While the country level is certainly important to understand, it is at the firm level where many questions remain unanswered. This study examines 480 of the world's largest companies, using ratings by Transparency International of firms' public disclosures of strategy, policies, and management systems for combatting corruption. Professors Paul Healy and George Serafeim find that firm disclosures are related to enforcement and monitoring costs, such as home country enforcement, US listing, big four auditors, and prior enforcement actions. Disclosures also reflect industry and country corruption risks. Meanwhile the financial implications of fighting disclosure are more nuanced. Read More

What Impedes Oil and Gas Companies’ Transparency?

Oil and gas companies face asset expropriations and corruption by foreign governments in many of the countries where they operate. In addition, most of these companies operate in multiple host countries. What determines their disclosure of business activities and hence transparency? Paul Healy, Venkat Kuppuswamy, and George Serafeim examine three forms of disclosure costs that oil and gas managers could potentially consider. Both the US government and the European Union are currently considering laws that would require oil and gas companies to disclose information about operations in host countries. Read More

The Impact of a Corporate Culture of Sustainability on Corporate Behavior 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

Doomsday Coming for Catastrophic Risk Insurers?

Insurance "reinsurers" underwrite much of the catastrophic risk insurance taken out to protect against huge disasters natural and man-made. Problem is, says Professor Kenneth A. Froot, reinsurers themselves are in danger of failing from a major catastrophic event. Open for comment; 5 Comments posted.

The Globalization of Corporate Environmental Disclosure: Accountability or Greenwashing?

Between 2005 and 2008, the world saw a dramatic increase in corporate environmental reporting. Yet this transition toward greater transparency and accountability has occurred unevenly across countries and industries. Findings by professors Christopher Marquis and Michael W. Toffel provide the first systematic evidence of how the global environmental movement affects corporations' environmental management practices. Firms' use of symbolic compliance strategies, for instance, is affected by specific corporate characteristics and by institutional context. This study contributes to a larger body of research on the effects of global social movements and environmental reporting. 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

Poultry in Motion: A Study of International Trade Finance Practices

When engaging in international trade, exporters must decide which financing terms to use in their transactions. Should they ask the importers to pay for goods before they are loaded for shipment, ask them to pay after the goods have arrived at their destination, or should they use some form of bank intermediation like a letter of credit? In this paper, Pol Antrās and C. Fritz Foley investigate this question by analyzing detailed data on the activities of a single US-based firm that exports frozen and refrigerated food products, primarily poultry. The data cover roughly $7 billion in sales to more than 140 countries over the 1996-2009 period and contain comprehensive information on the financing terms used in each transaction. Read More

Accounting for Crises

A key endeavor of modern economic theory is to understand the causes of panics. This paper shows empirically that currency investors are more likely to get spooked unnecessarily when they have too much information. This finding accords well with global games models, which argue that self-fulfilling panics—i.e., panics unrelated to fundamentals—are more likely to occur when the quality of public information available to investors is very high. Research was conducted by Venky Nagar (University of Michigan) and Gwen Yu (Harvard). Read More

Leading and Lagging Countries in Contributing to a Sustainable Society

To determine the extent to which corporate and investor behavior is changing to contribute to a more sustainable society, researchers Robert Eccles and George Serafeim analyzed data involving over 2,000 companies in 23 countries. One result: a ranking of countries based on the degree to which their companies integrate environmental and social discussions and metrics in their financial disclosures. Open for comment; 11 Comments posted.

Mandatory IFRS Adoption and Financial Statement Comparability

In the past decade, many countries have adopted International Financial Reporting Standards (IFRS) developed by the International Accounting Standards Board, which has impelled economists to examine the benefits of the standards. This paper discusses how IFRS adoption affects financial reporting comparability—that is, the properties of financial statements that allow users to identify similarities or differences between the economics of different reporting entities over any given period of time. Research was conducted by Francois Brochet and Edward J. Riedl of Harvard Business School, and Alan Jagolinzer of the University of Colorado at Boulder. Read More

Building a Better Board

While corporate board members take their jobs more seriously than ever, they are not necessarily as helpful or effective as they could be, says HBS senior lecturer Stephen Kaufman. He recently sat down with HBS Working Knowledge to discuss what he considers to be the biggest practical issues facing boards today. Closed for comment; 11 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

Accounting Scholarship That Advances Professional Knowledge and Practice

Accounting scholars generally do a fine job of analyzing how we process accounting data, but they ought to spend more time looking at how that data is produced, says Harvard Business School professor Robert S. Kaplan. In this paper—in response to a newly minted professor who sought his advice—Kaplan reminds young scholars that accounting is more of a professional discipline than an academic subject. To that end, he advises them not just to teach their students the common body of accounting knowledge, but also to advance that body of knowledge by bridging the gap between scholarship and practice. Read More

Lawful but Corrupt: Gaming and the Problem of Institutional Corruption in the Private Sector

In the business world, "gaming" refers to the act of subverting the intent of rules or laws without technically breaking them--a skillful if unsavory way to achieve private gain. Harvard Business School professor emeritus Malcolm S. Salter explores how gaming the system can lead to institutional corruption, citing examples from Enron and early efforts by some banks to game the implementation of the Dodd-Frank financial reform act. Read More

HBS Faculty on 2010’s Biggest Business Developments

Three Harvard Business School professors—former Medtronic chairman and CEO Bill George, economist and entrepreneurship expert William Sahlman, and innovation and strategy authority Rosabeth Moss Kanter—offer their thoughts on the most significant business and economic developments of 2010. Read More

Tax US Companies to Spur Spending

With traditional monetary and fiscal policy instruments to stimulate the economy seemingly exhausted, professor Mihir Desai offers a radical proposal: Use taxes to motivate corporations to spend a trillion dollars in cash. Open for comment; 9 Comments posted.

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

The Landscape of Integrated Reporting: An E-Book

An e-book written by participants of a recent HBS workshop on integrated reporting is now available. HBS Dean Nitin Nohria offers a forward. Read More

Network Effects in Countries’ Adoption of IFRS

Between 2003 and 2008, 75 countries adopted, to various degrees, International Financial Reporting Standards (IFRS) developed by the International Accounting Standards Board. More countries, including the United States and China, are currently engaged in convergence projects. Researchers Karthik Ramanna (Harvard Business School) and Ewa Sletten (MIT Sloan School of Management) report on the role that perceived network benefits play in convincing some countries to shift from local accounting standards to IFRS. 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.

Crashes and Collateralized Lending

This paper presents a framework for understanding the contribution of systematic crash risk to the cost of capital for a variety of different types of securities. The framework isolates the systematic crash risk exposure of different collateral types (equities, corporate bonds, and CDO tranches), and provides a simple mechanism for allocating the cost of bearing this risk between a financing intermediary and investor. Research was conducted by Jakub W. Jurek (Bendheim Center for Finance, Princeton University) and Erik Stafford (Harvard Business School). Read More

Does Mandatory IFRS Adoption Improve the Information Environment?

Created by the International Accounting Standards Board, the International Financial Reporting Standards (IFRS) comprise several principles designed to help public companies increase transparency in their financial reports. But are they worth the hefty compliance costs associated with them? This paper investigates whether adopting the IFRS improves the information environment for firms in which the standards are legally required. Research was conducted by Joanne Horton at the London School of Economics, George Serafeim at Harvard Business School, and Ioanna Serafeim at the Greek Capital Market Commission. Read More

The Impact of Corporate Social Responsibility on Investment Recommendations

Security analysts are increasingly awarding more favorable ratings to firms with corporate socially responsible (CSR) strategies, according to this paper by Ioannis Ioannou and HBS professor George Serafeim. Their work explores how CSR strategies can affect value creation in public equity markets through analyst recommendations. Read More

Accountability and Control as Catalysts for Strategic Exploration and Exploitation: Field Study Results

The need for organizations to both exploit current resources and explore new opportunities is a central and long-standing theme in the literature of organizations. The challenge, of course, is that these two imperatives require very different structures and skills. Exploitation demands a focus on efficiency and effectiveness in executing preset plans and procedures. Exploration requires the ability to step outside these routines by emphasizing experimentation, creativity, and novelty. In this study, HBS professor Robert L. Simons focuses on the relationship between two organization design variables—span of control and span of accountability. Using data from 102 field studies, he illustrates how these variables can be manipulated by managers to tilt the balance toward either exploration or exploitation in response to different tasks, different organizational contexts, and changing competitive environments. Read More

Information Risk and Fair Value: An Examination of Equity Betas and Bid-Ask Spreads

What is the role of fair values in the current economic crisis? The interplay between information risk—that is, uncertainty regarding valuation parameters for an underlying asset—and the reporting of financial instruments at fair value has been a subject of high-level policy debate. Finance theory suggests that information risk is reflected in firms' equity betas and the information asymmetry component of bid-ask spreads. HBS professor Edward Riedl and doctoral candidate George Serafeim test predictions for a sample of large U.S. banks, exploiting recent mandatory disclosures of financial instruments designated as fair value level 1, 2, and 3, which indicate progressively more illiquid and opaque financial instruments. Overall, banks with higher exposures to level 3 financial assets have both higher equity betas and higher bid-ask spreads. Both results are consistent with higher levels of information risk, and thus cost of capital, for these firms. Read More

Insider Trading Preceding Goodwill Impairments

Do insiders strategically sell their stock holdings prior to the accounting disclosure of goodwill impairment losses? While a number of recent studies provide evidence of insider trading prior to the announcement of earnings performance measures, a remaining puzzle is what types of information aggregated into reported earnings constitute the source of insiders' private information. This study provides evidence of a specific reporting item, goodwill impairments, about which insiders are able to strategically trade before its full discovery by the equity market and its recognition within the financial statements. Goodwill impairments represent likely sources of information for insiders to trade on for two reasons. First, they tend to be economically large, averaging 11.9 percent of the market value of equity during the sample period of 2002-2007. Second, managers likely have material private information regarding future cash flow estimates through their internal budgeting processes; and managers' private information advantage may be relatively long-lived due to goodwill impairment testing rules that may delay the accounting recognition of economic goodwill impairments. Read More

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

Elections and Discretionary Accruals: Evidence from 2004

How does the political process affect accounting? During the 2004 U.S. congressional elections, outsourcing of American jobs was a major campaign issue. Because outsourcing is assumed to be net profitable, the use of income-decreasing accruals would enable donor firms to deflect public scrutiny of both the firm and the political candidate over outsourcing. HBS professor Karthik Ramanna and MIT Sloan School professor Sugata Roychowdhury examine the accrual choices made by outsourcing firms with links to U.S. congressional candidates during the 2004 elections, and specifically test for income-decreasing discretionary accruals. Evidence is consistent with firms using earnings management to reduce both direct political costs and the costs associated with causing embarrassment to affiliated political candidates. Read More

Gray Markets and Multinational Transfer Pricing

Gray market goods are brand-name products that are initially sold into a designated market but then resold through unofficial channels into a different market. Gray markets can arise when transaction and search costs are low enough to allow products to "leak" from one market segment back into another. Examples of industries with active gray markets include pharmaceuticals, automobiles, and electronics. Understandably, reactions to gray market encroachment are mixed. On the one hand, consumer advocates and governments have applauded the increasing role that gray markets have played in improving competition for domestic goods. On the other hand, multinationals have decried the increasing role of gray markets in the economy, with an estimated $40 billion in cannibalized sales resulting from gray markets in the information technology sector alone. This study investigates the optimal price of a multinational's internal transfers and the consequences of regulations mandating arm's-length transfer pricing. Read More

Securing Jobs or the New Protectionism? Taxing the Overseas Activities of Multinational Firms

Popular imagination often links two significant economic developments: the rapid escalation of the foreign activities of American multinational firms over the last 15 years, and rising levels of economic insecurity, particularly among workers in certain sectors. The presumed linkages between these phenomena have led many to call for a reconsideration of the tax treatment of foreign investment. Increasing the tax burden on outbound investment by American multinational firms, it is claimed, offers the promise of alleviating domestic employment losses and insecurity while also raising considerable revenue. HBS professor Mihir A. Desai looks beneath the trends, examining the economic determinants of outbound investment decisions and synthesizing what is known about the relationship between domestic and foreign activities. Read More

Market Reaction to the Adoption of IFRS in Europe

How do investors in European firms react to a change in financial reporting? Prior to 2005, most European firms applied domestic accounting standards. The adoption of International Financial Reporting Standards (IFRS) would result in the application of a common set of financial reporting standards within Europe, and between Europe and the many other countries that require or permit application of IFRS. However, modification of IFRS by European regulators would result in European standards differing from those used in other countries, thereby eliminating some potential convergence benefits. This study investigates the equity market reaction to 16 events associated with the adoption of IFRS in Europe. Overall, the researchers' findings are consistent with investors expecting the benefits associated with IFRS adoption in Europe to exceed the expected costs. Read More

Signaling Firm Performance Through Financial Statement Presentation: An Analysis Using Special Items

Do managers' presentation decisions within their financial statements reflect informational motivations (that is, revealing the underlying economics of the firm) or opportunistic motivations (that is, attempts to bias perceptions of firm performance)? The authors examine managers' choices to present special items (such as write-offs and restructuring charges) separately on the income statement rather than aggregated in other line items with disclosure only in the footnotes. Prior research suggests that managers engage in opportunistic reporting in other presentation decisions, and that managers' presentation decisions on the financial statement affects users' judgments. The distinction also matters because current changes in reporting standards are likely to increase the occurrence of "nonrecurring" type charges similar to special items, such as fair value changes. Read More

Consequences of Voluntary and Mandatory Fair Value Accounting: Evidence Surrounding IFRS Adoption in the EU Real Estate Industry

The required adoption of International Financial Reporting Standards (IFRS) in the European Union, effective January 1, 2005, resulted in a number of significant changes in how firms report their financial results. Mandatory IFRS adoption has been criticized for both the flexibility afforded under the standards and the encroachment of the fair value paradigm. Specifically, common accounting standards alone may not be sufficient to provide the benefits of common accounting practices. This paper examines the causes and consequences of different forms of fair value disclosures for tangible long-lived assets. Insights may assist standard setters and users in understanding the factors influencing firms' current and future accounting choices, and may also interest U.S. standard setters and managers of the almost 250 publicly traded U.S. real estate firms. 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

Testing Strategy with Multiple Performance Measures Evidence from a Balanced Scorecard at Store24

To what extent do balanced scorecards provide useful information for testing and validating an organization's strategy? Numerous case studies of balanced scorecard implementations document their use in translating organizational strategies to objectives and measures, communicating strategic objectives to employees, evaluating the performance of business units, and aligning the incentives of employees across business units and functions. There has been comparatively little research, however, on the potential learning and feedback role of balanced scorecards. Analyzing balanced scorecard data from Store24—a privately held convenience store retailer in New England—during the implementation of an innovative but ultimately unsuccessful strategy, this study investigates whether, when, and how information about problems with the firm's strategy was captured in the multiple performance measures of its balanced scorecard. Read More

Accounting Information as Political Currency

Corporate donors that gave at least $10,000 to closely watched races in the U.S. congressional elections of 2004 were more likely to understate their earnings, say Harvard Business School's Karthik Ramanna and MIT colleague Sugata Roychowdhury. Such "downward earnings management" may have functioned as a political contribution. In this Q&A, Ramanna explains how accounting and politics influence each other. Read More

Organizational Design and Control across Multiple Markets: The Case of Franchising in the Convenience Store Industry

Chain organizations operate units that are typically dispersed across different types of markets, and thus serve significantly different customer bases. Such "market-type dispersion" is likely to compromise the headquarters' ability to control its stores for two reasons: Relative differences in local conditions make it difficult to monitor a store manager's behavior, and a chain with wide-ranging customer bases will have a harder time serving its customers and will need to rely more heavily on store managers' ability to adapt to local needs. This study identifies market-type dispersion as a factor that is systematically related to firms' organizational design choices. The results may help managers and consultants who deal with control challenges related to a chain's geographic expansion into different markets. Read More

Bank Accounting Standards in Mexico: A Layman’s Guide to Changes 10 Years after the 1995 Bank Crisis

Mexico was the first emerging market compelled to reformulate the financial reporting of its banks as a result of a financial crisis. In the last decade, Mexico has undergone a process of internationalization of its banking industry. Today, more than 80 percent of the equity of Mexican banks belongs to internationally active bank corporations. This internationalization demands more transparent regulation, including standardized accounting rules and better disclosure of information. The case of Mexico can therefore serve as an example of the relevance of these changes, as well as of their scope and limitations. This paper attempts to clarify the nature and structure of the new accounting standards, and explains how they have affected financial statements and their interpretation. Read More

Evidence on the Effects of Unverifiable Fair-Value Accounting

Since the late 1990s, the Financial Accounting Standards Board (FASB) has pressed for the use of fair values in accounting. When such fair values are based on verifiable market prices, they are less likely to be managed. However, in some FASB standards, fair values are based on managers' or appraisers' unverifiable subjective estimates. Agency theory suggests that managers will take advantage of this unverifiability to manage financial reports in order to extract rents. This paper considers a recent FASB standard known as SFAS 142, which relies on unverifiable fair-value estimates when accounting for acquired goodwill. The goal of the research is to see whether firms are using this standard to manage their financial reports. 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

Leveling the Executive Options Playing Field

Harvard Business School professor Mihir A. Desai recently presented testimony to a U.S. Senate subcommittee looking at the subject of executive stock options. His theme: A "dual-reporting system" makes it difficult for investors and tax authorities to learn the real numbers. Read More

Adding Time to Activity-Based Costing

Determining a company's true costs and profitability has always been difficult, although advancements such as activity-based costing (ABC) have helped. In a new book, Professor Robert Kaplan and Acorn Systems' Steven Anderson offer a simplified system based on time-driven ABC that leverages existing enterprise resource planning systems. Read More

The Business Press Is a Watchdog that Bites

When financial fraud is at stake, the press is a watchdog that bites more often than we think, says HBS professor Gregory S. Miller, an expert in financial communication. Many times, the press is on the case long before analysts or even the SEC. In this Q&A he describes what he learned and what managers should keep in mind. Read More

Investors Hurt by Dual-Track Tax Reporting

What corporations report in profit to the IRS and what they report to shareholders are often two different numbers—sometimes wildly so. That's why the IRS and Securities and Exchange Commission are proposing that companies publicly report taxes paid—and Professor Mihir Desai thinks this is only a first step. Read More

What Companies Lose from Forced Disclosure

Increased corporate financial reporting may benefit many parties, but not necessarily the companies themselves. New research from Harvard Business School professor Romana Autrey and coauthors looks at the relationship between executive performance and public disclosure. Read More

Should CEOs of Public Companies Offer Earnings Guidance?

A small but growing chorus of public company CEOs is deciding not to provide quarterly earnings guidance. Is this a good or bad development for shareholders, investors, analysts, the marketplace, and the company’s short- and long-term health? Closed for comment; 17 Comments posted.

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

Rethinking Activity-Based Costing

Activity-based accounting looks great in the classroom, but too often fails in the field. In this Harvard Business Review excerpt, HBS professor Robert S. Kaplan along with Steven R. Anderson suggest a way around the obstacles. Read More

For Greater Transparency, Is Section 404 an Effective Response?

Section 404 of the Sarbanes-Oxley Act requires that managers certify the integrity of their internal controls for financial reporting. In the end, are shareholders getting their money’s worth? Are more costly amendments to come? Closed for comment; 15 Comments posted.

Analyst Disagreement, Forecast Bias and Stock Returns

It is well documented that financial analysts' opinions are reflected in stock prices. The problem: Analysts often operate under incentives that are inconsistent with telling the truth. Retail investors, who tend to be less sophisticated, may fail to make proper adjustments for the more nuanced of the resulting biases, some of which might be reflected in market prices. To study the scope of market efficiency, Scherbina studied analysts' incentives, resulting forecast biases, and their potential impact on market prices. Read More

When Reputation Trumps Regulation

Foreign firms cross-listing on U.S. exchanges are learning that their biggest appeal to potential investors lies in a strong reputation. An interview with HBS professor Jordan Siegel. Read More

Can Investors Have Too Much Accounting Transparency?

The earnings of all publicly owned organizations may soon take a hit as the organizations comply with various provisions of the Sarbanes-Oxley Act and new FASB rules. Are these and perhaps other "cures" to the corporate scandals really worth the cost to investors? Closed for comment; 12 Comments posted.

Time-Driven Activity-Based Costing

Activity-based costing (ABC) has become popular in business writing and management circles. (An example of an activity would be process customer complaints.) However, calculating baselines for activities, developing the model, and retesting the model once it is implemented is time-consuming and costly. Kaplan and Anderson developed improvements in the process through what they call time-driven ABC. Time-driven ABC decreases the amount of data needed, and only requires estimates of two things: (1) the practical capacity of committed resources and their cost, and (2) unit times for performing transactional activities. Read More

A Bold Proposal for Investment Reform

Do the markets need an investor's union? Should company audits be overseen by stock exchanges? If you want to restore investor confidence, think radical reforms, say professors Paul Healy and Krishna Palepu. Read More

Why Budgeting Kills Your Company

Why doesn’t the budget process work? Read what experts say about not only changing your budgeting process, but whether your company should dispense with budgets entirely. Read More

Expensing Options Won’t Hurt High Tech

Will expensing stock options harm the competitiveness of start-ups? Not likely, say Zvi Bodie, Robert S. Kaplan, and Robert C. Merton in this Harvard Business Review excerpt. 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.

Why Expensing Options Doesn’t Solve the Problem

Stock options for executives have certainly been abused, but reforms requiring companies to expense option grants on their financial statements don't solve the fundamental problems, argues Harvard Business School professor William A. Sahlman. Read More

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

A Cure for Enron-Style Audit Failures

In an opinion piece in the Financial Times, Harvard Business School professor Jay Lorsch argues for legislation to create an independent, self-regulatory organization to oversee accounting firms. Enron, he says, is not an isolated incident. Read More

Why Corporate Budgeting Needs To Be Fixed

Not to mince words, but corporate budgeting is a joke, argues HBS professor emeritus Michael C. Jensen in this Harvard Business Review excerpt. The problem isn't with the budget process—it's when budget targets are used to determine compensation. Read More