Earnings Management Incentives and the Pricing of Discretionary Accruals

  •  Sondes Draief    


The objective of this research is to investigate whether earnings management incentives influence the pricing of discretionary accruals. Specifically, we verify if growth opportunity, leverage, free cash flow, insider trading and financial distress are useful to investors to discriminate between opportunistic and informative earnings management.

Using a sample of 486 American firms for the period 2002-2010, we find that discretionary accruals are positively related to stock returns. This relation is more intensive in high growth firms and high levered firms. Indeed, these firms use more informative earnings management to communicate future prospects and good financial situation to external investors. However, discretionary accruals are negatively priced by investors in distressed firms. These firms have a greater incentive to manage earnings opportunistically to hide any financial problem. Likewise, we detect a negative relationship between discretionary accruals and stock returns in firms with excessive free cash flow revealing the opportunistic perspective of earnings management. Finally, we demonstrate that investors award positive (negative) value to discretionary accruals in case of insider buying (selling).

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