CFOs & earnings misrepresentation

CFOs & earnings misrepresentation

July 25, 20181 min read

The quality of a company’s earnings is determined by controllable factors, such as internal controls and corporate governance, and noncontrollable factors, such as industry and economic conditions. But CFOs also have considerable influence over the communication and presentation of those earnings. In a new research study, Ilia Dichev, Goizueta Foundation Chair, professor of accounting, and coauthors John Graham (Duke U), Campbell R. Harvey (Duke U), and Shiva Rajgopal (Columbia U) note that discretion in accounting methods allows CFOs to misrepresent earnings. CFOs are motivated to misrepresent earnings in order to increase stock price and meet earnings targets, as well as boost their own compensation and career profile. The authors conducted a survey of 375 CFOs to explore their definition of earnings quality and ways to determine earnings misrepresentation. The authors concluded that “in any given period, a remarkable 20% of companies intentionally distort earnings, even while adhering to GAAP (generally accepted accounting principles).” The study found a number of red flags for earnings misrepresentation, including “a lack of correspondence between GAAP earnings and cash flows from operations, and unexplained deviations from peer and industry norms.”


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  • Ilia Dichev
    Ilia Dichev Goizueta Foundation Chair in Financial Reporting, Professor of Accounting, and Director and Associate Dean of PhD Program

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