Earnings Management

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Earnings Management

What is Earnings Management? Meaning.

Earnings Management refers to accounting practices used by the management of a company to deliberately manipulate the company's earnings to smooth income over several accounting periods and/or to meet other pre-determined targets.

As the application of Revenue Recognition rules under IAS/IFRS and U.S. GAAP in specific settings still leaves room for considerable latitude and judgment by management (e.g. determining when revenue has been earned and is realizable), managers can sometimes exploit the flexibility in the accounting standards to manipulate Reported Earnings in ways that mask the underlying performance of the companies.


Some typical forms of earnings management are the following:

  • Inaccurate revenue recognition.
  • Unsuitable accruals and estimates of liabilities.
  • Excessive provisions and generous reserve accounting.
  • Intentional minor breaches of financial reporting requirements that aggregate to a material breach.

Although Earnings Management is not new, it has become increasingly common in today's marketplace due to pressure to meet analysts' earnings forecasts. Some managers have even resorted to outright financial fraud (e.g. Enron, Global Crossing, WorldCom), which led former SEC (Security and Exchange Commission) Chairman Arthur Levitt to warn that "the motivation to meet Wall Street earnings expectations may be overriding common sense business practices. (...) As a result, I fear that we are witnessing an erosion in the quality of earnings, and therefore, the quality of financial reporting".


Quality of Earnings


The term 'quality of earnings' usually refers to the degree of conservatism in a firm’s reported earnings. Indicators of high earnings quality include the following:

  • Use of the completed contract method of accounting.
  • Minimal capitalization of interest and overhead.
  • Minimal capitalization of computer software costs.
  • Expensing of startup costs of new operations.
  • Conservative revenue and expense recognition methods.
  • Bad-debt reserves that are high relative to receivables and past credit losses.
  • Rapid write-off of acquisition-related intangible assets.
  • Use of LIFO inventory accounting (under the assumption of rising prices).
  • Use of accelerated depreciation methods and short useful lives.
  • Minimal use of off-balance-sheet financing techniques.
  • Clear and adequate disclosures.
  • Absence of nonrecurring gains and non-cash earnings.
  • Conservative assumptions used for employee benefit plans.
  • Adequate provisions for lawsuits and other loss contingencies

Management Discretion

The discretionary nature of income recognition permits an examination of the degree of management manipulation of earnings under one or more of the following guises:

  • Classification of Good News/Bad News: Management prefers to report good news “above the line” as part of continuing business and bad news “below the line” as extraordinary or discontinued business.
  • Income Smoothing: Some companies reduce earnings in good years (defer gains or recognize losses) and inflate earnings in bad years (recognize gains or defer losses).
  • Big-Bath Accounting: In contrast to income smoothing, the big-baht accounting suggests that management will report additional losses in bad years in the hope that, by taking all additional losses at one time, they will “clear the decks” once and for all.
  • Accounting Changes: Regardless of whether accounting changes are voluntary or mandatory, they typically have no direct cash flow impact and consequences. Therefore, such changes can be viewed as a form of earnings manipulation.


Earning management is also referred to as Creative Accounting.

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Earnings Management Special Interest Group.

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Causes of Earning Management
Earning management is a human reaction to the usual rules to evaluate management performance. Nobody wants to be criticized owing to not to obtain the expected results. We should focus on the way thi...
Absence of Earnings Management
In case the top management of a public company completely abstains from any form of earnings management, what influences may this have on the firm's short or long term financial results?...
Stock Markets Look Beyond Published Earnings to Determine the Value of a Firm
Most listed companies rely on published earnings figures as a key driver of stock market value. But earnings are only one of the signals the financial markets is waiting for. This is not to say that ...
Earnings Management Erodes Shareholder Value
The phenomenon called "earnings management" or "creative accounting" has led to the failure of numerous companies world over. Governments should put in place appropriate legislation to curb the menace...
🔥 NEW Ethical Issues in Working with a Dubious Accounting Firm
What are the ethical issues in co-operating with an international accountancy and consultancy company on a government sponsored review when that company has been repeatedly fined and censured for malp...
Managing Expectations is a Crucial Accounting Skill
If I were evaluating the management of a mature business in a mature industry, I'd expect the finance function to be able to manage expectations and deliver results accordingly with no surprises. Sim...
Fraudulent Accounting is no Part of Earnings Management
To me it seems out of place to refer to fraudulent practices as either "earnings management" or "creative accounting". An alternative name should be considered to refer to the positive impression the...

Best Practices

The best, top-rated topics about Earnings Management. Here you will find the most valuable ideas and practical suggestions.

🥇 Who Teaches the Customer?
Budgets and forecasts are imperfect and risk is associated with them. But it seems that the "customer" wants perfection every time. Perhaps the "customer" also needs to be educated as to what she or ...

🥈 When is an Accounting Practice Ethical?
Do you agree that if an accounting practice is not explicitly prohibited, or is only a slight deviation from the rules, it should be considered an ethical practice? Why?...

Expert Tips

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Information Sources

Various sources of information regarding Earnings Management. Here you will find powerpoints, videos, news, etc. to use in your own lectures and workshops.

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Unethical Behavior: Why do we Do it and how to Recognize it?

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