Earnings manipulation has become a widespread practice for US corporations. However, most studies in the literature focus on whether certain incentives would facilitate managers to manipulate earnings and there has been little evidence documenting the consequences of earnings manipulation. This paper fills this gap by examining how current accruals affect future earnings (the accrual effect) and measuring the size of this effect. We find that the aggregate future earnings will decrease by $0.046 and $0.096, respectively, in the next one and three years for a $1 increase of current accruals. Over the very long-term (25 years), 20% of current accruals will reverse. This negative accrual effect is more significant for firms with high price-earnings ratios, high market-to-book ratios and high accruals where earnings management is more likely to occur. We show that incorporating the accrual effect is useful in improving the accuracy of earnings forecasts for these firms. Accordingly, the empirical results are consistent with the notion that earnings management causes the negative relationship between current accruals and future earnings. In addition, this paper shows that one recently developed accrual model has better performance than the popularly cited model in identifying manipulated earnings.
Review of Quantitative Finance and Accounting, 22(2), 97-121