Prior studies document both an improvement (Gunny 2010) and deterioration (Bhojraj, Hribar, Picconi, and McInnis 2009) in the future operating performance of firms engaging in real earnings management (REM) to meet earnings benchmarks. These results suggest that some firms use REM to signal their favorable prospects, whereas others use REM opportunistically. We hypothesize that firms with less robust information environments, more costly REM, and fewer incentives to meet short-term earnings benchmarks are more likely to engage in REM to signal future performance. Consistent with expectations, we find the positive relation between REM and future profitability is limited to firms that have less robust information environments (measured with stock return volatility, bid/ask spread, and analysts following), more costly REM (measured with market share and financial health), and fewer incentives to meet short-term earnings benchmarks (measured with market-to-book ratio, transient investors, and seasoned equity offering). In supplementary analysis, we note that Bhojraj et al. (2009) restrict their sample to relatively large firms, whereas Gunny's (2010) sample includes both large and small firms. Our analysis indicates that the difference in sample composition explains the differing results. We find that small firms use REM to signal positive future performance, but large firms do not.
JEL Classifications: M40; M41.