Prior research documents that firms tend to beat three earnings benchmarks—zero earnings, last year's earnings, and analyst's forecasted earnings—and that there are both equity market and compensation‐related benefits associated with beating these benchmarks. This study investigates whether and under what conditions beating these three earnings benchmarks reduces a firm's cost of debt. I use two proxies for a firm's cost of debt: credit ratings and initial bond yield spread. Results suggest that firms beating earnings benchmarks have a higher probability of rating upgrades and a smaller initial bond yield spread. Additional analyses indicate that (1) the benefits of beating earnings benchmarks are more pronounced for firms with high default risk; (2) beating the zero earnings benchmark generally provides the biggest reward in terms of a lower cost of debt; and (3) the reduction in the cost of debt is attenuated but does not disappear for firms beating benchmarks through earnings management. In sum, results suggest that there are benefits associated with beating earnings benchmarks in the debt market. These benefits vary by benchmark, firm default risk, and method utilized to beat the benchmark. Among other implications, this evidence suggests that the relative importance of specific benchmarks differs across the equity and bond markets.

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