This study examines the impact of economic downturns on real earnings management activities in an international setting. Using a sample of 27 countries between 1988 and 2016, I find that the extent of real earnings management increases and that the substitution relation between real earnings management and accrual-based earnings management becomes stronger during economic downturns. Managers tend to rely on real earnings management to avoid the threat of greater scrutiny during economic downturns. The effect of an economic downturn on real earnings management is stronger for firms with high earnings management incentives, such as to avoid reporting earnings decreases and losses, to just meet or beat analysts’ earnings forecasts, and to facilitate the success of seasonal equity offerings. The findings suggest that real earnings management comes at a high cost. Firms sacrifice future performance when engaging in real earnings management.
Data Availability: Data are available from the public sources cited in the text.
JEL Classifications: G14; G28; G39; M41.