Evidence on the Properties of Retiring CEOs’ Forecasts of Future Earnings

The following post comes to us from Cory Cassell of the Department of Accounting at the University of Arkansas, Shawn Huang of the School of Accountancy at Arizona State University, and Juan Manuel Sanchez of the Department of Accounting at Texas Tech University.

Theory suggests that Chief Executive Officers (CEOs) with short horizons with their firm have weaker incentives to act in the best interest of shareholders (Smith and Watts 1982). To date, research examining the “horizon problem” focuses on whether CEOs adopt myopic investment and accounting policies in their final years in office (e.g., Dechow and Sloan 1991; Davidson et al. 2007; Kalyta 2009; Antia et al. 2010). In our paper, Forecasting Without Consequence? Evidence on the Properties of Retiring CEOs’ Forecasts of Future Earnings, forthcoming in The Accounting Review, we extend this line of research by investigating whether retiring CEOs are more likely to engage in opportunistic forecasting behavior in their terminal year relative to other years during their tenure with the firm. Specifically, we contrast the properties (issuance, frequency, news, and bias) of earnings forecasts issued by retiring CEOs during pre-terminal years (where the CEO will be in office when the associated earnings are realized) with forecasts issued by retiring CEOs during their terminal year (where the CEO will no longer be in office when the associated earnings are realized). We also examine circumstances in which opportunistic terminal-year forecasting behavior is likely to be more or less pronounced.

Our predictions are based on several incentives that arise (or increase) during retiring CEOs’ terminal year with their firm. Specifically, relative to CEOs who will continue with their firm, retiring CEOs face strong incentives to engage in opportunistic terminal-year forecasting behavior in an attempt to inflate stock prices during the period leading up to their retirement. Deliberately misleading forecasts can be used to influence stock prices. Consistent with this argument, prior work shows that managers use voluntary disclosures opportunistically to influence stock prices (Noe 1999; Aboody and Kasznik 2000; Cheng and Lo 2006; Hamm et al. 2012) and that managers use opportunistic earnings forecasts to manipulate analysts’ (Cotter et al. 2006) and investors’ perceptions (Cheng and Lo 2006; Hamm et al. 2012) in an effort to maximize the value of their stock-based compensation (Aboody and Kasznik 2000). Moreover, because SEC trading rules related to CEOs’ post-retirement security transactions are less stringent than those in effect during their tenure with the firm, post-retirement transactions can be made before the earnings associated with the opportunistic forecast are realized and with reduced regulatory scrutiny.

To test our predictions, we first identify all CEO turnover events in Execucomp from 1997 through 2009 (a total of 3,548 events). For each CEO turnover event identified, we perform detailed searches of SEC filings, executive biographies (appearing on various social media outlets such as LinkedIn, Forbes People Finder, etc.), press releases, and related disclosures to determine whether the CEO turnover was due to retirement. Our results indicate that retiring CEOs are more likely to issue forecasts of future earnings and that they issue such forecasts more frequently in their terminal year relative to other years during their tenure with the firm. Moreover, we find that retiring CEOs’ terminal-year forecasts of future earnings are more likely to convey good news and are more optimistically biased relative to pre-terminal years. Our findings, that retiring CEOs engage in opportunistic terminal-year forecasting behavior, represent a previously undocumented implication of the “horizon problem.” Furthermore, we find that opportunistic terminal-year forecasting behavior is more pronounced in the presence of higher CEO equity incentives and discretionary expenditure cuts in the terminal year, and less pronounced in the presence of stronger monitoring mechanisms (e.g., higher institutional ownership).

Our results should be of interest to market participants (e.g., investors, analysts, etc.) who use information from management earnings forecasts. However, market participants’ ability to use our evidence is contingent on their knowledge of (or ability to anticipate) a given CEO’s impending retirement. Our study should also be of interest to stakeholders (e.g., boards of directors, regulators, etc.) who seek to implement incentive mechanisms that mitigate agency conflicts. Interestingly, our results suggest that equity incentives (a tool commonly used to align incentives and minimize agency costs) can have the unintended consequence of creating or exacerbating opportunistic forecasting. Thus, CEO and firm characteristics (such as equity incentives) may have competing effects on various horizon-problem induced behaviors.

The full paper is available for download here.

Both comments and trackbacks are currently closed.
  • Subscribe or Follow

  • Supported By:

  • Program on Corporate Governance Advisory Board

  • Programs Faculty & Senior Fellows