US Managers' Use of 'Pro Forma' Adjustments to Meet Strategic Earnings Targets
Dirk E. Black
Theodore E. Christensen
The practice of reporting manager-adjusted 'pro forma' earnings numbers in quarterly earnings press releases has attracted considerable attention in recent years in the United States. Prior research suggests that while some managers report these adjusted numbers to better reflect core earnings, others may use these earnings adjustments to meet strategic earnings targets on a pro forma basis when they fall short based on GAAP reporting standards. Assuming the latter motivation could potentially mislead investors, the difficulty lies in distinguishing the 'good guys' from the 'bad guys.' Using hand-collected pro forma earnings data, we investigate the extent to which different types of earnings adjustments affect the spread between pro forma earnings and GAAP earnings from continuing operations. Moreover, we investigate which types of adjustments managers use to meet strategic earnings targets. In addition to the exclusion of one-time items like restructuring charges, the results indicate that managers often exclude recurring expenses such as depreciation, research and development, and stock-based compensation to meet these strategic targets. The exclusion of recurring items is especially indicative of aggressive pro forma reporting. Finally, we find that firms that report adjusted earnings numbers only sporadically are more likely than firms that adjust earnings figures on a regular basis to use pro forma reporting to achieve strategic earnings targets by excluding recurring items. Copyright (c) 2009 The Authors Journal compilation (c) 2009 Blackwell Publishing Ltd.
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