Real and accrual‐based earnings management and its legal consequences

Salma Ibrahim (Department of Accounting and Finance, Kingston University, Kingston upon Thames, UK)
Li Xu (Department of Accounting and Finance, Southern Illinois University, Carbondale, Illinois, USA)
Genese Rogers (Department of Accounting and Finance, Morgan State University, Baltimore, Maryland, USA)

Accounting Research Journal

ISSN: 1030-9616

Publication date: 19 July 2011



Prior research suggests that firms manipulate earnings through accruals to achieve certain reporting objectives. Recently, especially following the Sarbanes‐Oxley (SarbOx) Act, researchers have turned their attention to real account manipulation as an alternative. However, there is no evidence on whether the likelihood of being detected by outsiders is different for firms using these alternative manipulation methods. The purpose of this paper is to examine this research question in the context of seasoned equity offerings (SEOs).


First, the authors compare SEOs to a matched sample of non‐SEOs to document income‐increasing manipulation. Next, they identify SEOs that prompt lawsuits and compare sued and non‐sued firms to determine whether using a particular method of manipulation is more likely to be detected and associated with litigation.


The authors find evidence of income‐increasing accrual and real manipulation for SEOs in the year prior to the offering in the pre‐SarbOx period, and find some evidence of a shift to real account manipulation post‐SarbOx. The authors examine the subsequent litigation pattern of these SEOs, and find that firms that are subsequently sued have a higher prevalence of income‐increasing discretionary accruals when the lawsuit allegations involve accounting issues. Following SarbOx, investors are paying less attention to accrual manipulation through accounts receivable and there is more scrutiny of real account manipulation.


The implication in this paper is that firms that engage in income‐increasing earnings management are more likely to be sued when they engage in accrual manipulation while other forms of manipulation may be less understood. This finding is important to investors and regulators.



Ibrahim, S., Xu, L. and Rogers, G. (2011), "Real and accrual‐based earnings management and its legal consequences", Accounting Research Journal, Vol. 24 No. 1, pp. 50-78.

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