Earnings Management, Write-Off Decision, Income Smoothing, Reporting Incentives
This study examines the factors that influence write-off decisions in German-listed companies. Write-offs have been widely discussed, especially for the US-American market, and a relation to earnings management has been found in existing studies. German companies differentiate from the companies that have already been analyzed as they operate under different accounting standards (IFRS) and in a different institutional setting.Additionally, managers are confronted with the task to derive the IFRS annual statements from the existing annual statements according to local GAAP which follow a differing objective. Based on a sample of 805 observations of German companies listed in the DAX, MDAX, TecDax and SDAX indices between 2004 and 2010, we analyze the impact of firm performance as well as reporting incentives on the write-off decision. We find that the write-off probability rises significantly with decreasing overall firm performance, which is in line with the legal requirements. Additionally, we find a strong relation of the write-off probability with unexpectedly high earnings, which is an indicator for income smoothing. Besides influencing the shareholders perception, income smoothing can serve to minimize overall tax payments or to influence the banks risk assessment. In contrast with prior studies focusing on the US-American market, we found no evidence for other capital market motives, like big bath accounting and management changes; neither could we confirm the hypothesis that earnings-based management compensation or leverage have a significant influence on the write-off decision. These results indicate that German managers aim to influence tax payments and potential lenders in contrast to the perception of potential shareholders.