The effect of ownership-control disparity on the Chinese firm’s real activity earnings management

Sang Ho Kim, Yohan An*

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

11 Citations (Scopus)

Abstract

Purpose: This paper aims to investigate the impact of the separation between control and cash flow rights (control-ownership disparity) on the earnings management practices of Chinese firms. The notable features of Chinese firms are those of concentrated ownership and the severe disparity that exists between the control and cash flow rights of controlling shareholders. Design/methodology/approach: This study measures the level of Chinese firms’ earnings management by adopting two different methods of measurement: accrual-based earnings management (AEM) and real activity earnings management (REM). The authors also consider the possible trade-off effects between these two types of measurements. The data set in this study encompasses over 2,000 Chinese firms, using data from 2003 to 2015. Findings: The results indicate that controlling shareholders are more likely to engage in AEM as their cash flow rights are more concentrated, while they are less likely to use REM as the disparity of control-cash flow rights increases. Further, this inverse relationship between REM and control-cash flow rights disparity becomes more pronounced in the case of a low cash flow rights group. As REM generally causes distortions in firms’ operations, it is possible that the controlling shareholders are more likely to constrain the use of REM as the disparity is perceived to grow. This result may indicate a reduced agency problem between controlling and minority shareholders due to the developing and/or existing ownership dispersions, which are mainly driven by recent reforms applied to Chinese capital markets. However, we do not entirely exclude the possibility of other types of expropriations by the controlling shareholders. It appears that the controlling shareholders are still able to exert a significant level of control, even following a substantial ownership dispersion, and they may seek alternative expropriation methods, including but not limited to intercorporate loan or related party transactions as the disparity of control-cash flow rights increases. Originality/value: Although the Chinese economy is experiencing a series of reforms to infuse market forces into capital markets, little has been known about the effects of ownership-control disparity in Chinese firms. Our findings highlight the importance of the country specific context in this vein of research.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)482-499
Number of pages18
JournalPacific Accounting Review
Volume30
Issue number4
DOIs
Publication statusPublished - 22 Nov 2018

Keywords

  • Agency problem
  • China
  • Controlling shareholder
  • Ownership-control disparity
  • Real activity earnings management
  • State-owned enterprise

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