Evidence on the Properties of Retiring CEOs’ Forecasts of Future Earnings
The Harvard Law School Forum on Corporate Governance and Financial Regulation 2013-07-22
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.