Optimistic Reporting and Pessimistic Investing: Do Pro Forma Earnings Disclosures Attract Short Sellers?

Optimistic Reporting and Pessimistic Investing: Do Pro Forma Earnings Disclosures Attract Short Sellers?

Theodore E. Christensen 

Brigham Young University – Marriott School of Management

Michael S. Drake 

Brigham Young University – Marriott School

Jacob R. Thornock 

University of Washington – Michael G. Foster School of Business
September 24, 2012
Contemporary Accounting Research, Forthcoming

We contribute to the debate regarding the informativeness of pro forma earnings disclosures by providing evidence that a group of informed traders, short sellers, trade as if firms’ voluntary non-GAAP earnings disclosures create information advantages they can exploit. While prior research indicates that short sellers identify firms that will experience declining operating performance, we investigate whether the disclosure of pro forma earnings acts as an indicator of future price declines that is distinct from poor operating performance. We find that short selling is significantly higher in quarters in which firms disclose non-GAAP earnings metrics relative to quarters in which they do not disclose adjusted earnings measures. Moreover, we find that short selling is significantly positively associated with the exclusion of recurring items and, more particularly, with the exclusion of stock-based compensation. We also find some evidence that short sellers trade more when managers exclude expense items to appear to meet analysts’ expectations on a pro forma basis when they fall short of expectations based on GAAP operating earnings. Finally, we find evidence based on abnormal returns suggesting that short sellers profit from short selling around earnings announcements containing pro forma earnings disclosures. Overall, the results are consistent with the notion that sophisticated market participants view pro forma earnings disclosures negatively and trade in order to take advantage of potential information asymmetries created by these disclosures.


About bambooinnovator
Kee Koon Boon (“KB”) is the co-founder and director of HERO Investment Management which provides specialized fund management and investment advisory services to the ARCHEA Asia HERO Innovators Fund (www.heroinnovator.com), the only Asian SMID-cap tech-focused fund in the industry. KB is an internationally featured investor rooted in the principles of value investing for over a decade as a fund manager and analyst in the Asian capital markets who started his career at a boutique hedge fund in Singapore where he was with the firm since 2002 and was also part of the core investment committee in significantly outperforming the index in the 10-year-plus-old flagship Asian fund. He was also the portfolio manager for Asia-Pacific equities at Korea’s largest mutual fund company. Prior to setting up the H.E.R.O. Innovators Fund, KB was the Chief Investment Officer & CEO of a Singapore Registered Fund Management Company (RFMC) where he is responsible for listed Asian equity investments. KB had taught accounting at the Singapore Management University (SMU) as a faculty member and also pioneered the 15-week course on Accounting Fraud in Asia as an official module at SMU. KB remains grateful and honored to be invited by Singapore’s financial regulator Monetary Authority of Singapore (MAS) to present to their top management team about implementing a world’s first fact-based forward-looking fraud detection framework to bring about benefits for the capital markets in Singapore and for the public and investment community. KB also served the community in sharing his insights in writing articles about value investing and corporate governance in the media that include Business Times, Straits Times, Jakarta Post, Manual of Ideas, Investopedia, TedXWallStreet. He had also presented in top investment, banking and finance conferences in America, Italy, Sydney, Cape Town, HK, China. He has trained CEOs, entrepreneurs, CFOs, management executives in business strategy & business model innovation in Singapore, HK and China.

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