The European Accounting Review
Previous research on whether the market responds to auditors' opinions has provided mixed results. We revisit this issue in China, where individual investors who are more likely to neglect value-relevant information dominate the stock market. In addition to going concern opinions (GCOs), China permits modified audit opinions (MAOs) on violations of accounting standards or disclosure rules (GAAP/DISC MAOs), providing an opportunity not available in the literature to enrich the study of audit-opinion pricing. We find that, ceteris paribus, MAO recipients underperform in the future and have a higher incidence of adverse outcomes such as misreporting and stock delisting, and the market reacts negatively to MAOs during the short window around MAO disclosure. Importantly, MAO disclosure is not followed by negative long-term stock returns, suggesting stock price adjustments to MAOs are speedy and unbiased. These findings hold for both GCOs and GAAP/DISC MAOs. Together, our findings support the informativeness of audit opinions and cast doubt on the argument that investors inefficiently price audit opinions due to information-processing bias.
Capital market efficiency
We examine whether social ties between engagement auditors and audit committee members shape audit outcomes. Although these social ties can facilitate information transfer and help auditors alleviate management pressure to waive correction of detected misstatements, cozy interpersonal relations can undermine auditors' monitoring of the financial reporting process. We measure social ties by alma mater connections, professor-student bonding, and employment affiliation and audit quality by the propensity to render modified audit opinions, financial reporting irregularities, and firm valuation. Our evidence implies that social ties between engagement auditors and audit committee members impair audit quality. In additional results, we generally find that this relation is concentrated where social ties are more salient, or firm governance is relatively poor and agency conflicts are more severe. Implying reciprocity stemming from social networks, we also report some suggestive evidence that audit fees are higher in the presence of social ties between an engagement auditor and the audit committee. Collectively, our analysis lends support to the narrative that the negative implications--namely, worse audit quality and higher audit fees--of these social ties may outweigh the benefits.
While both the economic and agency theory have been proposed to explain cost stickiness, Chen, Lu, and Sougiannis (2012) is the first study that provides evidence to support the agency explanation. To address the endogeneity concern, we extend Chen et al. (2012) by employing state antitakeover laws (ATLs) as an exogenous shock to the corporate governance environment and examine whether the behavior of selling, general and administrative (SG&A) costs changes around the passage of the ATLs. Using the difference-in-differences methodology, we report two primary findings. First, when sales increase, SG&A costs increase significantly more after the enactment of the ATLs, which is consistent with the ATL literature that managers enjoy the “quiet life” after being insulated from an active takeover market. Second and more importantly, we do not find evidence to suggest that managers reduce SG&A costs less in response to sales decline after the passage of the ATLs, which is inconsistent with the agency explanation of cost stickiness. These results hold in settings where we expect the effect of ATLs to be stronger and are robust to sensitivity analyses. Although we would not rule out the agency explanation, our study does cast doubt on the explanation and calls for further research into the reasons behind cost stickiness.
This study examines how the legal and regulatory changes in China affect the relationship between client economic importance and audit quality. At the individual auditor level, we find that the propensity to issue modified audit opinions (MAOs) is negatively correlated with client importance from 1995 to 2000. However, from 2001 to 2004, when the institutional environment became more investor‐friendly, the propensity to issue MAOs is positively associated with client importance. These findings are corroborated by an analysis of regulatory sanctions. Although client importance measured at the office level is also negatively related to the propensity for MAOs from 1995 to 2000 without controlling for the auditor‐level client importance, this result is sensitive to model specification and sample composition. Our results suggest that (1) institutional improvements prompt auditors to prioritize the costs of compromising quality over the economic benefits gained from important clients; and (2) the impact of client importance on audit decisions appears to be different at the individual auditor and office levels.
The extant corporate investment literature has documented that information asymmetry and agency conflicts between managers and outside investors prevent firms from making optimal investment decisions. In this study, we investigate whether government intervention, as another form of friction, distorts firms' investment behavior and leads to investment inefficiency. Using Chinese data, we test this by measuring government intervention at two different levels. First, we compare investment efficiency between SOEs and non-SOEs. We find that the sensitivity of investment expenditure to investment opportunities is significantly weaker for SOEs. Second, we measure government intervention by whether a firm is politically connected through the employment of top executives with a government background. We find that political connections significantly reduce investment efficiency in SOEs. However, we do not find such evidence in non-SOEs. Taken together, our findings suggest that government intervention in SOEs through majority state ownership or the appointment of connected managers distorts investment behavior and harms investment efficiency.