Is the character of SEC comment letters relevant to recipients?: empirical evidence of constraining allowance for doubtful accounts

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University of Alabama Libraries

Prior research has provided mixed results regarding changes in firm behavior in response to comment letters from the Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) (Johnston and Petacchi 2016; Kubick, Mayberry, Omer, and Lynch 2016; Robinson, Xue, and Yu 2011; Wang 2016). This study documents that comment letters come in two main categories: accounting-focused letters and disclosure-focused letters. I examine whether the character of comment letters (accounting versus disclosure) impacts a firm’s response to comment letters questioning the allowance for doubtful accounts (AFDA). I find that firms with abnormal accruals in the AFDA are more likely to receive an accounting-focused comment letter and these firms are also more likely to constrain AFDA-related earnings management behaviors in the period after comment letter resolution. Disclosure-focused comment letters exhibit no such patterns. The results of this study suggest (1) the lack of consistent findings in prior research may be partially attributable to homogenously classifying dissimilar comment letters and (2) the SEC filing review and comment letter process may be an effective tool in monitoring and constraining earnings management behaviors.

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