2016 Hillcrest Behavioral Finance Award
Lauren Cohen (Harvard Business School)
Christopher Malloy (Harvard Business School)
Quoc Nguyen (University of Illinois at Chicago)
We explore the implications of a subtle “default” choice that firms make in their regular reporting practices, namely that firms typically repeat what they most recently reported. Using the complete history of regular quarterly and annual filings by U.S. corporations from 1995-2014, we show that when firms make an active change in their reporting practices, this conveys an important signal about the firm. Changes to the language and construction of financial reports have strong implications for firms’ future returns: a portfolio that shorts “changers” and buys “non-changers” earns up to 188 basis points per month (over 22% per year) in abnormal returns in the future. These reporting changes are concentrated in the management discussion (MD&A) section. Changes in language referring to the executive (CEO and CFO) team, or regarding litigation, are especially informative for future returns.
This paper is located at the Harvard Business School Faculty Research page.