Discussion of Accounting Discretion, Corporate Governance, and Firm Performance

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Accounting Papers
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Financial reporting
agency costs of debt
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Guay, Wayne R

Bowen, Ragjopal, and Venkatachalam (2008) explore whether managers, on average, use accounting discretion for reporting objectives that are in the interests of shareholders (e.g., signaling, tax minimization, etc.), or alternatively whether managers use discretion opportunistically in the presence of governance structures that allow greater discretion. The authors find that although accounting discretion is positively related to governance structures that allow managers greater discretion in decision-making, there is no evidence that the portion of accounting discretion related to governance structures is negatively associated with firm performance. In this discussion, I emphasize the importance of decision rights allocation within widely held corporations, and how this allocation naturally leads to cross-sectional variation in the degree of discretion afforded managers. In contrast to much of the existing governance literature, I argue that governance structures that allow managers greater discretion in making decisions do not necessarily imply weak/poor governance. For example, it is difficult to see why a firm that allocates the least possible decision-making rights to their board or executives is necessarily the firm with highest quality governance. I also discuss why the observed relation between accounting discretion and firm performance may be uninformative about whether accounting discretion is used for opportunistic purposes. If shareholders/boards thoughtfully select an appropriate amount of overall decision-making discretion to allow managers, it will be difficult to determine whether specific types of discretion are used opportunistically.

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Contemporary Accounting Research
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