We study financial reporting and disclosure practices in China using survey methods similar to prior studies of U.S. firms (i.e., Graham et al., 2005; Dichev et al., 2013). Comparing earnings features, motives to manage and smooth earnings, and voluntary disclosure practices between the two countries, we reveal three major differences. First, Chinese firms exhibit a stronger preference for predictive, relative to verifiable, attributes of earnings that can signal stable firm performance to their stakeholders. Second, smooth earnings are desired by various stakeholders and can be achieved through coordination among connected stakeholders, which is conceptually different from earnings management. Third, Chinese firms consider public disclosure as less relevant in the reduction of the cost of capital. In addition, Chinese firms do not have a bias towards conservative reporting. We explain and reconcile these differences as resulting from some unique institutional features of China. Our study provides novel field evidence that contributes to, expands, and directly corroborates existing empirical studies.
China's economic significance has grown in recent decades, making it the second largest economy in the world. While China has continuously introduced new regulations to assimilate shareholder-driven practices of financial markets in the West, various institutional differences spanning cultural norms and socio-economic structures still play a considerable role in shaping the Chinese capital market. For instance, prior studies suggest that connections among many non-arm's length stakeholders contribute to the functioning of capital markets in China (e.g., Ball et al., 2000; Allen et al., 2005; Wong, 2020). In this paper, we use a field-based survey approach to directly study how such institutional factors shape firms' financial reporting and disclosure practices in China.
A survey approach enables us to extend prior archival studies, providing evidence about unobservable coordination efforts and private communication channels among non-arm's length stakeholders in China. While a series of surveys of CFOs at U.S. public firms have allowed academics to validate and reconcile findings on financial reporting and disclosure practices in the accounting and finance literature (e.g., Graham and Harvey, 2001; Graham et al., 2005; Dichev et al., 2013), these survey findings primarily reflect the financial reporting incentives of arm's length shareholders. Our study extends this prior research by examining firm responses in China, where information demand is shaped by various stakeholders that are non-arm's length. Moreover, our study complements the extensive archival literature on financial reporting and disclosure practices in China (Lennox and Wu, 2022).
This paper provides novel field-based evidence on financial executives' opinions and perceptions for financial reporting and disclosure practices in China. Chinese executives of public firms are directly asked about their incentives and the motives for their firms' financial reporting and disclosure practices. Using financial executive opinions and motives at U.S. firms as a benchmark, we find that Chinese firms differ in what they consider as “high quality earnings”, in their motives for earnings management and earnings smoothing, and in their incentives to disclose bad news relative to good news voluntarily. Further field-based evidence suggests that these differences are primarily rooted in the institutional differences associated the dominance of retail investors, concentrated ownership structures, weak legal systems, and the role of diverse stakeholder groups – including arm's length investors and non-arm's length stakeholders.
Our field evidence is consistent with a stakeholder-driven corporate governance model in China. Financial reporting is often considered as a vehicle to mitigate agency conflicts between firms and outside shareholders. The Chinese setting highlights that financial reporting may also have the important role of signaling stable performance to a variety of different stakeholders, including customers, suppliers, employees, and the government. Many of them constitute non-arm's length stakeholders, and may have private communication channels with firms, which undermines the effect of public disclosures to mitigate agency problems. That is, public disclosure in China helps to signal the ability to coordinate among major stakeholders to maintain stable firm performance.