Carbon Risk and Real Earnings Management
48 Pages Posted: 17 Mar 2021 Last revised: 3 Apr 2021
Date Written: March 1, 2021
A growing body of literature finds that firm-level carbon emissions are associated with a number of adverse outcomes such as higher firm risk, lower firm value, higher option premiums to cover downside tail risk, and declines in future profitability. Given these adverse effects, this paper examines whether carbon emissions affect the financial reporting decisions of firms. Consistent with firms attempting to report higher income in periods of high carbon emissions, possibly in the hope of offsetting some of the negativity associated with the latter, we find the carbon emissions and real earnings management (REM) of firms to be positively associated. Providing evidence of a causal link, we find this relationship to have weakened following the largely exogenous event of the 2016 election of President Trump, which significantly decreased the cost of carbon emissions for firms. In cross-sectional tests, we find the relationship between carbon emissions and REM to be stronger (weaker) for firms located in states with more stringent (less stringent) enforcement of environmental regulations. Further, this relationship is weaker (stronger) for firms with stronger (weaker) corporate governance. We also find that the presence of more short-term oriented transient institutional investors exacerbates the association between carbon emissions and REM. The paper contributes to the literature on both the determinants of REM and firm-level consequences of carbon emissions.
Keywords: Carbon risk; climate risk; earnings management; real activities
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