Earnings Quality and the Cost of Equity Capital: Evidence on the Impact of Legal Background

Ahmed Hassan Ahmed (Lead / Corresponding author), Yasean Tahat, Yasser Eliwa, Bruce Burton

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

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Abstract

Purpose: Earnings quality is of great concern to corporate stakeholders, including capital providers in international markets with widely varying regulatory pedigrees and ownership patterns. This paper aims to examine the association between the cost of equity capital and earnings quality, contextualised via tests that incorporate the potential for moderating effects around institutional settings. The analysis focuses on and compares evidence relating to (common law) UK/US firms and (civil law) German firms over the period 2005–2018 and seeks to identify whether, given institutional dissimilarities, significant differences exist between the two settings.

Design/methodology/approach: First, the authors undertake a review of the extant literature on the link between earnings quality and the cost of capital. Second, using a sample of 948 listed companies from the USA, the UK and Germany over the period 2005 to 2018, the authors estimate four implied cost of equity capital proxies. The relationship between companies’ cost of equity capital and their earnings quality is then investigated.

Findings: Consistent with theoretical reasoning and prior empirical analyses, the authors find a statistically negative association between earnings quality, evidenced by information relating to accruals and the cost of equity capital. However, when they extend the analysis by investigating the combined effect of institutional ownership and earnings quality on financing cost, the impact – while negative overall – is found to vary across legal backdrops.

Research limitations/implications: This paper uses institutional ownership as a mediating variable in the association between earnings quality and the cost of equity capital, but this is not intended to suggest that other measures may be of relevance here and additional research might usefully expand the analysis to incorporate other forms of ownership including state and foreign bases. Second, and suggestive of another avenue for developing the work presented in the study, the authors have used accrual measures of earnings quality.

Practical implications: The results are shown to provide potentially important insights for policymakers, creditors and investors about the consequences of earnings quality variability. The results should be of interest to firms seeking to reduce their financing costs and retain financial viability in the wake of the impact of the Covid-19 pandemic.

Originality/value: The reported findings extends the single-country results of Eliwa et al. (2016) for the UK firms and Francis et al. (2005) for the USA, whereby both reported that the cost of equity capital is negatively associated with earnings quality attributes. Second, in a further increment to the extant literature (particularly Francis et al., 2005 and Eliwa et al., 2016), the authors find the effect of institutional ownership to be influential, with a significantly positive impact on the association between earnings quality and the cost of equity capital, suggesting in turn that institutional ownership can improve firms’ ability to secure cheaper funding by virtue of robust monitoring. While this result holds for the whole sample (the USA, the UK and Germany), country-level analysis shows that the result holds only for the common law countries (the UK and the USA) and not for Germany, consistent with the notion that extant legal systems are a determining factor in this context. This novel finding points to a role for institutional investors in watching and improving the quality of financial reports that are valued by the market in its price formation activity.

Original languageEnglish
JournalInternational Journal of Accounting and Information Management
DOIs
Publication statusE-pub ahead of print - 17 Sep 2021

Keywords

  • Accruals quality
  • Cost of equity Capital
  • Earnings quality
  • Institutional ownership
  • Legal system

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