SEU The Benefits of Accrual Basis in Accounting Research Paper

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Assignment Question(s): Q1 Activity: A. Visit Saudi Digital Library using your student ID/ You can also search from Google and choose at least 5 research articles on accounting in which you are interested and would like to investigate. You might have observed that every article starts with an Abstract, explain in your words what is an abstract and how does it help other researchers. B. Write the title and author of each article and summarize the finding of each author in all the 5 articles and write a critical comment on them. C. Develop one Question/ Topic of your own based on all the comment you made from the summary above. 2. Research proposals includes: 1. Title, 2. Abstract, 3. Issues, 4. Objectives, 5. Literature, 6. Method, 7. Benefits. Write down a research proposal on the question developed in Q1. (1.5 Marks) 3. Data collection depends upon the choice of research method adopted like: 1. The research question, 2. Data access and 3. What the researcher wants to do. Develop at least 10 questions on the objectives you created in your proposal to collect data/ Survey. (1Mark) 4. The trade-off between reliability and construct validity has been referred to between internal/external validity. Explain them. (0.5 Marks) Administración pública re v is ta innovar journal Accrual financial reporting in the Public Sector: Is it a reality? Isabel Brusca Alijarde Universidad de Zaragoza, Spain. Departamento de Contabilidad y Finanzas. Facultad de Ciencias Económicas y Empresariales. E-mail: ibrusca@unizar.es Vicente Montesinos Julve Universidad de Valencia, Spain. Departamento de Contabilidad. Facultad de Ciencias Económicas y Empresariales. E-mail: Vicente.Montesinos@uv.es Información financiera de devengo en el sector público: ¿es una realidad? Resumen: La modernización de la contabilidad pública ha llevado consigo la implantación de información financiera basada en el principio de devengo. No obstante, en algunos países europeos, como por ejemplo España, el presupuesto continúa elaborándose mediante el criterio de caja o caja modificada y por consiguiente ambos sistemas coexisten. Esto puede convertirse en un problema para la implantación real del principio de devengo. Este artículo analiza las diferencias que existen en la práctica entre el resultado presupuestario y el resultado económico, con el objetivo de evidenciar si realmente existen diferencias significativas entre uno y otro y poner así de manifiesto en qué medida la contabilidad de devengo ha sido implementada de forma real. Abstract: Although modernization of governmental accounting has led to the implementation of accrual financial reporting, budgets in most continental European countries, including Spain, continue to be based on cash or modified cash methods. Consequently, cash-based and accrualbased financial information coexist. This may create problems for the full implementation of accrual financial statements. This paper analyzes the differences in practice between the results disclosed in financial and budgetary statements under both bases of accounting in order to identify to what extent accrual accounting has been implemented and to verify whether budgetary and accrualbased financial figures are significantly different. The research findings show that there is a high correlation between the current budgetary result and the economic result and, therefore, that in practice the accrual principle has not been implemented effectively. Keywords: Public sector accounting, accrual accounting, local government, financial reporting. Palabras clave: contabilidad del sector público, contabilidad de devengo, gobierno local, reportes financieros. Rapport d’accroissement financier dans le secteur public : une réalité ? Résumé : La modernisation de la comptabilité publique a mené avec elle l’implantation d’information financière basée sur le principe d’exercice. Cependant, dans certains pays européens, comme l’Espagne, par exemple, le budget continue d’être élaboré selon un critère de caisse ou de caisse modifiée et par conséquent les deux systèmes coexistent. Cela peut devenir un problème pour la mise en place réelle du principe d’exercice. Cet article analyse les différences qui existent dans la pratique entre le résultat budgétaire et le résultat économique, pour mettre en évidence s’il existe réellement des différences significatives entre l’un et l’autre et démontrer ainsi dans quelle mesure la comptabilité d’exercice a été mise en place de façon réelle. Mots-clés : Comptabilité du secteur public, comptabilité d’exercice, gouvernement local, rapport financier. Informação financeira de acréscimo no setor público: É uma realidade? Resumo: A modernização da contabilidade pública tem levado consigo a implantação de informação financeira baseada no princípio da especialização dos exercícios. No entanto, em alguns países europeus, como a Espanha, por exemplo, o orçamento continua sendo elaborado mediante o critério de caixa ou caixa modificada e, em consequência, ambos os sistemas coexistem. Isto pode virar um problema para a implantação real do princípio da especialização dos exercícios. Este artigo analisa as diferenças que existem na prática entre o resultado orçamentário e o resultado econômico, com o objetivo de evidenciar se realmente existem diferenças significativas entre um e outro e mostrar assim em que medida o regime contabilístico do acréscimo foi implementado de maneira real. Palavras-chave: Contabilidade do setor público, regime contabilístico do acréscimo, governo local, relatórios financeiros. Departamento de Contabilidad y Finanzas (At. Isabel Brusca). Facultad de Economía y Empresa. Gran Vía, 2-3a planta. 50005-Zaragoza. Correspondencia: Brusca Alijarde, I., & Montesinos Julve, V. (2014). Accrual Financial Reporting in the Public Sector: Is it a Reality? Innovar, 24(54), 107-120. Citación: Clasificación JEL: M41. RECIBIDO: Febrero 2012; APROBADO: Septiembre 2013. Introduction In recent years, most Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) countries have introduced important reforms into their public accounting systems following New Public Management (NPM) perspectives and principles. These reforms have a two-fold objective: To improve public service management and to increase the transparency and accountability of governments (Caperchione, 2006; Chan & Xiaoyue, 2002; Lapsley, 1999). Reforms of government accounting generally focus on implementing accrual-based information systems, conforming to generally accepted accounting principles (GAAP), and progressively bringing procedures in-line with the business accounting model (Hood, 1995; Lüder & Jones, 2003; OECD, 2002). Australia, New Zealand and the UK are leaders in the initiative for the convergence of the two types of accounting systems (Barton, 2009; Broadbent & Guthrie, 2008; Ryan et al., 2007). As Lapsley, Mussari and Paulsson (2009) point out, in the world of public sector accounting, the adoption of accrual accounting is self-evident and has been encouraged by the recommendations of international organizations such as the International Public Sector Accounting Standards Board (IPSASB) and the OECD. However, the literature shows that there are many differences between countries (Adam, Mussari & Jones, 2011; Pina, Torres & Yetano, 2009) and that, in the implementation of accrual accounting, many problems and ambiguities arise (Arnaboldi & Lapsley, 2009). This paper 107 Administración pública focuses on one of these ambiguities: The duality of financial and budgetary accounting systems, which is a barrier to implementing accrual accounting in practice. In most continental European countries, budgets are based on cash or modified cash methods so that cash-based and accrual-based financial information coexist. This is the case, for example, in Italy, France, Portugal, Belgium and Spain. Even though a reconciliation of these two types of information is sometimes required by legal standards, the use of different recognition criteria for budgets and for financial statements can be confusing. This is why accrual statements have a secondary role in most countries where the two recognition bases coexist. Budgetary information drives the management of public entities because legal requirements refer only to this information. Guthrie (1998) points out that this duality can cause confusion for managers because they receive conflicting signals from two parallel sets of accounting figures. On the other hand, Pina et al. (2009) maintain that the dual system implemented in continental European countries may be one reason for the dissemination of accrual accounting, because it does not require the introduction of deep organizational changes and answers citizens’ democratic demands for higher responsiveness, transparency and accountability. This paper aims to analyze the extent to which there has been a real implementation of accrual accounting in a dual system, taking into account the effect on the operating statement in Spanish local governments. In Spain, accrual-based financial statements have been prepared since 1992, but budgets are still based on the modified cash basis. As a consequence of this duality, even when public managers have to prepare both types of information—and they do—for management and legal purposes, priority is given to budgetary figures and reports (Brusca & Montesinos, 2011) because the parliamentary debate is based on these figures. In fact, accrual-based financial figures are only used for accountability purposes. This study contributes to the extensive literature about implementing accrual accounting and the problems and ambiguities it causes. It aims to show, through an empirical study, that the implementation of accrual accounting has many problems in practice and that although entities always try to follow the accounting standards from a formal point of view, the implementation may not be effective. The paper offers a two-fold extension of previous accounting literature. First, it focuses on an ambiguity that has received little attention in the literature and, second, it offers an empirical perspective of the implementation and the problems that it can have in practice. It can be 108 considered as a study of the outcomes of a reform process for Spanish local governments that has already taken nearly 20 years, and complements others papers that demonstrate problems of accrual accounting in other countries, such as those of Arnaboldi and Lapsley (2009) for the UK, or Anessi-Pessina and Steccolini (2007) for Italy. The theoretical bases of this research—that is, the assumptions to be verified, the variables considered in the empirical analysis, and the design of the model which represents their functional relations—are built on the logic of the accounting model: How economic or accrual and budgetary results are determined, and the main items that constitute the differences between both results. The theoretical background of accounting behavior in public organizations, especially agency and institutional theories, has been a useful tool for explaining and analyzing the variables and circumstances that boost the adoption of accrual accounting rules and practices in public entities. Finally, in order to obtain useful research results, we have taken into consideration, for the period and variables of the study, existing previous analyses for other countries such as Italy. This enables an international comparison of the main findings of the paper. The results show that the implementation of the accrual system in local entities has been more formal than real. The problems that remain unresolved are generally recognized, such as the treatment of asset depreciation. The paper enriches the literature about the problems of accrual accounting, showing that although entities may wish to comply with the standards, managers are not necessarily interested in the information obtained through the accrual method and such information is little used in practice. The rest of the paper is organized into five sections. First we review the literature and the state of the art. We look at the use of accrual and cash bases in accounting and budgeting. What benefits and risks can the adoption of accrual imply, especially when it coexists with the cash basis? We go on to describe the situation of the Spanish local government system, referring particularly to the accrualbased statement of revenues and expenses, the statement of budget execution, and the conceptual differences between them. The fourth section provides a description of the empirical research: Objectives, sample and methodology. The results are presented in the fifth section. A final section draws some conclusions and discusses the implications for accounting practitioners and researchers. r e v. i n n ova r vo l . 2 4 , n úm . 5 4 , o ct ub r e - di ci e m b re 2014 re v i s ta innovar journal The modernization of governmental accounting reflects the common direction of reforms towards the implementation of accrual financial reporting in conformity with GAAP, using the business accounting model as a reference. The actions taken include accrual accounting reforms, in some cases accompanied by accrual budgeting, performance management systems, results-oriented and performance budgeting, and performance benchmarking. and the information can be the main vehicle for accountability to external users. In the public sector, however, the relationships between principals and agents are complex and open-ended or not explicitly defined, and are thus not easily monitored (Broadbent & Laughlin, 2003). Each individual is presumed to be motivated by self-interest and will not use the information unless it somehow contributes to their own economic wellbeing. As a consequence, agents will need reasons to use the information. From the stakeholders’ perspective, Zimmerman (1977) points out some problems that can arise in the control of the agent by the principal in this case. Because of the small probability of a voter influencing an election, each voter will incur a small expected cost. Within accrual accounting, the main objectives of financial reporting are to provide information useful for accountability and decision-making purposes. From a theoretical perspective, some theories can be used in order to explain the introduction of accrual accounting and reporting in local government. For example, according to agency theory, local government information can be used for monitoring and linking managerial action with principals (citizens), According to institutional theory, local governments may introduce accrual accounting and reporting to meet external requirements and to provide an impression of rationality and efficiency, seeking legitimacy, but will not use the system to improve internal performance (Brignall & Modell, 2000; Modell, 2001, 2004; Scott, 1987). When the process of accrual basis adoption is assessed in the light of the institutional approach, a “decoupling” can be found, as Implementation of Accrual Accounting in Governments with a Dual System Theoretical Framework re v. i n n ova r vol . 2 4, nú m . 5 4, oc tu br e-d ic i e m b r e 2 014 109 Administración pública accrual and cash-based information still co-exist in financial reporting by public entities (Archel, Husillos & Spence, 2011). As a result of this circumstance, an interesting discussion can be opened from a theoretical perspective, with the first question focused on identifying where the dominant discourse is now really located: Is it accruals, supported by academics, big firms and professional bodies, or is it cash-based reporting, supported by traditional behavior and practices? Accrual accounting is an international tendency and most governments around the world see this as an objective for their accounting systems, although there are differences in the implementation process between countries (Adam et al., 2011; Lüder & Jones, 2003; Pina et al., 2009). Lapsley et al. (2009) argue that the adoption has been self-evident because of the pressures on governments to demonstrate their effectiveness and efficiency and to discharge their responsibilities, bearing in mind that accrual financial statements can be considered as a tool to this end. The International Public Sector Accounting Standards Board (IPSASB) has had an important role in these processes, especially in connection with the issue of the International Public Sector Accounting Standards (IPSASs) based on the accrual method. However, there are some arguments in the literature that indicate the need to be careful when extending business accounting to public sector entities, to prevent it leading to ‘perverse outcomes’ (Broadbent & Guthrie, 2008; Christiaens & Rommel 2008; Ellwood, 2003; Ellwood & Newberry 2007; Federation des Experts Comptables Européens, 2003; Guthrie, 1998; Lapsley, 2009; Lapsley et al. 2009; Newberry, 2007). Another trend even questions the advisability of introducing accrual accounting in the public sector, arguing that the benefits claimed are not being verified in practice, while the costs of shifting to accrual accounting are accepted as being substantial (Wynne, 2008). From a practical perspective, the implementation of accrual accounting systems overcomes many conflicts and ambiguities, as pointed out by Arnaboldi and Lapsley (2009). The authors highlighted the recognition and valuation of assets or the non-neutrality of accrual accounting as examples. Lapsley et al. (2009) identified similar problems relating to heritage assets, infrastructure assets, community assets, and capital maintenance and erosion. Furthermore, many authors argue that the adoption of full accrual accounting has expanded the opportunities available to governments to utilize accounting measurement discretion for the purposes of managing reported financial results (Stalebrink, 2007). For example, Vinnari and 110 Nasi (2008) consider that the heterogeneity of accrual accounting applications may lead to creative accounting solutions, especially in the public sector context, with the consequence that accounting information is not sufficiently transparent, users may be misled, and accounting does not properly fulfill its accountability functions. The literature shows that relevant questions still remain unanswered, such as the recognition and valuation of infrastructure and heritage assets (Adam et al., 2011; Christiaens, 2004; Jorge, Carvalho & Fernandes, 2007), and the usefulness of accrual financial statements has not been fully demonstrated (Arnaboldi & Lapsley, 2009; Jones & Pendlebury, 2004; Pilcher & Dean, 2009). One additional problem that persists in many European continental countries is the duality of budgetary and financial reporting systems, which can lead to a degree of ambivalence about implementing accrual accounting and also using accrual financial statements. Coordination Between Accrual and Budgetary Systems: International Experiences Australia, New Zealand and the UK use accrual accounting both for financial reporting and for budgets. In the Netherlands, local governments are also using the modified accrual basis to prepare their budgets (Van der Hock, 2005). The same situation can be found in most German local governments, where important innovations are being introduced with resource-based and output-oriented budgeting (Lüder, 2008; Ridder, Bruns & Spier, 2005), although at the moment caution prevails, especially in the Federal Government (Jones & Lüder, 2011). In Denmark, the introduction of accrual accounting in budgets was tried out in several municipalities in 2006-2007 and there is now a general process of change involving the adoption of the accrual basis in the budget. Similarly, in Finland, the municipal sector adopted the accrual accounting method for both budgeting and financial accounts at the end of the 1990s (Vinnari & Nasi, 2008). On the other hand, most European countries continue preparing their budgets and budgetary reports according to the modified cash basis, focusing on cash and short-term claims and debts, especially in the continental area. As a consequence, important conflicts and implementation problems remain for adopting accrual accounting within the existing traditional environment of a cash-based budgetary culture and practice. The reasons for continuing using the cash or modified cash basis in budgets are that these are the methods r e v. i n n ova r vo l . 2 4 , n úm . 5 4 , o ct ub r e - di ci e m b re 2014 re v i s ta innovar journal traditionally used, and, above all, appropriations, assignations and authorizations are based on that criterion in law. The cash basis reflects the traditional public sector concern with control, with guaranteeing the fulfillment of established limits, and with showing the short-term economic impact of fiscal policies. As the budgetary and accounting systems are usually two subsystems of the general information system, it is necessary to establish some mechanisms for their coordination. The situation varies greatly if the accounting and budgetary bases are the same or if they are different. In the first case, a transaction should be recorded in the two systems equally and a single system can produce both kinds of documents: Budgetary and financial. When the budgetary basis differs from the accounting basis, in most cases there is integration of the budgetary and accounting systems through the use of budgetary procedures. Moreover, reconciliation between the two criteria is not always shown in the financial report, and this is the case in Spain. Therefore, the duality of the system creates some problems for implementing the accrual basis, and reduces the usefulness of financial reporting. The traditional concept of governmental accounting persists, giving more importance to budgetary reporting for the accountability objective. Budgetary reporting is essential for the political process of discussing and approving local government expenditures. This implies that the budget is, in the end, the most important document, and the information system revolves around it. Pina et al. (2009) argue that these European continental countries are implementing the accrual basis, adapting it to their own organizational context and administrative culture, but the new requirements of accounting, accountability and auditing are viewed by public sector managers and civil servants with some suspicion. This can explain why some authors consider that the new accounting information is little used, often due to its failure to replace traditional budgetary accounting as the entity’s main accounting system (Anessi-Pessina & Steccolini, 2007; Anthony, 2000; Paulson, 2006). If cash remains the reference for appropriations, managers are not interested in accrual financial statements (Brusca & Montesinos, 2011). In Portugal, integration between financial accounting and budgetary reporting has not diminished the role of budgeting in determining the development of accounting and reporting systems; financial and cost accounting systems are still basically guided by budgetary transactions (Jorge, 2007). In Italy, although local governments should present a balance sheet and an operating statement, double entry re v. i n n ova r vol . 2 4, nú m . 5 4, oc tu br e-d ic i e m b r e 2 014 bookkeeping is not mandatory; governments can derive these statements from budgetary reports through a complex system of year-end adjustments (Anessi-Pessina, Nasi & Steccolini, 2008). Criticisms have arisen with respect to the coordination between both systems, arguing that this procedure ignores the profound differences between cashbased budgets and accrual accounting in terms of goals and methods for forcing the two systems to coexist. This inevitably leads to upholding budgetary accounting as the main system and reducing accrual-based reporting to a meaningless formality (Anessi-Pessina & Steccolini, 2007; Caperchione, 2003). The Greek reform initiative introduced a combined approach for accrual accounting and double entry cash accounting through two separate accounting systems that work in parallel, but each one retaining its autonomy (i.e. each system would have to comply with its own rules and principles). Thus, while the accrual accounting system would register transactions in a similar way to the private sector, the cash accounting system would track the implementation of the budget by monitoring expenditures and revenues through all the legitimate phases and procedures of municipalities (Cohen, Kaimenaki & Zorgois, 2007). In Belgium, municipalities simply add accrual accounting separately so that most budgetary accounting principles have been maintained and even supersede the accrual accounting system. Municipal councils seem to ignore the reporting of the balance sheet and income statement; they are only interested in their budgets and budgetary reporting, and they consider that the link between budgetary accounting and accrual accounting is contradictory (Christiaens, 2003; Christiaens & Rommel, 2008). Similarly, Paulson (2006, p. 58) maintains that accrual accounting is not used in public organizations, in particular in Swedish government: “both the survey and the interviews indicate that the use of accrual accounting information may be lower than it otherwise would be, due to the fact that the state budget in Sweden is still based upon a modified cash principle”. To summarize, the existence of a duality of criteria for accounting and budgeting can be a significant problem for accrual implementation, because it is difficult to understand the information obtained with heterogeneous principles. In practice, it is not clear that accrual accounting reporting is going to be used if budgetary reporting maintains the modified accrual basis. However, and in spite of the theoretical and practical objections to the usefulness of accrual reporting in public entities, and the reservations about the convenience of 111 Administración pública preserving cash-based budgetary reports, international public sector accounting standards are designed on the basis of accruals, and a general agreement exists on the inevitable need to report true and fair information about the economic position of public entities, and not only their short-term financial flows, as budgetary reports present. All this highlights that the generally accepted view, both in academic and professional fields, is that accrual reporting is the first requirement for public sector accounting, not only for historical information, but also for economic and financial forecasts. This paper presents empirical research on the links between the two types of reports, considering a sample of Spanish municipalities. As a result of this, we try to show how relevant the differences between both kinds of information are in practice. Accounting and Budgetary Criteria in Spanish Local Governments Moving From Cash to Accrual Accounting In Spain, the government accounting system is based on the business accounting model, but includes particularities for public sector entities. The three levels of government (central, regional and local) use the accrual basis for the elaboration of financial statements. However, the predominance of the budget is maintained due to a legal and administrative culture unlike that of the Anglo-Saxon countries. Budgetary reporting is still based on the modified cash basis of accounting. At local government level, the introduction of an accrual accounting system in 1992 was the first step in modernizing financial accounting. The Accounting Instruction for Local Government (ICAL) from 1992 requires the presentation of a balance sheet, an operating statement, and a statement of sources and applications of funds, using the accrual basis of accounting. Moreover, a cash flow statement and a budget execution statement are also produced. The ICAL contains a format for the presentation of these statements, as well as the accounting principles applicable and the criteria for the valuation of the elements of the statements. There is a simplified model for entities with fewer than 5,000 inhabitants, the main difference being the details of the financial statements, but the accounting principles and valuation criteria are the same as in the normal model. The introduction of the new accounting system was an important change which presented difficulties for a 112 traditional administration that had always used an accounting information system in which only the budget was disclosed using a modified cash basis. In the early years of applying accrual accounting, financial directors had some problems with asset valuation and especially with the introduction of estimates where there was no information. For example, although the standard states that properties and equipment should be valued at historical cost minus accumulated depreciation, there were no norms for the depreciation. In 2004 this standard was amended (the new rules became effective in 2006), with the intention of adapting the model to a new general government accounting framework and simplifying the content of financial reports in the case of small municipalities. The new ICAL included more detailed criteria in areas such as depreciation, stating that property and equipment should be depreciated using the linear method. The Council has to approve the criteria of the entity for the application of the accounting principles and evaluation norms, such as the criteria for depreciation. The Budgetary Tradition in a Dual Information System However, there have been no changes either in the budgetary system, which maintains the modified cash basis of accounting, or in the procedures for coordinating the budgetary and accounting subsystems. There is a double entry system and a transaction is introduced simultaneously in the budgetary system and in the accounting system, with the corresponding codes and rules. As a consequence, the system produces two kinds of information. There are two measures of results: accrual results and budgetary results. Moreover, there is no reconciliation between these results at the end of the period, which is compulsory in other European continental countries such as Italy. Under this dual system, with the presentation of the budgetary information in a single statement, from a theoretical point of view, the accounting criteria are not affected by the budgetary criteria, because only in the budgetary statements do the latter dominate, maintaining non-connected criteria and reporting systems. The budgetary result obtained is the difference between budgetary revenues and expenses of the period. It indicates whether the budgetary expenditures are funded by budgetary resources. The budgetary statement reports current and capital operations separately, and the current budgetary result can also be calculated as the difference between current revenue and expenses using budgetary criteria. This will eliminate some of the differences between r e v. i n n ova r vo l . 2 4 , n úm . 5 4 , o ct ub r e - di ci e m b re 2014 re v i s ta innovar journal the cash-based budgetary statement and the accrual-based operating statement, taking into account that capital operations are not reflected in this operating statement, as they are neither accrual revenues nor accrual expenses. 3) Extraordinary gains and losses are included in the income statement but not in the current budgetary result. Acquisitions and disposals of assets, for example, will be registered in the capital section of the budget. The accrual-based operating statement shows the economic result or net income, which represents the change in net assets resulting from operations, both budgetary and non-budgetary. It is determined by the difference between the revenues and expenses of the period using the same methodology as in business entities. 4) Capital grants to be paid by the entity are registered in the capital section of the budget but recognized as expenses in the operating statement. There is some controversy about the usefulness of these measures, and especially about the economic result, because the objective of a local government is not to make a profit but to provide services. The budgetary result can be more suitable for local government activity because it provides a measure of the extent to which budgetary revenues were sufficient to meet budgetary expenditures, and because it determines the politico-economic decisions, since the budgetary result has always been, and still is, the principal concern of politicians and public sector managers. According to the opinion of financial directors, the economic result has a limited usefulness (Brusca, 1997). The reasons given for this can be summarized as follows: it is not adapted to the activity of local governments; it does not have great significance in politico-economic decisions; some gaps exist in the application of accounting principles, such as the matching principle applied to capital grants and special taxes; it does not allow the entity’s performance to be assessed, nor is it comparable from one entity to another; and it is affected by the valuation problems of assets in the areas of depreciation and allowances. Differences Between Economic and Budgetary Results: The Accrual Principle The differences between the economic and budgetary results are due to the criteria applicable in each area, especially to three accounting principles that are not applicable in the budget: accrual principle, matching concept, and conservatism or conservative principle. If we take the current budgetary result, the differences between it and the economic result can be found in the following items: 1) Depreciations and provisions are registered as expenses in the economic result because of the matching concept which is not applicable in the budgetary area. 2) Work carried out on assets is capitalized in the balance sheet but shown as an expense in the budgetary area. re v. i n n ova r vol . 2 4, nú m . 5 4, oc tu br e-d ic i e m b r e 2 014 5) Applying the accrual basis has an impact on current expenses and revenues. Revenues are recognized in budgets when collected or receivables are due, whereas expenses are registered when paid or due for payment. Thus, the differences can be classified into four groups: 1) extraordinary items due to profit and losses of assets, 2) capital transfers, 3) application of the matching and conservative principles, which covers depreciation and provisions, and 4) timing of recognition of current revenues and expenses. We will differentiate between financial and non-financial expenses to show the effect of accrual in financial expenses. An Empirical Analysis of Differences Between the Two Criteria in Practice Objectives and Hypotheses In order to test the implementation of accrual accounting in Spanish local governments (mandatory from 1992) and the differences between this information and budgetary reporting, we have designed an empirical study with the following objectives: 1) to compare the accrual basis results with the current budgetary result in order to show how they behave, as well as the association between the two variables; 2) to analyze what types of differences are more important and the particular items that have more weight; 3) to analyze whether there are variations in the differences and association between the two variables over time; 4) to test whether there are differences between entities according to their size; and 5) to show whether there are differences between geographical areas that reflect cultural differences and traditions. To accomplish these objectives, we have defined six hypotheses. 113 Administración pública H1. Because of conceptual differences between the accrual and budgetary results, they behave differently. A low correlation can therefore be expected between them. H2. The matching concept can have a relevant effect on the differences, taking into account that depreciation is one of the most important effects of the accrual criterion. At the same time, we are conscious that depreciation and provision expenses are not quantitatively important in local government. H3. The effect of timing differences in recognition of expenses and revenues can also be important. This effect can be greater in expenses than in revenues. Because of the difficulties of registering revenues under the accrual criterion, governments could try to register revenues with the same criteria in the economic and budgetary subsystems. H4. As governments gain more experience with accrual accounting, the differences between current budgetary results and economic results increase. H5. The situation differs according to the size of the local government. Larger cities are supposed to have more sophisticated systems for accrual accounting and, as a consequence, the differences between accrual and budgetary results are greater than in small cities. H6. There are differences between local entities depending on regions, reflecting the diversity of traditions and cultures. There are not many empirical papers about the differences between accrual and cash and commitment information in practice, and only the paper of Anessi-Pessina and Steccolini (2007) has similar objectives to our paper. They also studied the differences between budgetary and accrualbased results for Italian local governments, although they selected only 30 entities. Our study tries to take a step forward by using a broader sample of Spanish local authorities over an eight-year period, which still allows us to compare the results between the Spanish and Italian experiences. Our paper is also related to accounting management literature (or earnings management in the case of the private sector), where not many studies have been carried out in the local government area. We can highlight Pilcher and Van der Zahn’s (2010) study, for example, which analyzes the use of discretionary accrual (i.e., depreciation) to adjust the financial performance. Findings indicate a significant positive association between absolute unexpected depreciation and absolute local government income before capital contributions, and a significant positive association between absolute unexpected depreciation and capital contributions. 114 Sample and Data The sample is made up of 1,488 local governments in two Spanish Autonomous Regions (Cataluña, 946, and Valencia, 542) for the period 1998-2005. The reason for choosing these entities was the availability of information. The data have been extracted from the financial statements published on the Internet by the Audit Offices of Cataluña and Valencia (www.sindicatura.org and www.sindicom.gva.es). We have focused on entities with more than 5,000 inhabitants, because entities with fewer inhabitants use a simplified accounting system and will have greater difficulty in applying the accrual criterion. Nevertheless, we sometimes refer to the group of smaller local governments in order to make comparisons. The variables for the analysis are the current budgetary result (BR) and the economic result (ER), the difference between them, and the variables that cause those differences. Because of the great heterogeneity in the data we have considered it necessary to standardize them, dividing them by current revenues. Methodology To study the degree of association between the BR and ER, we have used the Pearson coefficient of correlation. In order to identify which variable has the greatest weight in the difference between BR and ER, we study the coefficient of correlation between each of the variables and the difference, as well as the dispersion plot. These analyses are complemented by a multiple regression analysis by steps. The dependent variable is the difference between BR and ER and the independent variables are the four groups of differences mentioned previously. In each step the variable with the greatest explanatory power is introduced and the increase in R2 shows the rise in the percentage of variability explained by the variable. To check whether the difference between the two variables behaves differently over time, we use a simple regression. The dependent variable is the difference between BR and ER and the independent variable is the year. Furthermore, we analyze whether the linear association between BR and ER is statistically different over time, using a general regression model with dummy variables, taking 1998 as the base year. To test whether there are differences according to population size, we classify local government into three groups and use the ANOVA test for independent samples if the hypotheses (normality and equality of variances) are satisfied, and the Kruskal Wallis test if not. r e v. i n n ova r vo l . 2 4 , n úm . 5 4 , o ct ub r e - di ci e m b re 2014 re v i s ta innovar journal To analyze the behavior of the difference between BR and BE according to the geographical area, we use a test of differences of means (the T-Student test or the non-parametric test of Mann Whitney). Analysis of Results them has not been very relevant. This leads us to reject the first of our hypotheses, in which we propose that they behave differently. Similar conclusions were obtained by Anessi-Pessina and Steccolini (2007), with a correlation coefficient of 0.61 in 1998 and a smaller one in 2003. Analysis of Differences Between Budgetary Result and Economic Result Association Between Current Budgetary Result and Economic Result The results of the correlation test show that there is a high correlation between the two variables, and it is even higher if we consider only entities with more than 5,000 inhabitants. Moreover, we can see that the mean of difference is only 0.0408, that is 4.08 percent of current revenues, with a standard deviation of 0.1164. The dispersion plot also shows the high degree of association between the two types of results (Figure 1). As a consequence, it appears that the theoretical differences between BR and ER are not reflected in practice, and a high association between the two variables shows that in the end the differences in the criteria for obtaining If we group the differences into four types, the coefficients of the Pearson correlation of each of the groups with the difference variable show that the group of variables that most affects the behavior of the difference is the extraordinary items, with a coefficient of 0.756 (strong relation), followed by the matching concept effect with a coefficient of 0.315 (slight relation) and the timing of recognition with a coefficient of 0.207 (very weak relation). In fact, if we add the extraordinary items to the current budget result, the correlation coefficient with the economic result rises to 0.764 for the group of all municipalities and to 0.871 for municipalities with more than 5,000 inhabitants. Figure 1. Correlation Between BR and ER Budgetary versus Economic Result All Entities Entities > 5,000 inh. C. Correl. 0.651 0.663 P_value 0.000 0.000 n 9,565 2,245 Source: own elaboration. Entities > 5,000 inhabitants All Entities 1.0 Budgetary Result/Current Revenues Budgetary Result/Current Revenues 1.0 0.5 0.0 -0.5 -1.0 -1.5 -1.0 -0.5 0.0 0.5 1.0 1.5 Economic Result/Current Revenues 0.8 0.6 0.4 0.2 0.0 -0.2 -0.4 -1.0 -0.5 0.0 0.5 1.0 1.5 Economic Result/Current Revenues Source: own elaboration. re v. i n n ova r vol . 2 4, nú m . 5 4, oc tu br e-d ic i e m b r e 2 014 115 Administración pública If we break down the analysis for each variable that causes differences, the variable that most affects the difference is the extraordinary items with a coefficient of 0.792, followed by depreciations and provisions with a coefficient of 0.351. This allows us to accept the second hypothesis about the effect of depreciation; although it is not quantitatively important, it causes relevant differences between BR and ER. We can observe the low weight of the timing of recognition and, in particular, timing of recognition of financial expenses, revenues and capital transfers. As a consequence, we can conclude that there are no important differences between the expenses registered in the economic and budgetary statements. Governments use similar criteria for both statements, due in part to the difficulties of accrual implementation. This leads us to reject our third hypothesis about the effect of accrual in expenses. Similar conclusions are obtained from the multiple regressions by steps, where we observe that the most influential variable is extraordinary items, which represents 62.7% of the variability. The second most important item is depreciations and provisions, which constitutes an additional 21.5%. Further steps add very little to the explanatory difference. This analysis shows that the most relevant difference between BR and ER is extraordinary items, which is a logical difference given that the heading appears in the accrual statement only. Depreciation also causes differences between the two variables, although its statistical weight is slight. These results are very similar to those of AnessiPessina and Steccolini (2007), where the largest items explaining the differences between current surplus and net income were extraordinary gains, followed by depreciation. It is interesting to analyze the behavior of these variables by entity size, especially with respect to the null values of the variables. The accounts of 41.01% of entities with a population between 5,000 and 20,000 do not register depreciations or provisions, nor are depreciations registered by 47.69% of local governments with a population between 20,001 and 50,000. This falls to 16.34% for entities with more than 50,000 inhabitants. These results contrast with those of Stalebrink (2007), who concludes that Swedish municipalities use discretion associated with the accounting for write-off and depreciation expenses to manage reported financial performance. More specifically, the findings indicate that governments tend to increase these discretionary accruals if they can be absorbed by a surplus. 116 Table 1. Analysis of the Variables by Size 5,00020,000 inh. Depreciation and provisions 0 20,001-50,000 inh. >50,000 inh. n % n % n % 620 41.0 227 47.69 42 16.34 58.99 249 52.31 215 83.66 582 38.5 190 39.9 108 42 ≠ 0 930 61.5 286 60.1 149 58 Accrual in 0 1,046 capital transfers ≠ 0 466 effect 69.2 312 65.5 133 51.8 30.8 164 34.5 124 48.2 Accrual in current revenues effect 3.6 0 0 0 0 476 100 257 100 Accrual in current expenses effect Accrual in financial expenses effect ≠ 0 892 0 0 54 ≠ 0 1,458 58.99 0 1,126 74.5 345 72.5 162 63 ≠ 0 386 25.5 131 27.5 95 37 Source: own elaboration. A similar situation is seen in the timing of recognition of current expenses, where results show no differences between budgetary and accrual expenses in 40% of cases. There is no difference in this respect between small and larger local governments. The percentage of correlation is even higher in the case of financial expenses, especially in entities with fewer than 50,000 inhabitants, where accrual and budget coincide in 74% of cases. The effect of accrual in capital transfers is null in a very high percentage of cases, too. Finally, the situation is a little different in the case of revenues where budget and accrual do not usually coincide. In most cases the difference is very small (mean of 0.0298, st. deviation of 0.0932). When the sign of this variable is positive it indicates that revenues are higher in budget accounts than in accrual accounts. To a certain extent, this was stated by Anthony (2000, pp. 7-8) who proposed that at an aggregate level there is only a slight difference between obligations and expenses—the important ones occur in responsibility centers; budgeteers are accustomed to the obligation system. Some argue that expense accounting is easier to manipulate, but playing games with the budget will always be possible; not many people understand or care about the difference between expenses and obligations. From our results we can conclude that in fact the differences between obligations and expenses are slight and this could be because public accountants are not interested at all in expenses, so they register the same in the budget and in the operating statement. As funds continue to be appropriated on an obligation basis, managers will continue to base their decisions on information produced according to the obligation system. “Neither r e v. i n n ova r vo l . 2 4 , n úm . 5 4 , o ct ub r e - di ci e m b re 2014 re v i s ta innovar journal accountants nor managers will pay attention to the information in the expense-based accounts and, consequently, this system will simply atrophy” (Anthony, 2000, p. 8). Analysis of the Evolution of Differences Between Budgetary Results and Economic Results Over Time The results of the regression, to test whether the particular year influences the difference between the two variables, shows that the difference between BR and ER is significant and negative over time, 0.003 per year. Looking at Figure 2, however, we can conclude that this relation between BR and ER is very slight, as only 0.2% of the variability of the difference is explained by the year in question. Furthermore, in the plot we can see a great variability in the variable every year and there is no clear tendency. Figure 2. Regression of the Difference with the Year These results are a little different to those of Anessi-Pessina and Steccolini (2007), who confirmed that the correlation between accrual and budgetary results decreased as experience with the use of accrual accounting increased. Characteristics of Local Government as Explanatory Variables: Size and Geographical Area The correlation coefficients between BR and ER by size are shown in Table 2. Table 2. Analysis of Correlation by Size Size (inhabitants) n Mean of D Std. Corr. Coef. Deviation BR and ER P_value 5,000-20,000 1,512 0.0377 0.1207 0.682 0.000 20,001-50,000 476 0.0455 0.0979 0.652 0.000 >50,000 257 0.0507 0.1213 0.447 0.000 Source: own elaboration. R2 = 0,002 IC Coefficients Coefficients Signification Lower 95% Higher 95% Constant 5.101 0.018 0.879 9.323 Year -0.003 0.019 -0.005 -0.0004 Source: Own elaboration. Mean of Difference Between BR and ER 0.07 The p-value of the Kruskal Wallis test shows significant variations in the difference between BR and ER according to population size. We can see that in populations of between 5,000 and 20,000 inhabitants, the difference between the two variables is significantly lower than in populations of more than 50,000 inhabitants. In the regressions with dummy variables, we observe that for populations of more than 50,000 inhabitants, the regression coefficient is lower. Therefore, the correlation between the two variables is also lower. 0.06 0.05 0.04 0.03 0.02 0.01 0.00 1998 1999 2000 2001 2002 2003 2004 2005 Year Source: own elaboration. In a similar way, the regression analysis with dummy variables shows that the correlation between BR and ER is significantly different in 2001 and 2004 compared with other years. In these two years the regression coefficients and the correlation coefficients indicate that the correlation is higher. This leads us to reject the hypothesis that the length of experience of the entities in the use of accrual accounting increases differences over time. The variability changes greatly in different years and is even negative overall. re v. i n n ova r vol . 2 4, nú m . 5 4, oc tu br e-d ic i e m b r e 2 014 This leads us to accept the hypothesis that larger entities show bigger differences between BR and ER, because they apply the accrual system more effectively. For example, they register depreciation and provisions expenses to a greater extent, and the same is true of the effect of timing of recognition, with greater differences between expenses and revenues in the budget and in the operating statement. These results do not coincide with those of AnessiPessina and Steccolini (2007), where no differences in size were shown. This may be because they only included 30 municipalities in their study, classified into two groups (40,000-100,000; >=100,000). To check whether there are differences by geographical area, we have compared the entities of the two autonomous regions in the study. The result of the Mann-Whitney test (p-value 0.000) indicates that there are significant variations in the differences between BR and ER depending on the region. In Cataluña, the average difference between the two variables is greater than in Valencia. The regression analysis with dummy variables shows that the regression coefficient is larger for Valencia. Therefore, the 117 Administración pública difference between variables is greater in Cataluña, indicating that to a certain extent its local governments apply the accrual system more strictly. This reflects traditional and cultural differences. A similar result was found by Anessi-Pessina and Steccolini (2007), who identified differences in geographical areas, with some areas more likely to introduce depreciation. In fact, in a later paper (Anessi-Pessina et al., 2008) they show that the adoption of an integrated system of accruals and budgetary accounting is influenced by such “cultural” variables as the perceptions of Chief Financial Officers and geographical location. Conclusions and Implications The accrual system has been widely accepted from a theoretical point of view. In spite of the current debate about its problems and practical difficulties, most accounting frameworks for public entities recommend its application in public administration systems. It is, in fact, one of the main subjects of discussion within the NPM paradigm. Especially interesting is the debate about the conflicts, problems and ambiguities that accrual system implementation can cause (Arnaboldi & Lapsley, 2009; Lapsley, 2009; Lapsley et al., 2009). One of these ambiguities is the duality of the system, because in most European countries accrual systems coexist with the modified cash basis in budgets, and a great deal of criticism arises due to the problems of coordinating the two systems. A very useful tool for assessing this duality can be the institutional theory, as coupling and decoupling processes appear with the co-existence of accrual and cash-based reports; this fact could be interpreted as an inconsistency or contradiction in the regulatory and reporting behavior of public entities (Archel et al., 2011). The results of this study show that the differences between financial and budgetary reporting, with respect to the result of the accounting period, are more theoretical than practical. In fact, there is a high correlation between BR and ER. This is because the influence of the differences caused by the matching concept and the timing of recognition is very small. The main difference between BR and ER is extraordinary results. Moreover, many entities do not register depreciation and provisions while many others register the same revenue and expenses in the budget as in the operating statement. This is evidence that the implementation of the accrual system in local entities has been more nominal than real. Accrual statements are prepared but that accrual is not always used, due to the discretionary nature of the standards, as well as many problems 118 of implementation. The problems that remain unresolved are generally recognized, such as the treatment of depreciation of assets. For example, it is difficult to recognize depreciation for entities that may not have an inventory of assets or may have many assets not recognized in the balance sheet. Although entities may wish to comply with the standards, managers are not necessarily interested in the information obtained through the accrual method and such information is little used in practice. Priority is given to budgetary reporting in political discussion processes and entities consider this information much more important than accrual financial statements. For this reason they are not worried about solving the problems of implementation. Our results are very similar to those of Anessi-Pessina and Steccolini (2007) for Italy, although the framework is very different because in Spain accrual accounting is mandatory for all local governments, while in Italy only accrual statements are mandatory and some entities derive their statements from budgetary reporting. Furthermore, the passing of time does not seem to affect the situation. The length of experience of entities in applying the accrual system has not improved its level of use. There are, however, differences between entities according to their size and cultural and geographical characteristics. Bigger entities show greater differences between BR and ER due to a stricter application of the accrual criterion. Cultural differences show that in some regions there may be greater propensity to apply the accrual criterion, even though the legislation is applicable nationally. The results of the study provide evidence that, in practice, the coexistence of the two criteria leads to the predominance of the budgetary criterion, both in budgetary and in financial accounting. Therefore, despite accounting standards regulations providing for the application of the accrual principle, Spanish local entities prepare accrual financial statements that do not in fact apply accrual in many items, such as depreciation. This is probably due to the ambiguities and problems that a dual system can cause, which reduce the interest of politicians and managers in accrual financial statements. The implementation of accrual financial statements in Spanish local governments is more a question of rhetoric than of reality, as previously pointed out by other authors (Guthrie, 1998). 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Financial Accountability & Management, 24(2), 97-116. Wynne, A. (2008). Accrual accounting for the public sector—A fad that has had its day? International Journal of Governmental Financial Management, 8(2),117-132. Zimmerman, J. L. (1977). The municipal accounting maze: An analysis of political incentives. Journal of Accounting Research, 15, 107-144. r e v. i n n ova r vo l . 2 4 , n úm . 5 4 , o ct ub r e - di ci e m b re 2014 China Journal of Accounting Research 7 (2014) 65–80 Contents lists available at ScienceDirect China Journal of Accounting Research journal homepage: www.elsevier.com/locate/cjar Accruals: An overview James A. Ohlson Stern School of Business, NYU, United States Cheung Kong GSB, China A R T I C L E I N F O Article history: Received 8 March 2014 Accepted 8 March 2014 Available online 26 April 2014 Keyword: Accruals A B S T R A C T The paper provides a broad discussion of the topic “accruals”. Though much of what is said is familiar from the literature on accruals, the paper tries to develop concepts and show how theses forge tight links across a variety of themes. The starting point of the analysis concerns the construct of an accrual. The case is made that it should rest solely on consecutive balance sheets and the splitting of assets/liabilities into (i) cash and approximate cash, assets/liabilities and (ii) all other kinds of assets/liabilities. Given this divide of assets/liabilities one can measure the components in the foundation equation: cash earnings + net accrual = comprehensive earnings. The paper then proceeds to discuss how the net accrual relates to growth in a firm’s operating activities and the extent to which it can be informative or misleading. This topic in turn integrates with the issue of a firm’s quality of earnings and the role of accounting conservatism. Among the remaining topics, the paper discusses how one conceptualizes diagnostics to assess whether or not a period’s accrual is likely to be biased upwards or downwards. It gives rise to a consideration of how one constructs accruals that may be more informative than GAAP accruals and the role of value-relevance studies to assess the information content of accrual constructs. The paper ends with a list of suggestions how future research may be modified in light of the discussions in this paper. Ó 2014 Production and hosting by Elsevier B.V. on behalf of China Journal of Accounting Research. Founded by Sun Yat-sen University and City University of Hong Kong. E-mail address: johlson@stern.nyu.edu Production and hosting by Elsevier 1755-3091/$ - see front matter Ó 2014 Production and hosting by Elsevier B.V. on behalf of China Journal of Accounting Research. Founded by Sun Yat-sen University and City University of Hong Kong. http://dx.doi.org/10.1016/j.cjar.2014.03.003 66 J.A. Ohlson / China Journal of Accounting Research 7 (2014) 65–80 1. Introduction Research on “accruals” has grown significantly over the past 15 years, the most well-known papers being due to Jones (1991) and Sloan (1996). While this extensive literature deals with a variety of questions, most of the papers in one way or another consider the statistical properties of accruals – or the properties of cash flows vs. earnings. These flow variables prompt the issue of how one converts financial data into a period’s cash flows or accruals. A review of the literature bears out that there are numerous approaches to the measurement of accruals. Some of these depend on changes in balance sheet accounts; other studies start from statements of cash flows and adjust key numbers using information extracted from income statements. Specific details in individual studies can also vary, so readers may be left with an uneasy feeling that research executions allow for too many degrees of freedom.1 One can safely assert that the literature offers no “standardized” way of putting the 3 components – cash flows, earnings and accruals – together. Nevertheless, the various efforts at measuring accruals would seem to be based on a common understanding as to the nature of accruals; when studies discuss the measurement of accruals they do move (broadly speaking) in a similar direction.2 Missing in all of this empirical research is an analysis of the concept or construct of an accrual and its implications.3 Such absence makes it hard to assess whether there are other workable (perhaps better) alternatives to the accrual measurements found in specific studies. These hypothetical alternatives could lead to different (or less robust) empirical findings, suggesting the need for an accrual concept. In the background lurks a more fundamental issue, however. Only after a construct is in place can one examine the circumstances under which accruals have a practical role in valuation because they beneficially complement cash earnings. This sets the stage for an analysis of when accruals tend to misinform rather than inform investors. This paper develops and evaluates an accrual construct which I view as particularly useful. It is not new. Textbooks, like Penman (2009), refer to it as “change in net operating assets.” Much of what is discussed in this regard reaffirms what many readers have seen elsewhere. Yet in key respects the analysis here diverges from what the literature puts forward. This paper places the emphasis on ideas and how theses forge links as opposed to a critical evaluation of the work that has been done (and how it perhaps could be improved). It applies to any accounting that satisfies the basic stocks-flows reconciliation built into accounting. Thus the paper tries to deal with questions of broad interest which hopefully should supply a conceptual foundation for those individuals who try to familiarize themselves with the literature, or who aspire to a better sense of what one may call the “big picture.” Following that, the paper discusses empirical questions related 1 As an illustration of implementation “details”, in many studies earnings serve as an ingredient to measure either cash flows or accruals. The researcher must then decide on the earnings number to use: which, if any, special items should be excluded? 2 This paper does not compile extensive references to the large literature, empirical and conceptual, that deals with accruals and linked topics. I should further underscore that there are really few new ideas in this paper and yet I have not tried to attribute various insights to originators as is commonly done. It would have been too difficult and thorny to develop the relevant citations. The topics covered – like the general idea of an accrual – have long histories with non-standardized terminology and an enormous number of applications in research. To get started on navigating the literature, the following papers should prove useful. Jones (1991) and Sloan (1996) have been mentioned in the main text’s first paragraph and thus they have a significant status as “classics”. With respect to textbooks, Penman (2009) provides an introductory discussion of the quality of earnings issue as it relates to accruals. See also the textbook by Easton et al. (2009). For a very broad perspective on the quality of earnings topic, see Dechow et al. (2009). Melumad and Nissim (2009) discuss quality of earnings specifics for numerous line items such as the accounting for pensions, inventories, deferred revenues, etc. Quality of earnings evaluations as it relates to changes in balance sheet conservatism can be found in Penman and Zhang (2002). Ohlson and Aier (2009) discuss what they refer to as modified cash accounting (“MCA”) earnings – a measure of cash earnings – as opposed to accrual earnings and they explain how MCA fits into the quality of earnings literature. The paper particularizes the cash assets/liabilities vs. other assets/liabilities dichotomy and it discusses the full range of judgment issues, including the use of footnote disclosures to measure cash earnings. Empirical work related to GAAP accruals – their reversal properties as well as trading strategy opportunities – Allen et al. (2009) summarizes what one may refer to as the most recent state-of-the-art of accrual research when it comes to empirical work. Richardson et al. (2009) review the literature on accruals and anomalies, and it lists just about all references that one can reasonably hope for. 3 To be sure, the concept of an accrual as employed in this paper always refers to a (period’s) flow. The reason for noting this obvious convention here is that an often cited paper by Dechow et al. (2002) suggests that they have modeled accruals, which in my mind is unfounded insofar that they are actually dealing with stock variables. Specifically, in my reading of the paper, it has the flavor of a model of “errors” in balance sheet accounts – which are stocks and not flows. The errors pick up biases (upwards or downwards) as to the expected cash that will be realized at the end of the period. In my interpretation, therefore, rather than capturing accruals the model in question develops the consequences of fair market valuations when these can reflect an upward or downward bias. J.A. Ohlson / China Journal of Accounting Research 7 (2014) 65–80 67 to properties of accruals, including the question of how one can evaluate whether accruals are informative or not. Because this paper deals with topics and themes that are by no means novel, much will be familiar to individuals versed in the literature. That said, how the various ideas connect with each other may be less so. As the links often involve subtleties, the paper envisions that one obtains a much better understanding of subject matter if one proceeds step by step without distracting discussions of empirical research papers and their findings. In sum, the flow and interdependence of ideas will be central. To give the reader a sense of topics covered, the following supplies a list that the paper develops in some detail:  The construct of an accrual depends solely on (consecutive) balance sheets and the classification of assets/liabilities into approximate cash assets/liabilities as distinguished from other assets/liabilities. The latter class of assets/liabilities can be thought of as those related to operations as opposed to financial activities.  Conceptually and practically, to identify an accrual via cash flows statements combined with earnings confuses issues. Nor does it generally help to identify non-cash expenses such as depreciation if the focus is on a period’s total accruals.  In terms of economics, an accrual relates to the growth in operating activities alone. Under ideal circumstances the measurement of growth in operating activities and the accrual has a one-to-one correspondence. Financial activities do not influence the accrual measurement though these activities do of course reconcile with operating activities.  The quality of earnings dependence on accruals is essentially independent of balance sheet conservatism; it is the change in the degree of conservatism that counts.4 Similarly, the information content of accruals should not be conceptualized in terms of the extent to which operating assets/liabilities deviate from their fair market values.  An informative accrual measures the growth in operating activities without a subsequent reversal: a serial correlation in total accruals is prima facie evidence of “bad” accounting.  Dealing with the quality of earnings issue per GAAP reduces to attempts to come up with measures of growth in operating activities that are more informative than the accruals implied by GAAP. Such competing measure of growth in operating activities should facilitate the forecasting of future (operating) GAAP earnings. The growth of sales is potentially useful insofar that it generally ought to relate to growth in operating activities. As a practical matter, it leads to the hypothesis that the quality of earnings is low when the growth in sales is less than the growth in net operating assets.  Traditional value relevance (cross-sectional) regressions – stock market returns on same-period accounting data – can assess the information content of accruals by putting it on the RHS with cash earnings. The methodology also permits a comparison of GAAP accruals to what one may hypothesize to be more informative measures of accruals. A particularly interesting question relates to the issue if one can construct an accrual that loads the same in the regression as cash earnings, in which case the two numbers aggregate without loss of information (in other words, on the regression’s RHS one can add cash earnings and the accrual without significantly reducing the R2). 2. Basics: Accruals and financial statements Without referring to any particular accounting principles, accounting introduces accruals because transactions may, or may not, have a cash component: 4 In the context of this paper, “quality of earnings” pertains to the idea that the current (net) accrual influences the forecasting of earnings in an upward or downward direction. If upwards (downwards) then the current earnings are of high (low) quality. 68 J.A. Ohlson / China Journal of Accounting Research 7 (2014) 65–80 Cash Earnings þ Accrual ¼ Earnings: This relation is definitional and thus not subject to challenge (the accrual, to be sure, is the total for the period.)5 If the RHS is determined by GAAP (of any jurisdiction) and cash earnings are determined by some other accounting regime consistent with the term cash earnings, then the accrual is implied. More generally, any one of the three quantities can be inferred from the remaining two, of course. In the literature one finds a mixture of approaches though it does seem as if earnings (before or after some special items) are always taken as a given. But this observation about practice in empirical research should not be confused with some notion that the measurement of accruals or cash earnings presupposes an earnings number. Such thinking is unnecessarily rigid. As a practical matter, one might well measure accrual earnings such that the number derives from two independently established components, cash earnings and an accrual. One can thereby think of accruals as having been measured independently of some existing balance sheets or an integrated set of financial statements. To consider the measurement of accruals without reference to earnings, balance sheets or cash flows is by no means fanciful. This approach becomes the modus operandi in the discussion of the topic “quality of earnings” as it relates to accruals. This paper revisits this idea in the discussion of this topic later. Before getting to that point the focus will be on cases when specific assets/liabilities and their carrying values are in place, i.e., what one might call “regular accounting.” In regular accounting, start- and end-of-period balance sheets underpin earnings measurements. The claim applies no less to the measurement of cash earnings than to (accrual) earnings since both cases require that the flows reconcile with the beginning–ending stocks. Cash earnings and regular accrual earnings accordingly differ only in the listing of assets/liabilities (and their carrying values) that support the two earnings measurements. While the specifics of how one identifies the two sets of assets/liabilities raises its own issues, which will be discussed later, here we note that to conceptualize cash earnings independently of supporting balance sheets removes us from regular accounting. Suppose next that, (i) the accounting satisfies clean surplus for both concepts of earnings, and (ii) the dividends and capital contributions are of a cash variety, i.e., the two accounting regimes treat these transactions the same. It follows that the accrual equals the difference between the two regime’s net worth changes (ending minus beginning balances). The last sentence is awkward in its claim that the accrual derives from differences after having looked at changes over a period. Elementary algebra helps to communicate the statement. In the interest of simplicity, assume zero dividends and capital contributions. First note that one infers earnings from the clean surplus relation, i.e., the increase in net worth (or book value). Second, suppose that all asset/liabilities must be classified into one or the other out of two kinds: ca = cash assets and the approximate equivalent of cash, positives net of negatives. oa = other assets/liabilities, net. Then fcaðtÞ þ oaðtÞg  fcaðt  1Þ þ oaðt  1Þg ¼ earningsðtÞ 5 One can ask whether cash earnings and cash flows are two different labels for the same thing. The literature lacks a standardized terminology if and how one distinguishes between the two terms. Most papers (if not all) use the terminology “cash flows” and make no reference to cash earnings, explicitly or implicitly. In doing so it seems that one should not generally equate cash flows to cash earnings. Such is my judgment at least. It is mostly based on the fact that authors seem to have in mind that the cash flows in question pertain to current cash flows, with no adjustment for capital expenditures. Jones’s paper illustrates that; the average accrual is negative because it excludes the effect due to the average increase in PPE. Hence this paper does not embed a concept of cash earnings. Other papers deals with accruals much the same, though there are exceptions such as some of the more recent Sloan papers. It is my opinion that the cash earnings construct – with an emphasis on earnings – should serve as a starting point in any analysis of accruals, empirical or theoretical. Thus I maintain this perspective throughout, and I do not discriminate between cash earnings and cash flows. J.A. Ohlson / China Journal of Accounting Research 7 (2014) 65–80 69 The notation means that one identifies cash earnings as caðtÞ  caðt  1Þ ¼ cash earningsðtÞ One trivially infers that oaðtÞ  oaðt  1Þ ¼ accrualðtÞ In other words, the difference in non-cash assets (net of non-cash liabilities) identifies the accrual. As the last expression shows, it is inferred from assets/liabilities other than cash (and its approximate equivalents, positive or negative). The above development disregards dividends and capital contributions. But such transactions do not change the analysis as long as both accounting schemes account for these the same. One modifies the definition of earnings by replacing ca(t) with ca(t) + net dividend(t), keeping ca(t  1), oa(t) and oa(t  1) the same. (There are no apparent reasons why the accounting for dividends/capital contributions should not be the same for the two earnings measurements.) A delicate point must be noted. Because the arrangement embeds clean surplus accounting, each of the earnings measurements must be comprehensive. Any alternative approach would have to re-define the three ingredients in the foundation equation.6 For example, one can try to identify how “other comprehensive gains/losses” impact on the 3 elements in the foundation equation. It should be doable. (That said, the literature does not provide clear guidance as to whether this is the right way to proceed or not.) Though the relations impose discipline on how diverse pieces fit together, nothing has been said about what characteristics should identify a cash asset/liability as opposed to “other” assets/liabilities. This practical, and essential, topic is dealt with later. But there is of course substantial agreement on the differing nature of the two classes of assets/liabilities. Consider, for example, a balance sheet comprising the following prototype assets/liabilities: (i) cash, (ii) liquid marketable securities, (iii) inventories, (iv) net property, plant and equipment, (v) accrued expenses, (vi) accounts payable, and (vii) bank loans. Most people would then surely agree that (i), (ii) and (vii) fall into the category of ca(t). The liability (vi) may seem less than obvious, but it, too, should be part of ca(t) if it represents an outstanding liability as long as a definite amount of cash must be paid to extinguish the debt (in other words, its economic essence does not differ from a bank loan). The remaining assets/liabilities fall into the oa(t) category by necessity.7,8 The above development, simple as it is, lays bare that to add back depreciation and other so-called non-cash items to earnings are, at best, an around-about way when one construes cash earnings. The point reinforces that the concept of an accrual rests on a consistent classification of assets/liabilities in consecutive balance sheets, not on evaluating the line items in an income statement and finding their (non-) cash components. Moreover, to measure a GAAP accrual, there are no compelling reasons why one must turn to a statement of cash flows per GAAP. The simple balance sheet framework shows that an accrual construct hinges 6 With the notable exception of Hribar and Collins (2002), the literature on accruals does not pay attention to this point. It leads to a slippery slope: the definition of earnings can vary widely across studies in their treatments of special items. 7 To be sure, empirical studies that deal with accruals have often conceptualized measured accruals in ways that differ from the approach suggested in this paper. 8 Textbooks, like Penman (2009) and many papers refer to NOA as representing “net operating assets”. Does it correspond to oa(t)? The answer is a qualified yes. There are differences insofar that NOA tend to pertain to operations rather broadly, and thus it typically includes accounts receivable and payable plus even some portion of cash necessary to operate the business. I tend to think of oa(t) more narrowly like in Ohlson and Aier(2009). Now ca(t) includes (oa(t) excludes) all assets/liabilities that one can reasonably add/deduct from cash without losing information. Thus high quality accounts receivables and accounts payable are not treated as being accounted for via accruals. (The reader has to use his/her own judgment what makes the most sense.) At any rate, as Richardson et al. (2009) makes clear, many recent papers on accruals define the net accrual in terms of the change in NOA which of course in its essence does not differ from the accrual construct considered in this paper. 70 J.A. Ohlson / China Journal of Accounting Research 7 (2014) 65–80 only on the idea that assets/liabilities can be split into two mutually exclusive yet exhaustive categories. To advocate otherwise at the very least demands some justification.9 The above assets/liabilities example illustrates what most accountants take for granted, namely that measurements related to cash assets/liabilities are less “ambiguous” than the remaining ones (oa). Cash assets/liabilities (ca) are relatively unambiguous insofar that their carrying values for (most) practical purposes approximate their market values. One can take this observation one step further and argue that cash assets/liabilities by definition are those assets and liabilities that generally match their market values. In contrast, all assets/liabilities falling into the oa(t) category have ambiguous carrying values: the accounting principles and their applications truly come into play (e.g., depreciation schedules, the equity method for unconsolidated subsidiaries, restructuring charges, pension liabilities, inventory accounting). There is no requirement that the carrying values of these other assets approximate their fair values or market values. In fact, the assets/liabilities comprising oa(t) would be no easier to deal with if one tried market (or fair) valuations because value-creating assets/liabilities are intrinsically illiquid. (At a minimum, one has to confront the relevance and practical meaning of net realizable value when the market is indistinct.)10 While the idea of splitting book value into ca(t) and oa(t) is predicated only on a basic understanding of accounting, implementations of the framework put the onus on judgments. To illustrate, consider accounts receivable. If these are of high quality – only an immaterial allowance for bad debts is needed – then they fit neatly into the ca(t) category. Under the circumstance they are in their economic essence similar to marketable securities; both can be sold with some ease for predictable amounts. A material balance in the allowance account relative to accounts receivable, in contrast, suggests that the net receivable is likely to be ambiguous; it naturally leads to an oa(t) classification. But the subjective nature of picking the appropriate cut-off point related to the percentage of allowance balance is unavoidable. Similar subjective judgments as to the ca(t) vs. oa(t) classification must be faced in case of assets such as finance receivables and more or less illiquid investments (like partnerships). Liabilities are no less problematic when it relates to cash estimates, such as obligations outstanding to employees and suppliers. An amount that seems relatively predictable tilts the classification in favor of a cash liability, of course. 3. The economics of accruals The relations and observations so far deal solely with definitions, classifications and the structure of accounting. In no substantive way have we tackled what one may call “the information content” of accruals 9 In much of the literature one finds that papers make no attempt at measuring the period’s accrual in its totality. Instead, the idea is to focus on something referred to as the “current accrual”. Thus one may consider the case when oa is split into two categories, {1, 2}. Let oa(1, t) + oa(2, t) = oa(t), and similarly define accr(1, t) + accr(2, t) = accr(t). One can then write ce(t) + accr(2, t) = earn(t)  accr(1, t) where one can interpret the accrual term on the RHS as the current accrual. With some slight abuse of language one can then refer to the RHS as a calculation of “cash flows”. Roughly, it can be thought of as corresponding to “cash provided from current operations” before depreciation and amortization. That said, one needs to keep in mind that it is implicit that there are other accruals that must be accounted for to derive cash earnings. (Just as one needs to keep in mind that it makes a difference if one considers comprehensive earnings as opposed to some other measure of earnings.) 10 An elaboration of the word “ambiguity” helps to appreciate the operating vs. financial activities distinction. Ambiguous valuation of operating assets means that they interconnect and have a perceived value which is entirely idiosyncratic to a firm and depends on its strategic plan. These contextual use values are inherently very subjective. It leads to the imperative of transactions-contingent GAAP rules to generate carrying values for the balance sheet. Thus the income statement depends on the accrual – the change in the carrying values – though it is understood that the book values of operating assets do not in any real sense have much of a connection with the market values of operating assets, separately or in their totality. Cash assets and liabilities, in contrast, can be valued with less (or ideally no) ambiguity in that their use value and they are nowhere near as contextual and dependent on a firm’s strategy. Thus the use of the word “ambiguity” is not to be thought of as “arbitrary”, “non-nonsensical” or “best disregarded” or anything like it, but rather that contextual use values become exceedingly difficult to pin down from a balance sheet perspective. But that of course does not preclude that non-fair value rules can be quite useful in the measurement of earnings. J.A. Ohlson / China Journal of Accounting Research 7 (2014) 65–80 71 in combination with that of cash earnings. Interesting questions arise. What informational purpose do accounting accruals serve? Why recognize assets/liabilities with inherently ambiguous carrying values? Can one generally expect accruals to add to cash earnings without loss of information? Or are they more like apples and oranges? Traditional accounting concepts speak to these kinds of questions by referring to two slightly different approaches: either one focuses on the end-of-period balance sheet or on the period’s income measurement. Both approaches rely on the idea that accrual accounting countermands the deficiencies inherent in cash accounting when there are costly strategic activities that serve as the foundation for potentially creating value in subsequent periods. From a balance sheet perspective, any reasonable concept of asset (liability) suggests that the lack of ambiguity of an asset’s carrying value cannot be a requirement to recognize an asset. To invest in operations, firms must incur expenditures that are intrinsically difficult to value since their efficacy depends on the business strategy. But at least some of these expenditures offer expected future benefits in terms of subsequent sales, however ambiguous and hard to evaluate these connections may be. Such future benefits ought not to be dismissed and treated as a period expense if one looks for a more comprehensive picture of a firm’s economic condition. In other words, assigning zero value to expenditures that generally enhance subsequent sales contradicts basic economics. If one focuses on earnings measurement directly, then cash earnings alone mislead as a measure of performance when the company incurs expenditures that benefit the future. An adjustment in the form of an (net) accrual is now necessary insofar the firm has increased the size of its operations. After all, a firm cannot expand operations without disbursing cash or its approximate equivalent thereby reducing cash earnings; cash earnings decrease as the firm invests in the future in a one-to-one fashion if the presumption is the benchmark of zero NPV. In this way an accrual can be interpreted as having a one-to-one correspondence with growth. More precisely, the oa(t)’s percentage increase equals accrual(t)/oa(t  1); it serves as a measure of a firm’s growth in operating activities. The sign of the accrual, accordingly, determines if a firm expands or reduces its operating activities. There is a subtlety involved that needs to be underscored. Why does the measurement of growth center solely on oa(t) as opposed to the total book value, oa(t) + c(t)? The answer requires an appreciation of traditional finance precepts with its demarcation of operating vs. financial activities. Within this framework other assets, oa(t), stands for operating assets. These are the assets that pertain to ex ante value creation – an inherently subjective and uncertain economic activity when it comes to assessing the likelihood of future success – thereby causing the ambiguity in the valuation of such assets. In contrast, the assumption is that changes in cash assets/liabilities are objectively neutral when it comes to forward looking value creation – zero NPV is implied – which is precisely why they are comparatively easy to account for. Unsurprisingly, carrying values for the cash and cash equivalent assets are close to their fair (market) values. In the spirit of Modigliani and Miller, one naturally defines the cash assets/liabilities as the financial assets/liabilities because of their value creation neutrality. Hence the cash (equivalent) assets/liabilities, and their changes, cannot tell us anything about the growth of the value creating activities. Any change in ca(t) adjusted for the net dividend – cash earnings – is of course influenced by operating activities, but that aspect does not bear on the change in the operating activities per se.11 The above discussion hints at the possibility that the accrual’s magnitude should bear on the subsequent expected cash earnings (or cash flows, to follow the literature). Is such the case? On heuristic grounds the answer would seem to be “yes.” After all, the accrual captures a net incremental investment, and one can think of this investment as increasing the expected future sales. With an unchanged margin, it follows indeed that one should expect improved cash earnings. This argument permits tightening; one can develop precisely how 11 One can reasonably claim that this paper stretches language-usage insofar that it equates the accounting for operating activities with accruals and financial activities with cash-equivalence. Such a one-to-one correspondence is at variance with text-books in some respects. But these exceptions are minor. Thus here the understanding is that the ...
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Assignment Question(s):
Q1 Activity:
A. Visit Saudi Digital Library using your student ID/ You can also search from Google and choose at least 5
research articles on accounting in which you are interested and would like to investigate. You might have
observed that every article starts with an Abstract, explain in your words what is an abstract and how does
it help other researchers.
In most cases, an abstract is a brief summary of a research paper. a typical abstract is not too long and can
be 150 words but nor more than 300 words. An abstract is very critical because it helps researchers recall
main points in an article. An abstract also helps researches to get the essence or gist of an article or research
paper. For researchers, an abstract prepares them to follow and analyze the detailed information and
arguments in a paper.
B. Write the title and author of each article and summarize the finding of each author in all the 5 articles and
write a critical comment on them.
Brusca Alijarde, I., & Montesinos Julve, V. (2014). accrual Financial reporting in the public sector: is it a
reality?. Innovar, 24(54), 107-120.
Even though the modernization of accounting by governments has led to the adoption and implementation of
accrual financial reporting, several EUU countries the modified or cash methods for financial reporting.
Eventually, the authors report that both the accrual and cash methods could actually coexist. The coexistence
could however cause issues when it comes to the implementation of accrual financial accounting. A significant
finding in the study indicates that there is an increased correlation between the economic result and current
budgetary result. This therefore implies that the implementation of accrual financial reporting has not been
effectively implemented. The authors affirm that the implementation of accrual system is not real but more
formal in local entities. The duality of the two financial systems is a big blow to the adoption of accrual
financial reporting among many governments in the EU as it reduces the practicality of the financial reporting.
Without a doubt, it is true that the implementation of accrual accounting among local authorities is more
nominal than real. The authors however have not explained how managers can change their perspective
regarding the implementation of accrual financial systems in their financial institutions.
Md, B. R., Sk, R. M., & Mirza, R. A. (2015). Effectiveness of accrual basis accounting as compared to cash
basis accounting in financial reporting. International Journal Of Multidisciplinary Research and
Development, 2(10), 467-473.
According to the authors there are two basis of accounting namely cash basis an...


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