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Corporate governance mechanisms and earnings management in transitional countries – evidence from Chinese listed firms

By Teng Lin


The objective of this thesis is to investigate whether the corporate governance practices adopted by Chinese listed firms are associated with the quality of earnings information. Based on a review of agency and institutional theory, this study develops hypotheses that predict the monitoring effectiveness of the board and the audit committee. Using a combination of univariate and multivariate analyses, the association between corporate governance mechanisms and earnings management are tested from 2004 to 2008. Through analysing the empirical results, a number of findings are summarised as below. First, board independence is weakened by the introduction of government officials as independent directors on the boards. Government officials acting as independent directors, claim that they meet the definition of independent director set by the regulation. However, they have some connection with the State, which is the controlling shareholder in listed SOEs affiliated companies. Consequently, the effect of the independent director’s expertise in constraining earnings management is mitigated as demonstrated by an insignificant association between board expertise and earnings management. An alternative explanation for the inefficiency of board independence may point to the pre-selection of independent directors by the powerful CEO. It is argued that a CEO can manipulate the board composition and choose the "desirable" independent directors to monitor themselves. Second, a number of internal mechanisms, such as board size, board activities, and the separation of the roles of the CEO and chair are found to be significantly associated with discretionary accruals. This result suggests that there are advantages in having a large and active board in the Chinese setting. This can offset the disadvantages associated with large boards, such as increased bureaucracy, and hence, increase the constraining effects of a large and resourceful board. Third, factor analysis identifies two factors: CEO power and board power. CEO power is the factor which consists of CEO duality and turnover, and board power is composed of board size and board activity. The results of CEO power show that if a Chinese listed company has CEO duality and turnover at the same time, it is more likely to have a high level of earnings management. The significant and negative relationship between board power and accruals indicate that large boards with frequent meetings can be associated with low level of earnings management. Overall, the factor analysis suggests that certain governance mechanisms complement each other to become more efficient monitors of opportunistic earnings management. A combination of board characteristics can increase the negative association with earnings management. Fourth, the insignificant results between audit committees and earnings management in Chinese listed firms suggests that the Chinese regulator should strengthen the audit committee functions. This thesis calls for listed firms to disclose more information on audit committee composition and activities, which can facilitate future research on the Chinese audit committee’s monitoring role. Fifth, the interactive results between State ownership and board characteristics show that dominant State ownership has a moderating effect on board monitoring power as the State totally controls 42% of the issued shares. The high percentage of State ownership makes it difficult for the non-controlling institutional shareholders to challenge the State’s dominant status. As a result, the association between non-controlling institutional ownership and earnings management is insignificant in most situations. Lastly, firms audited by the international Big4 have lower abnormal accruals than firms audited by domestic Chinese audit firms. In addition, the inverse U-shape relationship between audit tenure and earnings quality demonstrates the changing effects of audit quality after a certain period of appointment. Furthermore, this thesis finds that listing in Hong Kong Stock Exchanges can be an alternative governance mechanism to discipline Chinese firms to follow strict Hong Kong listing requirements. Management of Hong Kong listed companies are exposed to the scrutiny of international investors and Hong Kong regulators. This in turn reduces their chances of conducting self-interested earnings manipulation. This study is designed to fill the gap in governance literature in China that is related to earnings management. Previous research on corporate governance mechanisms and earnings management in China is not conclusive. The current research builds on previous literature and provides some meaningful implications for practitioners, regulators, academic, and international investors who have investment interests in a transitional country. The findings of this study contribute to corporate governance and earnings management literature in the context of the transitional economy of China. The use of alternative measures for earnings management yields similar results compared with the accruals models and produces additional findings

Topics: corporate governance, earnings management, Chinese firms
Publisher: Queensland University of Technology
Year: 2011
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