Thursday, February 9, 2012
Overoptimistic company disclosures increase litigation risks
Firms always choose rosy terms in their disclosure to please the shareholders or at least make them believe that the company is right on track, but could that optimitism go too far? A recent paper from The Accounting Review (here - subscription needed or here - working paper version) found evidence that firms that use unusually optimistic language in their disclosures to shareholders are more likely to be sued than similarly performing peer companies. Specifically, overly positive statements in earnings announcements - whether in press releases, conference calls, media interviews, or meetings with investors - are most often cited in plaintiffs’ complaints.
The authors found that in 91 percent of the earnings announcements that were analyzed, the portion quoted by plaintiffs was much more optimistic than the non-quoted portion, which, according to the authors, is the first concrete evidence for the intuition that plaintiffs target optimistic language when bringing actions against [a] firm. Since every firm is likely to make some optimistic statements, the authors have to further determine whether unusually optimistic tones lead to a higher risk of litigation, controlling for industry, size and performance-related effects. They did the comparison and found that sued firms used substantially more optimistic language in their announcements. They also found that, more specifically, a change of just one standard deviation in the “optimism score” given to each earnings announcement translated into a 75.9 percent increase in the likelihood of being sued.