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1 August 2016 CFA Institute Journal Review

The Impact of IFRS Goodwill Reporting on Financial Analysts’ Equity Valuation Judgments: Some Experimental Evidence (Digest Summary)

  1. Antony Jackson, CFA

Under time pressure, experimental subjects attached a higher valuation to acquiring firms when the takeover premium was allocated to goodwill than when it was allocated to amortizable and identifiable intangible assets.

What’s Inside?

The authors conduct an experiment in which 40 European professional analysts are asked to attach a value to the real-world company Ericsson when it takes over a fictitious company, XX Corp. Analysts who are presented with accounting information that allocates the acquirer’s premium to nonimpaired goodwill attach a higher valuation to the combined entity than those who are presented with information that allocates the premium to identifiable intangible assets. In the experiment’s second stage—in which the subjects are given a more sophisticated discounted cash flow model—the group exhibits a general tendency to be “anchored” to their first-stage valuation.

How Is This Research Useful to Practitioners?

The authors use experimental evidence to provide behavioral insights into the consequences of changes in accounting standards that complement similar studies based on archival evidence. In contrast to empirical studies, in this study, the authors can implement cross-subject and within-subject controls.
The authors consider the impact of the International Accounting Standards Board’s 2005 adoption of International Financial Reporting Standards (IFRS) 3 (Business Combinations), which affords preparers some discretion in deciding whether to allocate acquisition premiums to goodwill (with periodic impairment tests) or to amortizable, identifiable intangible assets.
When under pressure to provide timely advice to clients, professional analysts use quick methods that are influenced by accounting choice. When using sophisticated methods to arrive at more-measured forecasts, analysts exhibit the psychological tendency to be anchored to their initial judgments.
The authors conclude that their evidence suggests that IFRS 3 offers incentives for the acquiring company to allocate takeover premiums to goodwill rather than to identifiable intangible assets.

How Did the Authors Conduct This Research?

The experiment is based on a web-based study involving 40 professional analysts drawn from a diploma program at a European business school. All but one of the analysts had never given a recommendation on Ericsson stock. A supplemental analysis involves sending the same case study to 78 analysts who cover Ericsson stock; only 6 analysts responded.
The analysts are shown information on the real-world telecommunications company Ericsson and a fictitious acquiree company, XX Corp. The experiment involves both a between-subjects treatment based on the way the acquisition premium is presented in the accounts and a within-subjects treatment based on the quantity of information presented in the experiment’s two stages.
The authors confirm earlier findings in the accounting choice literature that suggest analysts are heavily influenced by factors that affect short-term earnings information and earnings-related valuation multiples. The analysts who took part in this study viewed the acquisition as value enhancing when the acquisition premium was allocated to goodwill (without impairment charges) but as value reducing when it was allocated to amortizable, identifiable intangible assets.

Abstractor’s Viewpoint

This interesting case study complements archival research in the accounting choice literature. The authors provide evidence that, under time pressure, professional analysts’ valuation judgments are influenced by the way preparers account for acquisition premiums. The authors also provide intriguing evidence of analysts’ reluctance to change their valuations after being provided with more-sophisticated information. It is debatable whether this evidence indicates a psychological anchoring bias or whether the experiment’s second stage unavoidably fails to capture the long periods for which analysts make their more sophisticated long-term judgments.

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