Purpose - A firm's ethical behavior is commonly perceived beneficial to the firm and its investors in the literature. However, activities of corporate social responsibility (CSR) are often delivered with multiple purposes, and their expenses are aggregated with other expenditures in financial statements. These two features motivate the authors to hypothesize and find that investors' ability to predict future earnings of ethical firms may not be improved through observing the CSR activities. The study aims to suggest that CSR spending should be expressed separately from other expenses in financial reports to help investors predict the future performance of CSR firms. Design/methodology/approach - The authors use future (forward) earnings response coefficients (FERC) to testing whether current stock returns reflect correct information about future earnings. The basic specification of FERC framework, initially developed by Collins et al. (1994), is a regression of current-year stock returns on past, concurrent and future reported earnings with future stock returns as a control variable. A significantly positive FERC provides evidence that investors have rich and correct information about future earnings. Findings - The authors find less future earnings information contained in current stock returns for firms with higher intensity of CSR activities. The association is also negative between current stock returns and future earnings reported by firms with a higher degree of CSR spending aggregated with selling, general and administrative expenses (SG&A). In additional analyses, the intensity of CSR activities is positively associated the uncertainty of benefits, measured by the standard deviation of future earnings over the next five years. This future earnings variability does not exist, even though CSR spending is aggregated with SG&A, consistent with the basic principle that accounting expenses create no future economic impacts. Originality/value - The authors contribute to the current debate over consequences of CSR activities and accounting for CSR spending from a different angle. A common belief is that voluntary disclosure on CSR activities would aid in reducing costs of equity capital and financial reporting errors. These studies provide corporate managers with good reasons and motivations to expect beneficial consequences of voluntary disclosure. The results show that general investors are less capable of predicting future earnings when there is a higher degree of CSR spending aggregated with SG&A. It also highlights potential problems in the disclosure of general-purpose financial reporting to accounting standard setters.
All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes
- Business, Management and Accounting(all)
- Social Sciences (miscellaneous)