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Determinants and consequences of timely asset impairments during the financial crisis

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Journal of Business Finance &amp Accounting

Published online on


U.S. firms recorded an unprecedented number of asset impairments during the recent financial crisis. We investigate the timing of these losses in the context of two competing views on how firms use discretion over asset impairments. The first view posits that firms record impairments to convey private information as part of their commitment to a conditionally conservative reporting strategy. The second view argues that firms use their discretion to report opportunistically by delaying the recording of bad news. Consistent with the first view, we find that firms recorded timelier asset impairments during the financial crisis if they reported more conservatively in the five years preceding the crisis. Further tests show this relation is greater for firms with strong corporate governance, industry‐specialist auditors, and high leverage, indicating the importance of monitoring mechanisms in determining how firms handle the discretion involved in impairment decisions. We also test for the consequences of timely asset impairments during the financial crisis and find that firms reporting conservatively both before and during the crisis were able to acquire more debt financing, and their publicly traded bonds suffered smaller increases in illiquidity. Collectively, our study highlights the role of asset impairments in firms’ accounting choices over time. This article is protected by copyright. All rights reserved