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This focus is justified because earnings is a key summary measure of performance that conditions the payment of dividends and many contractual outcomes, and thus, earnings is often the focus of managers and key stakeholders. The literature also suggests a historical relevance of earnings. Indeed, earnings were fundamental for dividend distributions, with prior research suggesting that accounts were managed in response to pressures to pay dividends e.

Also, possibly, there existed a certain governmental monitoring over earnings fluctuations, leading to political costs for railway companies if earnings became volatile and the government had to provide subsidies of mounting values. This setting may have led to pressures to artificially maintain stable and sustainable levels of dividends and earnings, i.

Against this backdrop, the study of earnings quality and its accrual components, and particularly, of earnings persistence, appears a promising avenue to study accounting quality. These models study the relation between accounting and prices and returns, with higher correlations being interpreted as indicative of higher quality. In a historical context, their implementation is not always viable, since a strong assumption of these models is that capital markets and therefore, prices and returns are efficient and reflect all available information Holthausen and Watts Holthausen, W.

The relevance of the value relevance literature for financial accounting standard setting. Journal of Accounting and Economics , 31, 3 — View all notes Earnings persistence captures earnings sustainability; persistent earnings are viewed as desirable as they are recurring e. Francis et al. Cost of equity and earnings attributes.

The Accounting Review , 79 4 , — Accounting onservatism, the quality of earnings and stock returns. The Accounting Review , 77, — Earnings persistence can be attained in two main ways which may, of course, happen concurrently : 1 by operating a sustainable business, where earnings innovations stay in the earnings series; and 2 by managing earnings, using reporting accruals choices to reduce volatility in earnings.

We propose to evaluate the existence of accounting quality by studying earnings persistence and a number of key accrual components in a temporal series. This is similar to the work of Sivakumar and Waymire Sivakumar, K. This approach is, of course, not without criticism. Yet, a number of the criticisms of this quantitative technique turn into advantages when applied to historical cases.

First, the analysis of persistence can be criticised on the basis that it focuses exclusively on earnings Beest et al.

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Quality of financial reporting: measuring qualitative characteristics. Working Paper , Radboud University. However, in the nineteenth century, the historical context was characterised by a lack of accounting regulatory framework and limited development of accounting concepts and practices. This makes it nearly impossible to control for all the variables that may have affected accounting information and justifies a more focused analysis. Second, the analysis of persistence in historical cases can be effective, as it only requires bottom line earnings.

Moreover, the technique shows a partial and generic approach to quality, which is appropriate in historical cases instead of drawing restricted conclusions. Third, some quantitative models are not workable to measure quality in historical cases. For example, they may require non-existent information railway companies were obliged to publish the Balance Sheet, but often did not comply Bernal Bernal, M.

Finally, earnings persistence could be criticised because it focuses on the utility for investors. Earnings persistence can be measured by earnings auto-correlation over time. The correlation quantifies the strength and direction in the linearity and proportionality of the relation. If there is earnings persistence, we expect that it may be suggestive of a uniform and subjacent application of accounting criteria, and evidence of high quality information. As noted above, earnings persistence reflects the sustainably of the underlying business, and as a measure of accounting quality, it depends on the implemented accounting system.

In turn, the quality of an accounting system depends on 1 the ability of the accounting normative framework to capture value; and importantly 2 managerial choices within that accounting framework.


By looking at persistence over a long period of time and across two different firms, we can focus on the endogenous elements of quality which differ across both firms, such as managerial decision-making. In particular, to the extent that the underlying economics as reviewed in Section 3 are shared by both firms, that the accounting common knowledge and regulatory frameworks and institutions at the time were also the same, and that we focus on the largest firms of a single sector, we would expect, in the absence of firm-specific differences and managerial discretionary accounting choices, similar earnings persistence in both firms, indicating these shared underlying conditions.

In contrast, if different levels of persistence are found, it could mean that managerial decision-making within the accounting process drives, at least partly, those differences. In particular, the study of earnings persistence can help us to distinguish between biased accounting and mere lack of knowledge errors. Given our long-time series, error is more likely to cancel out than bias.

Even if firms show different levels of persistence, this could be due to differences in managerial style rather than to differences in managerial accounting choices. That is, underlying firm-specific circumstances may drive differences in cash flows that, in turn, determine earnings persistence. To circumvent this concern, we study the accounting process itself, i. In particular, we study two accruals. First, we analyse depreciation, which is an accrual that has been studied in prior historical research. Depreciation, if accounted for, leads to lower earnings.

To increase earnings, and thus, for example, dividend payments to shareholders, managers may resort to failing to account for depreciation, or to reduce the annual charge or even to discontinue it. To the extent that it was common knowledge that the permanent and rolling stock did not have an infinite useful life, observing either of these actions would reflect managerial purposeful decision-making.

Second, we focus on an accrual which constitutes a novel element in railway accounting research: the annual adjustments to the earnings figure reflecting prior period events. These adjustments reflect earnings from prior periods that were not recorded in a timely manner and that are included as an adjustment in the current period. We denote them as prior-period earnings adjustments. As an example, Figures 2 and 3 show the Ejercicios Cerrados item in isolation and in context within an Operating Accounting.

Figure 2. Figure 3.

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The adjustments, which modify current-period earnings, could simply reflect the accounting for events that become known after the fiscal year end if, for example, information was not available at the time of preparing the financial statements. We expect that this may have been a likely event, particularly in the nineteenth century, when communication and measurement of economic events were often significantly delayed because of the lack of timely communication channels and of strong internal controls.

For example, the work of Chandler Chandler, A. The railroads: pioneers in modern corporate management. The Business History Review , 39 1 , 16 — Conversely, these adjustments could be used opportunistically to delay the recognition of expenses or to time revenues and expenses, including them in the period when management considers best. If the adjustments are used opportunistically, they should lower accounting quality, and thus, influence earnings persistence. Second, we modify model 1 , and run it using earnings before prior period adjustments EBADJ as our dependent variable.

In our analyses, we also control for additional variables that capture the different phases of the evolution of the sector, which have been explained in Section 3, as well as run the models separately for NORTE and MZA. We study earnings increases and earnings persistence effects because the reviewed evidence suggests that railway firms were pressured to stay profitable and pay large dividends and, thus, had incentives to artificially inflate earnings Edwards Edwards, J.

This prediction would also be consistent with the work of Watts and Zimmerman Watts, R. Positive Accounting Theory. We use prior period adjustments to provide novel insights into these two competing views of the drivers of accounting quality in early railway companies. In terms of liabilities, jointly they represented Panel A.

Note: All figures are in Thousand Pesetas. Figure 4.

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The graphs show parallel and almost overlapping trends during the year period under study. These similarities provide preliminary evidence in line with our argumentation and early justification for the proposed analyses, which build on the idea of common underlying economics. An analysis of Panel A also reveals an increasing trend in the profitability of both firms.

The graph reveals that with the exception of , and particularly, when NORTE reported losses the profitability of both firms in that period is on average higher than in the rest of the series.

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Panel B also reveals that the prior period adjustments were both income-increasing and income-decreasing. In the case of NORTE, the adjustments in the first few years of the century appear to suggest that they may have been used to smooth out fluctuations in earnings, but subsequently, they are mostly income-increasing and thus could not have been used to artificially deflate earnings.

In the case of MZA, there are no adjustments reported in the period — Panel C provides a representation of the dividends paid. Again, the trends are similar and suggest a positive correlation between earnings and dividends. The data reveal that over the year period —, when both NORTE and MZA reported dividends and earnings, the correlation between the earnings reported and the dividends paid is 0. Their ratios of dividend-to-earnings differed, with MZA having a mean median ratio of 0.

View all notes again emphasising the relevance of dividend payment. To analyse them, we manually collect their financial statements henceforth, annual reports from the Railway Library of the Spanish Railway Foundation.

Introduccion a la Contabilidad Financiera (Spanish Edition)

We start our sample when these companies were first created and end it in , after the Spanish Civil War and the nationalisation phase. Replacement accounting is different from recording accounting depreciation. In analysing MZA historical documents, we have found references that could induce confusion on whether the company accounted for depreciation: Regarding the inventory write-off of 13 service machines, this operation finalizes the liquidation of our rolling stock. Annual Report MZA , p. These 13 machines were already out of service.