Perspectives and Questions on Corporate Financial Reporting Shyam Sunder, Yale University Accounting, Economics and Finance Seminar CNAM-Intec Paris, July 16-18, 2009
Perspectives and Questions on Corporate Financial Reporting • Accounting for markets (or from markets)? • Neutrality or reflexivity (eye-in-the-sky vs. camera and model)? • Statics of facts or dynamics of process? • Standards or social norms? • For shareholders alone or all stakeholders? • I do not have the answers, but I believe these issues are worth engaging our attention
1. FR for Markets (or from Markets)? • What is the role of financial reporting with respect to investors • Is FR an input into markets (information, decision-making, liquidity, settlement, etc.)? • Or, is FR better as a reflection of market events? • If (1), what about efficient markets? • If (2), what purpose does it serve? • If both, what could be a reasonable theory of the relationship between FR and markets?
2. Neutrality or Reflexivity? • What is the relationship of FR to the world and events it reports on? • Neutral observer and reporter? (eye in the sky) • Active engagement with its “objects”? (model and photographer) • If (1), it cannot be concerned with its consequences; what should it be? • If (2), what should be terms of engagement between FR and firms?
Statics of Facts or Dynamics of Process? • There is another way of looking at the neutrality/reflexivity issue • Is FR to capture and report the facts as they are? • Or, is FR to recognize and report on the dynamics interaction between itself and its “objects”? • If (1), how much can “facts” inform? • If (2), what would FR look like?
Standards or Social Norms? • FR reporting (in US) has moved from social norms and common law (GAAP) to statute (standards) • What are the consequences of this change? • Are these consequences desirable? • If the consequences are well-understood, and not desirable, what are the alternative courses of action? • Institutionalization of social norms of FR? • Institutions for choosing standards?
For Shareholders Alone or All Stakeholders? • Microeconomic theory of the firm emphasizes all factors of production but gives a special role to proprietors for good reason • What about the role of proprietors (shareholders) in FR vis-à-vis the roles of other participants in the firm? • How we conceptualize these roles? • How do we assess the firm from the point of view of all participants (society)?
An Overview • Common knowledge is a basic and oft-used assumption in analyses of accounting and stock markets • However, absence and not presence of common knowledge is the norm in the world (Hayek) • Absence of common knowledge undermines the standard present value models of security valuation • Without common knowledge, markets are susceptible to speculative indeterminacy • Blocked from a reasonable basis for backward induction, investors resort to forward induction from history, and use historical data from financial reports • FASB/IASB attempts to mark-to-market accounting undermine this important use of accounting by investors • To safeguard from speculative bubbles and financial crises, accounting can serve investors better by providing reliable statistical history, leaving adjustments about the future to non-accountants
Common Knowledge Sunder, Shyam. "Knowing What Others Know: Common Knowledge, Accounting, and Capital Markets." Accounting Horizons 16, no. 4 (December 2002): 305-318.
Stock Market • Stock Market is like a newspaper beauty contest • John Maynard Keynes, (1936)
Newspaper Beauty Contest Which Face is the prettiest?
Beliefs About Others’ Beliefs • Common elements to the three stories about the emperor‘s clothes and stock market • Central role of what we believe about others, and about their beliefs
Emperor’s Clothes • The scoundrels made people believe that the clothes will be invisible only to the incompetent and the stupid • People thought that others believed it • Nobody wants to be seen as stupid or incompetent by others, lose his/her job • Visibility of clothes was private, it was easy to fake seeing the clothes
Emperor’s Clothes (Contd.) • Scenario 1: Everyone was privately convinced of their incompetence, and cheered to deny it publicly • Scenario 2: People did not believe they were incompetent just because they could see the naked emperor, but believed that others so believed, and cheered to avoid being seen as stupid
What about the Child? • The child did not know the link between visibility and competence • Child was innocent, and said what he saw • People know children to be innocent • People knew that people knew this
Keynes on Stock Market • Price of Microsoft shares is $100 • I expect the price to be $125 six months from now. • Is it a good buy? • Rule 1: Yes, if your opportunity cost of capital is less than $25 for six months
Stock Market (Contd.) • What if I now believe that the stock market’s assessment of the value of Microsoft shares six months from now will be $90? • Can I change the beliefs of others in the market? • If not, Rule 2: Sell at $100 • Higher order rules
Should I Pay Attention to Others When I Know I Am Right? • What if everyone believes them (who are wrong), and not me (who is right) • Fight them? or • Join them?
Common Knowledge (Aumann) • Two people 1 and 2 are said to have common knowledge of an event E if • both know it, • 1 knows that 2 knows it, • 2 knows that 1 knows it, • 1 knows that 2 knows that 1 knows it, • and so on...
Orders of Knowledge • First order knowledge • Second order knowledge (about first order knowledge) • Third order knowledge (about second order knowledge) • And so on.
Main Result from the Lab Bubbles and Price Indeterminacy arise when • Investors have short-term horizons, • Therefore need to backward induct from higher order beliefs • But do not have the information to be able to do so • And resort to forward induction • Hirota, Shinici and Shyam Sunder. “Price Bubbles sans Dividend Anchors: Evidence from Laboratory Stock Markets,” Journal of Economic Dynamics and Control 31, no. 6 (June 2007): 1875-1909.
Textbooks: Pt = Ft • Rational Expectation of P t+k • Homogeneous Investors • The Law of Iterated Expectations • By recursive process, Pt = Ft is derived by the backward induction • If investors do not have the knowledge needed to backward induct, this equality will not hold
Our Experimental Study • What happens when short-term investors have difficulty in the backward induction? • Two kinds of the lab markets • (1) Long-term Horizon Session • (2) Short-term Horizon Session • Bubbles are more likely to arise in (2)?
Long-term Horizon Session Period 1 Period 15 (Trade) D Single terminal dividend at the end of period 15. An investor’s time horizon is equal to the security’s maturity. Prediction: Pt = D
Short-term Horizon Session Period 1 Period x Period 30 (Trade) Ex (Px+1) D Single terminal dividend at the end of period 30. The session will “likely” be terminated earlier. If terminated earlier, the stock is liquidated at the following period predicted price. An investor’s time horizon is shorter than the maturity and it is difficult to backward induct. Prediction: Pt D
Result 1 • In the long-horizon sessions, security prices converge to the fundamental values.
Figure 4: Stock Prices and Efficiency of Allocations for Session 4 (Exogenous Terminal Payoff Session)
Figure 5: Stock Prices and Efficiency of Allocations for Session 5 (Exogenous Terminal Payoff Session)
Figure 6: Stock Prices for Session 6 (Exogenous Terminal Payoff Session)
Figure 7: Stock Prices and Efficiency of Allocations for Session 7 (Exogenous Terminal Payoff Session)
Discussion (long-horizon sessions) • Long-horizon Investors play a crucial role in assuring efficient pricing. • Their arbitrage brings prices to the fundamentals. • Speculative trades do not seem to destabilize prices. • 39.0% of transactions were speculative trades.
Result 2 • In the short-horizon sessions, the security prices deviate from the fundamental values to form bubbles.
Figure 8: Stock Prices and Efficiency of Allocations for Session 1 (Endogenous Terminal Payoff Session)
Figure 9: Stock Prices and Efficiency of Allocations for Session 2 (Endogenous Terminal Payoff Session)
Figure 10: Stock Prices and Efficiency of Allocations for Session 8 (Endogenous Terminal Payoff Session)
Figure 11: Stock Prices and Efficiency of Allocations for Session 9 (Endogenous Terminal Payoff Session)
Figure 12: Stock Prices for Session 10 (Endogenous Terminal Payoff Session)
Figure 13: Stock Prices for Session 11 (Endogenous Terminal Payoff Session)
Result 3 • In the long-horizon sessions, price expectations are consistent with backward induction. • In the short-horizon sessions, price expectations are consistent with forward induction.
Discussion (Price Expectation) • In long-horizon sessions, future price expectations are formed by fundamentals. • Speculation stabilizes prices. • In short-term sessions, future price expectations are formed by their own or actual prices. • Speculation may destabilize prices.
Conclusion • Investors’ short-term horizons, and the attendant difficulty of the backward induction, tends to give rise to price bubbles. • Prices lose dividend anchors and become indeterminate. • Future price expectations are formed by forward induction.
Implications (1) • Bubbles are known to occur more often in markets for securities with • (i) longer maturity and duration • (ii) higher uncertainty • Consistent with our lab observations. • Inputs to expectation formation matter: • Dividend policy matters! • Accounting reports matter!
Implications (2) • Ex post, market inefficiency, anomalies, and behavioral phenomena more likely to be observed in markets dominated by short-horizon investors (difficulty of backward induction) • Ex ante, it is difficult to define them, because we do not know the fundamental values
Theory of Accounting and Control • Firm as a set of contracts • Agents try to attain their own goals • Agents contribute resources • Agents receive resources in exchange • Accounting as a mechanism to implement and enforce contracts • Shyam Sunder. 1997. Theory of Accounting and Control. Cengage Publishing.