The financial press and accounting regulators (e.g., the Securities and Exchange Commission and Financial Accounting Standards Board) have expressed concern about pressures on Internet firms to report high levels of revenue. This study verifies the association between market capitalization and revenue, and examines economic factors that potentially influence Internet company managers' decisions to adopt allegedly aggressive revenue-recognition policies. Specifically, we examine factors hypothesized to influence the reporting of advertising barter revenue and grossed-up sales levels.
We begin by providing descriptive evidence on the use of barter and grossed-up revenue across Internet sectors. Although common in some sectors, we find that the use of these accounting policies is not pervasive overall. We limit our empirical analyses to Internet companies that have the opportunity to report grossed-up or advertising barter revenue. Our cross-sectional predictions are based on both external and internal incentives to maximize revenues as well as constraints that may limit management's discretion. We predict that the following factors increase the likelihood that a firm will report grossed-up and/or barter revenue: shorter time before needing additional external financing, more active individual investor interest in the firm's stock, more active pursuit of growth via acquisitions, and greater use of stock options in employee compensation. We also posit that barter transactions might be an inexpensive way for firms to evaluate the viability of future marketing or content alliances with potential partners. Finally, we predict that constraints on management discretion are related to the reputation/quality of the firm's auditor and underwriter and the extent of management ownership.
We find that firms with greater cash burn rates and higher levels of activity on Motley Fool message boards are consistently associated with barter and grossed-up revenue reporting.
Bowen, Robert, Angela Davis, and Shivaram Rajgopal. "Determinants of Revenue-Reporting Practices for Internet Firms." Contemporary Accounting Research 19, no. 4 (2002): 523-562.
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