“Earnings manipulation is usually not the result of an intentional fraud, but the culmination of a series of aggressive interpretations of the accounting rules and aggressive operating activities. The end result is misstatement of the financial results perpetrated by people that had previously been considered honest and may not have realized the severity of their actions until it was too late” (McGregor, 2017, para. 1).
The Cookie-jar reserves are an earning manipulation technique. All expenses have to be shown in the earning sheet corresponding to the time period in which the expenses were incurred. In the cookie jar technique, the expenses and the time-period will not correspond. Estimates might be used to show the accrual of expenses in some demanding times, rather than showing the actual expense incurred. Instead, these additional expenses might be reported during the periods when the firm has strong earnings. By this way, the firm shows better stable economic health. Since expenses are written of when the firm earnings are good, the firm is able to show stable earnings when they face lean times. Future liabilities in lean times are reduced.
The capitalization process is yet another technique of earnings management. This technique is applied in the case of internal software development scenarios. Amortization of the value of such software’s over time is usually not fixed and will largely depend on the judgement of the company. This offers much potential for manipulation as the company can declare expenses on them as they require. The allocation of expenses will aim at reducing operating expenses. The “big bath” or one-time charges are yet another technique in manipulation. It has been a practice for analysts to not evaluate one-time charges incurred in the company expenses and this has been taken up by firms as a way to manage and manipulate their earnings (Lim & Matolcsy, 1999). One-time or non-recurring charges do not happen again and hence analysts might overlook these charges in considering the operating income. Companies might then such a onetime charge in order to offload the expenses that incur after habitually indulging in earnings manipulation. When they face problems in sustaining earnings growth, they create an expense overload on some onetime event. Those payoffs that are not connected with the event will still get charged to that event. This onetime charge technique connects with the cookie-jar technique. Firms might use the onetime charge technique to create cookie-jar style reserves that they can use later. Elliot & Hanna (1996) conducted a study on the onetime charge technique and they found that this technique was more popular in the time period of 1975-1994. The largest one time writes off was around 21 percent in expenses.