Separating Information About Cash Flows From Information About Risk in Losses
This paper reconsiders the information content of losses, specifically, the extent to which losses contain distinct and offsetting information about future cash flows and about risk. Based on theory that suggests exit value is the lower bound of firm value, I posit that shareholders who decide to abandon the firm (or some portion thereof) will receive the exit value of disposed resources, thereby resolving uncertainty about payoffs (that is, cash flow uncertainty). Under this view, a higher likelihood of abandonment, proxied by losses, should be associated with both lower payoffs (the exit value of the disposed net assets) and lower risk (because uncertainty about the payoff is partially resolved). Using Vuolteenaho's (2002) method to decompose realized returns into expected returns, cash flow news and discount rate (risk) news, I predict and find that losses provide adverse news about cash flows (the valuation numerator) and favorable news about the discount rate (the valuation denominator). Because the effects of the two types of news are mutually offsetting, the relation between earnings and returns appears weaker for loss firms than for firms reporting profits. These results suggest that losses are valuation relevant, in the sense of providing information that is correlated with the information in returns.
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