Out-of-equilibrium CEO Incentives, Dynamic Adjustment and Financial Misreporting

Robert Bushman, Zhonglan Dai and Weining Zhang


The objective of this paper is to investigate (1) the role of adjustment costs in sustaining divergence between actual and optimal CEO equity incentives; (2) the nature of the dynamic process governing adjustment of non-optimal incentives back towards optimal; and (3) the extent to which deviations from optimal incentives exacerbate financial misreporting. Consistent with adjustment costs driving a wedge between realized and optimal incentives, we document that firm value decreases in deviations from optimal, and that firms only partially close the current gap between target and actual CEO incentives over the subsequent year. Further, speed of adjustment towards optimality varies with differences in monitoring intensity, product market competition and CEO tenure. Examining consequences of out-of-equilibrium incentives, we find that financial misreporting is increasing in the deviation from optimal, where the sensitivity of misreporting to deviation is stronger when CEO incentives are excessive relative to when they are below optimal levels. Finally, the sensitivity of misreporting to deviation is lower for firms with higher monitoring intensity, and magnified for firms with more intense product market competition and early term CEOs.

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