University of Cincinnati Lindner College of Business

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Earnings Warnings and CEO Welfare

Author(s): Ping Wang, Masako Darrough, Linna Shi

Status: Published
Year: 2016
Publication Name: Journal of Business, Finance & Accounting
Volume: 43, Issue: 9-10, Page Number(s): 1197–1243


Some CEOs decide voluntarily to issue a warning when they expect a negative earnings surprise. Prior research suggests that warnings contain incremental information beyond actual earnings; warning firms tend to experience permanent earnings decreases. This paper investigates whether compensation committees take warnings into account in setting CEO compensation. We find that warnings are significantly negatively (positively) associated with CEO bonus (option grants), suggesting that compensation committees adjust CEO compensation towards a more high-powered structure after warnings. However, the sensitivity of bonus or option grants to earnings and stock returns is not affected except for bonus sensitivity to stock returns. We also find weak evidence of an increase in forced CEO turnover after warnings, accompanied by a significant increase in its sensitivity to stock returns. This benefits CEOs with higher ability but imposes more risk on other CEOs. These findings provide a partial explanation of why not every CEO facing a negative surprise decides to issue a warning. Our results are robust to various specifications. In particular, the impact of warnings on compensation appears invariant to the timing or the number of warnings. Overall, these findings suggest that the signal from warnings is used in determining CEO compensation and retention.


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