This study examines the impact of SEC comment letters on future financial reporting outcomes and earnings credibility. Naïve Bayesian classification identifies comment letters associated with future restatements and write-downs. An investor attention-based quantitative measure of importance, using EDGAR downloads, also predicts these outcomes. Disclosure-event abnormal returns, revenue recognition comments, and the number of letters in a conversation appear to be useful quantitative metrics for classifying importance in certain settings. This study also documents trends in comment letter topics over time and identifies topics associated with the textual and quantitative classifications of importance, providing insights into the factors that draw investor attention and that relate to future restatements and write-downs. Innocuous comment letters are associated with improvements in earnings credibility following comment letter reviews.
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Examples of short seller research that uses issues raised in comment letters include presentations by Greenlight Capital on Green Mountain Coffee, Pershing Square on Herbalife, and Prescience Point on Boulder Brands. http://online.wsj.com/public/resources/documents/EinhornGMCRpresentation_Oct2011_VIC.pdf. Retrieved 7 September, 2020.http://factsabout-herbalife.com/wp-content/uploads/2013/01/Who-wants-to-be-a-Millionaire.pdf. Retrieved 1 February 2013.https://www.presciencepoint.com/research/research-archives/boulder-brands-inc-bdbd/. Retrieved 7 September, 2020.
Care needs to be taking cleaning the raw EDGAR log file data set to accurately count comment letter downloads, which are usually filed as PDF documents. Ryans, J., 2017. Using the EDGAR log file data set. Working paper, London Business School.
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This paper is based on my dissertation from the University of California at Berkeley. I especially thank my dissertation committee members: Patricia Dechow (chair), Alastair Lawrence, Panos Patatoukas, Richard Sloan, and Stephen Davidoff Solomon. I have received valuable comments and suggestions from Russell Lundholm (editor), two anonymous reviewers, John Barrios, Robert Bartlett, Stefano DellaVigna, Paul Fischer, Miles Gietzmann, Mark Huson, Greg Miller, Lillian Mills, Miguel Minutti-Meza, Reining Petacchi, Gordon Phillips, Lakshmanan Shivakumar, Shyam Sunder, Phil Stocken, İrem Tuna, Anastasia Zakolyukina, Luigi Zingales, and workshop participants at Cornell University, Dartmouth College, IESE, London Business School, the University of California at Los Angeles, the University of Texas at Austin, the University of Toronto, Yale University, the 2015 FARS Conference, 2015 EAA Annual Congress, 2015 PCAOB Conference, and the 2018 Carnegie Mellon University Accounting Mini-Conference.
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Appendix 1. Naïve Bayes classification terms over time
Appendix 2. Variable definitions
Appendix 3. Supplemental latent Dirichlet allocation analysis
These figures present examples of the variation in standard letter language from a pre- and post-2010 comment letter, which the latent Dirichlet allocation topic analysis identifies within the letters as two different topics. Depending on the scope of the review and if there are requests for revisions, these sections of the comment letters will exhibit additional variation.
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Ryans, J.P. Textual classification of SEC comment letters. Rev Account Stud 26, 37–80 (2021). https://doi.org/10.1007/s11142-020-09565-6
- SEC comment letters
- Financial reporting quality
- Text classification
- Naïve Bayes
- Latent Dirichlet allocation