A Sebi commissioned study has called for stricter auditing of companies' financial reporting to ensure that management discretion is minimised and corporate earnings are not manipulated.
The study, conducted by independent experts for Sebi's Development Research Group, found that executives manipulate their companies' finances to meet performance targets.
It said that such 'earnings management' practises were more prevalent at small-sized companies in India, as compared to their medium and large-size peers.
The study has highlighted "the need for better and timely disclosure of accounting information and monitoring by auditors/regulators, especially of the items in which management discretion is exercised widely".
It noted: "Auditors can play an important role in monitoring and disclosing financial reporting of firms so that management discretion (as accorded by GAAP India) is minimised."
Besides, it said the migration to International Financial Reporting Standards (IFRS) planned in Indian corporate sector may reduce the management discretion over financial reporting.
"The study recommends enhanced surveillance, monitoring and regulatory action by the securities market regulator for a company or industry, which indulged in high level of earnings management (above the average threshold of the industry)," Sebi said about this report, whose recommendations are non-binding for the regulator.
The study noted that Earnings Management (EM) by firms is widespread throughout the world.
It said: "The motivation to meet earnings targets of the market and thereby derive private benefits is the driving force for EM world-wide.
"Managers get a number of financial incentives to meet performance expectations and derive private gains in the form of gaining earnings-based bonuses, increased promotion prospects, avoiding termination, avoiding a decline in the value of their stocks etc."
The present study examined and quantified the extent of EM in India by studying 2,229 listed Indian companies (non-financial) during 2008-11.
It found that the average earnings management in corporate sector (non-financial) in India is 2.9 per cent of the total assets of these firms, which is comparable to the estimates in US, Europe and elsewhere in the world (around 1 to 5 per cent of total assets).
The study revealed that "small firms in India indulge relatively more in earnings management (10.6 per cent of the total asset) than the medium and large size firms."
The study has been co-authored by D Ajit, Sarat Malik and Vimal Kumar Verma and is part of an initiative undertaken by Sebi to commission studies on different aspects affecting the capital markets.