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Rhetoric and Argument in Financial Reporting: Disclosures in Profit Forecasts and Takeover Documents

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Document pages: 58 pages

Abstract: Despite the importance of profit forecasts to investors, little attention has been given so far to their publication, presentation and content. The object of the paper is two-fold: • First, the paper examines disclosures in profit forecasts and in takeover documents from the perspective of rhetoric and argument to show how managements use accounting information to defend their own position and rebut the arguments of the other side. Persuasion in forecasts, and the verbal jousting and argument between bidder and target managements during contested bids, is considered. • Second, the paper reproduces and discusses examples concerning disclosures in profit forecasts and in takeover documents. This is intended as useful precedent material for practitioners involved in preparing profit forecasts. The paper is supported by a more comprehensive set of examples available on the web (O S insert web address). This paper reviews financial reporting in profit forecasts, based on a systematic analysis of the disclosure practices in 250 profit forecasts disclosed during 701 public company takeover bids in the UK in the 5 year period 1988 to 1992. There were 74 examples selected from the 250 forecasts to illustrate particular practices which are commented on and discussed in the text. The examples shown do not necessarily illustrate best practice. It is intended that they highlight the wide variety of disclosure-related issues to be taken into consideration in preparing a forecast for publication. It is hoped these examples will act as useful precedent material to be consulted by practitioners involved in preparing profit forecasts for publication in the future. In selecting material to reproduce, there was particular emphasis on disclosures used by management for rhetorical purposes – to persuade shareholders or to attack the other side in the bid. The research showed that there was some evidence of strategic information disclosures by management both in the accounting practices employed in preparing forecasts, in the variability of levels of disclosure and the choice of wording used in some disclosures. In particular, the choice of disclosure practices by management may be used to provide protection if the forecast is not subsequently achieved, thus serving management’s own self-interest.

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