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It has been noticed that there has been huge development in the financial reporting in recent years. Although there have been many studies which has been carried out in the field of financial reporting, yet limited research has been conducted to know to what extent the annual report is really useful. Annual reports have been the subject of several past studies over the years.
Over the past years, there has been a need to focus on the corporate reporting, both locally and internationally due to the major corporate scandals that have shaken many organizations and caused enormous economical damage. The adoption of IAS by Mauritius through the 'Companies' Act 2001 clearly depicts that our country will also be greatly engaged in all future development regarding Accounting standards.
Annual reports serve as an important tool for decision-making and predicting the future performance of firms. They are also viewed as the main accountability mechanism and are reviewed corporate documents that point out business-related details. Since the beginning in the 1930's, the Security and Exchange of Commission (SEC) has made it mandatory for all public companies to issue annual reports for their shareholders at the end of each financial year. Annual reports are also the main medium by which a company conveys information about its operations to users (Ahmed, 1994). Many users find that annual reports are the primary source of information. Buzby, (1974) and Firth (1978) have conducted studies and have concentrated mainly on the types of information disclosures and analysis of user perceptions.
In order to achieve the desired improvements in the preparation of the annual reports, the collaboration of all stakeholders must be put together so as to achieve the rewards that is worth the effort. Hence, the types of information disclosures and decision usefulness of annual reports have been the most vital areas of research in accounting.
MOTIVATION OF THE STUDY
The literature review section talks about the background of research being undertaken and consists of both theoretical and empirical reviews. It provides an illustration about the importance of the different sections of the annual reports and the qualitative characteristics of information that make it useful for users of accounting information. Hence, it outlines on the previous research done on the study of annual reports and the importance of annual reports to users who have a reasonable knowledge in business, economics and accounting.
2.1 The annual reports
In Mauritius the Sec 218 of the 'Companies Act 2001', states that all non-private companies have to prepare and issue its annual report to its shareholders and the Registrar of companies.
2.2 The main purpose of annual reports
The purpose of the annual report is to inform shareholders as to the financial status of a company. Coy and Pratt (1998) conclude that the annual report serves as a communication tool and determines the reality of the organization in the public mind. However for this reality to be recognized, it depends on the quality of information provided in the annual reports. Annual reports are extremely significant sources of company information (Stanga,1976). Furthermore studies by Chang and Most (1985) and Hawkins and Hawkins (1985) concluded that even though individual investors do not find the annual report useful in decision making and do not meet their information needs, still the annual report is the document of reference for investors and managers. Though annual report is not the only source of information for a company, as in New Zealand newspapers and magazines were also found as a source of information, nevertheless the annual report is considered to be an important resource due to its large reporting and availability. Therefore the fundamental aims of preparing financial reports are for decision making and accountability.
Annual reports are considered as the main accountability mechanism. In 1975, the American Accounting Association (AAA) defined the purpose of accounting as "to provide information for making useful economic decisions and which, if provided will increase social welfare". Thus annual report can be one tool for communicating economic information to allow update decisions and judgements by users.
According to Stanton and Stanton (2002) the annual report "uses the tools of management, marketing and communication theory to construct a picture of the organization". Thus, annual report is a tool for a firm to classify its accountability for managing and controlling business activities. Moreover, a number of researchers (Winfield, 1978; Chang and Most, 1985; Boyne and Law, 1991), have noted the importance of annual reports as a 'vehicle' releasing accountability.
Furthermore accountability is involved in the monitoring, evaluation and control of organizational agents to make sure that they perform in the welfare of shareholders and other stakeholders (Keasey and wright,1993). It can be classified as a requirement for one party to another party for its performance over certain time. In short, accountability is simply a must to report upon as it gives an extent to which an entity has met its responsibilities towards its owners and to fulfill this role, financial reports should reflect the nature and extent of performance that are related to the entity. Moreover accountability requires broadening the capacity of disclosure beyond the financial focus to ensure that adequate and meaningful qualitative information is also contained in the annual report.
Besides, the owners of the companies, the shareholders, have a right to know what actions and what developments are taking place within the organization. Thus, the organizations are accountable to its shareholders and the annual report plays a great role in conveying the firm's performances to them.
2.2.2 Decision making
As per IAS 1, the financial statements' objective is to offer and inform the performance and the evolution of the financial situation, that could be helpful to a wide range of potential users for evaluating and making economic decisions .It is further claimed that, when the general purpose of financial reports meet this objective, they will also enable entities to discharge accountability.
Consequently the first aim of the Trueblood Report is the provision of information for economic decision making is being interpreted as being the primary function of financial statements. Hence financial reports should seek to satisfy the information needs of users. In 1989, the Solomons Report, commissioned by the ICAEW (1989) reaffirmed that decision usefulness is the fundamental aim of financial reporting. Financial reports should provide information that will be accommodating to several users who have interest in financial performance and making decisions about investing and lending.
Gray (1994, pp9), have proved that accounting literature is presently dominated by the idea of decision usefulness which mean that financial reporting will have to be maintained in order to meet the need of all users of accounting information. It is seen that nowadays there has been a rise in the users of accounting information for decision making hence objectives of annual reports are regarded as the major means by which companies distribute information to the external users (Firth, 1979).
2.3 OBJECTIVES OF ANNUAL REPORTS
According to FASB the main goals of annual reports can be classified in three parts:
Objectives for making potential economic decisions;
Objective of providing information about the financial position, performance and changes in financial position of an entity;
Objectives for presenting and disclosing of information.
Hence it is the attributes of the qualitative characteristics that make accounting information to be useful in annual reports.
2.4 Characteristics of accounting information
The quality of the information provided in annual reports determines the usefulness of those reports to users. FASB (1980) and the IASB propose that if Financial Statement setters study the standards and qualitative features in the process of preparation of financial statements only then the financial station would give the "true and fair view".
Many researchers like (Alford et al. 1993, Amir et al. 1993, Banyopadhyay et al. 1994, Harris et al. 1994, Joos and Lang 1994, Barth and Clinch 1996, Joos 1997, Lewitt 1998 and Pope and Walker 1999) had conduct studies with the aim to identify higher quality as it is related to the ability of financial statements to pass useful information to the users.
The ASB (1975) has identified seven qualitative characteristics viewed as desirable to make the annual reports useful. They are:
However, the hierarchy of accounting qualities proposed by the FASB is illustrated in the figure A below:
Relevance refers to the capacity of information to influence the decision making process of users. The Solomons Report (1989) has emphasized on this point: "Relevance must come first, for if information is irrelevant, it does not matter what other qualities it has".
FASB Concepts Statement 2,says in paragraph 27, to be relevant accounting information must be able to make a difference in a decision by facilitating users to form predictions about the result of past, present and future events. It also proposed that there is a trade-off between relevance and reliability that is accounting information should be both relevant and reliable.
A number of research by Stanga (1980), and Mores and Duncan (1988) have already been conducted to deal with the issue of relevance and reliability and that optimistic association exists between the two, with minimum levels of reliability necessary to achieve relevance.
Understandability is viewed as a user-specific property in the FASB model. Information cannot be useful to decision makers who cannot understand it, even though it may otherwise be relevant to a decision and be reliable. Information is understandable when users will be able to reasonably grasp its meaning. Thus useful information should be capable of being understood by users with reasonable knowledge of business and accounting and the way information is presented in annual reports.
In addition, researchers like Subramanian, Insley, and Blackwell (1993), had evaluated the relationship between the performance of companies and the readability of their annual reports, concluding that the annual reports of companies that done well were easier to read than those of companies that did not perform well.
Reliability involves the completeness of information. Information is reliable when it is free from material error and bias and can be depended upon by users to signify faithfully.
FASB has also concluded that verifiability is a major factor of reliability. Verifiability is the ability through consensus among measurers to guarantee that information represents what it purports to represent. It also focuses on whether a particular basis of measurement is properly pertained, rather than on whether it is appropriate.
While Lev and Thiagarajan (1991), got proof that the market does not retort to certain balance sheet information results of other studies suggested that it may wait until the balance sheet information shows up in future earnings which make accounting information more verifiable and reliable.
The corporate Report (1975) proposes that completeness is another quality for information to be useful, in other words reported information should provide a complete image of the activities of the organization. Good Accounting information is complete when it provides all its potential users with all the required information that are vital to fulfill their needs and requirements. Completeness is also when all transactions and events that should have been recorded have been recorded and classified properly. It also assumed that there will be no error of omission in the information. Thus information in the financial reports must be complete within the bounds of materiality and cost is a vital element of faithful representation.
According to Hines (1991), it is in the benefit of accounting profession to publicly produce information that is objective. Financial information being objective means it should be free from bias in accounting decisions and shall be a measurement of having supporting proof. In other words together with objectivity, information should be both reliable and uniform.
Comparability is the quality of information that enables users to identify similarities in and differences between two sets of economic phenomena. Moreover compliance with accounting standards helps to attain comparability. Thus, information about an entity gains more importance if it can be compared with similar information about other entities and with similar information about the same entity for some other period or some other point in time. Comparability is different from consistency because comparability is the goal while consistency is a means to achieve that goal. However it is argued that any consideration of comparability must come after relevance and faithful representation. As noted by Sterling, Robert, R (1985), "Comparability alone cannot make information relevant."
Timeliness is considered an ancillary aspect of relevance. Timeliness is about having relevant information available sooner before it loses capacity to influence decisions. Kross and Schroeder, (1984), indicated that "the timeliness of annual reports is relative to the abnormal return around the release date of reports, corporations that released their annual reports earlier held higher cumulative abnormal returns than that of later releases."
Researchers like Dyer Iv, and McHugh (1975),Whittred (1980) and Dwyer, and Wilson (1989), found that timeliness is affected by factors reporting lag such as auditing opinion, profitability and company size. Therefore the use of technology may enhance position of all users and improve regularity of timeliness with which information is received.
In addition to the qualitative characteristics mentioned above, there is two more qualities proposed in the accounting literature which is essential; they are faithful representation and materiality.
18.104.22.168 FAITHFUL REPRESENTATION
Faithful representation is attained when information is representing faithfully the transactions and other actions it either claims to represent or could reasonably be expected to represent. Sometimes it is necessary to clearly disclose the amount of uncertainty in the reported financial information, to better attain a faithful representation. .
Materiality does not involve only relevance but also faithful representation. Information is material if it could persuade users' decisions taken on the basis of the annual reports. Materiality depends on the nature and amount of the item in case of omission or misstatement. It forms the threshold for recognition of information and only material information is contained in the annual reports.
In order to be useful, accounting information should possess these qualities mentioned above. The four main components are reliable, relevance, understandable and comparable.
2.5 COMPONENTS OF ANNUAL REPORTS
The annual report encloses a huge amount of information about a company. As formal communication documents the annual reports also contains quantitative information, narratives, photographs and graphs. There have been several survey-based studies in accounting conducted that the annual reports is useful source of information (e.g., Briggs, 1975; Lee and Tweedie, 1975, 1976,1981; Anderson and Epstein (1995); Abu Baker and Naser (2000).Ho and Wong (2004) conducted a research in Hong Kong and concluded that annual reports are consisted of high value of information in comparison to other sources, even though the respondents are not fully satisfied with the amount of information disclosed.
Thus in Mauritius, the section 221 of the CA 01 specifies the contents of an annual report. Hence it includes the following:
2.5.1 Chairman's Report
Lee and Tweedie (1975), Barlett and Chander, 1997, p.246 found that the most common read sections of the annual reports is the chairman's statement .This was attributed to the simplicity of the chairman's report, which clarifies the more technical information, contained in other parts of the report. On the other hand, Wilton and Tabb (1978) surveyed about 300 shareholders and concluded that the chairman's report was the most widely read followed by the income statement. However, Barlett and Chander have also disclosed that the majority of respondents in their sample desired less information in the form of a summary report rather than the annual report itself.
2.5.2 Directors Report
The Directors' report supply useful information to investors about the activities of the company, the dividend policy and information about the decision makers of the company.
Anderson (1998) spot out that despite majority of investors found the basic financial statements to be most valuable, the most thoroughly items read in the annual report are the directors' report. Lee and Tweedie (1975) found that the executive's report was of great to less importance, over one-third of the respondents believed the directors' report to be of no value.
2.5.3 Corporate Governance Report
Corporate governance (CG) has been a foremost policy issue in developed market economies for more than a decade. Hashim (2009) defines CG as "a combination of processes and structures conducted by the board of directors to authorize, direct and oversee management towards the achievement of the organization's objectives".
The Report on Corporate Governance for Mauritius, states that companies that are listed on the Stock Exchange of Mauritius shall abide to all provision of the code and there should be a separate corporate governance section in the annual report. Cohen, Krishnamoorthy and Wright (2004) recommend that CG can be one of the main functions in ensuring the quality of financial reporting.
2.5.4 Auditors' Report
This report is issued by the external auditors to the shareholders of the company. It gives a report of the work that they performed during their audit and the respective responsibilities of both the directors and themselves. The main part of this report concerns the opinion paragraph where the auditors express an opinion about the financial position of the company and whether the financial statements have been prepared in accordance with the IFRS. The auditors also express an opinion on the financial performance and the cash flow position of the company and states whether the financial statements comply with the requirements of Companies Act 2001.
2.5.5 Corporate social responsibilities (CSR)
CSR can be described as the "process of communicating the social and environmental effects of organisations' economic actions to particular interest groups within society" (Gray et al 1996 p.3). Corporate social disclosure is referred as the provision of financial and non financial information that intend to discharge social accountability of an organisation (Gray et al 1987).Gelb and Strawser (2001) states that CSR disclosure is a form of socially responsible behaviour, thus by providing more information to the public will help companies to meet their responsibilities towards their stakeholders in a better way.
However research has shown that most users use the information of financial statements for financially based decisions. IAS 1, of IASB, 2004: (para.7) states that the objective of financial statements "is to provide information about the financial position, financial performance and cash flows of an entity that is useful to a wide range of users in making economic decisions".
So the financial statements are made as follows:
Statement of financial position
Statement of comprehensive income
Statement of changes in equity
Statement of cash flow
Notes to the account
2.5.6 Statement of financial position
This statement provides a snapshot summary of what a business owns or is owed-assets-and what it owes-liabilities-at a particular date thus it is referred as a statement of net worth. It shows how solvent a business is, how liquids its assets are and how much capital is being spent.
It also consists of non-current assets, current assets, capital and reserves, non-current liabilities and current liabilities. The non-current can be classified as assets that are not quickly and easily realizable, and current assets are assets that can be readily convertible into cash within a short time. Furthermore share capital represents amount receives in respect of shares issued by a particular company, non-current liabilities and current liabilities are obligations that are not aimed to be liquidated within a year and one that are expected to be settled within one year respectively.
2.5.7 Statement of comprehensive income
The main purpose of the comprehensive income statement is to report a company's earnings over some pointing period of time. This statement reflects the company's revenues, expenses and earnings; it gives information about the financial performance of a company. Users of accounts who are concerned about the profitability can obtain relevant information in the comprehensive income statement and they can make use of ratios to take out information they need therein.
2.5.8 Statement of changes in equity
IAS 1 requires that companies should prepare a statement of changes in equity to be presented with the same value as the other primary statements. According to Barry and Jamie Elliot this statement is vital because a quantity of gains and losses are required by law or accounting standards to be managed through directly with reserves, so as to prevent the financial statement from being incomplete.
The shareholders acquire more information about any changes made to share capital, retained earnings, revaluation reserves, share premium other reserves and to proposed dividends. Sometimes gains and losses may be easily traced by reserve accounting, which permits items to bypass the income statement. Hence the statement of changes in equity provides more transparency in reporting these gains or losses.
2.5.9 Statement of cash flow
Section 217 of the CA 01 requires all companies to include in their annual report a statement of cash flow and the latter should be prepared in accordance with IAS 7. The purpose of IAS 7 is to include the provision of information about the historical changes in cash and cash equivalents of a company by means of a statement of cash flow. Cash flows are classifies during a period from operating activities, investing activities and the financial activities. Cash flow statement has become useful sources of information for users (Day (1986) and Yap (1997)).
2.5.10 Notes to the accounts
Notes to the accounts can be referred as explanatory notes that accompany the financial statements. These are intended to give further detail of the items appearing in the financial statements, to provide surplus information, to represent attention of related party transactions and to give existence of interest to stakeholders, other than the shareholders. It includes the IAS, concepts, depreciation policies and methods of valuation that an entity has used.
2.6 USEFULNESS OF ANNUAL REPORTS
Stephen L.Buzby (1974) carried a research about the importance of disclosures in annual reports. Buzby created a list of 38 financial and non-financial items that might appear in an annual report and his aim behind that was to find the perceptions of professional financial analyst on those 38 items. At that time, changes in accounting methods were found to be the most important item. On the basis of the results, Buzby concluded that 'there was still room for an expansion of the extent of disclosure in the annual report'.
PriceWaterhouseCoopers (2007) conducted a survey on six countries and all the analysts and investors agreed that the income statement was the most important one and the cash flows statement and the balance sheet achieved its peak in terms of capability.
Studies conducted by Anderson (1981), found that the most readable sections of the annual report were seen to be the balance sheet, profit and loss account, notes to the accounts, and the chairman's statement respectively. The comprehensive income statement, however, was seen to be more essential than the balance sheet.
Epstein and Pava (1993) has developed on the work of Epstein (1975) and found that there has been an increased in the importance of annual report as a source of information. Furthermore, they found that the importance of the balance sheet had extended, and that over the same period the perceived usefulness of the income statement had declined. On the other hand Epstein and Pava also reported that US investors considered the statement of comprehensive income and financial position more useful than the cash flow statement.
Anderson and Epstein (1995) argued that in Australia they found that the comprehensive income is more useful in making an investment decision rather than the directors' report. In this respect the respondents had also demand for simplification and more explanation of the balance sheet, statement of cash flow, and the income statement.
In another study by, Abdelsalam (1990) it was highlighted that the comprehensive income and information about the future of the company as well as information about directors was seen to be important part of the annual report. Ba-owaidan (1994) also found the profit and loss account to be the most influential part of the annual report followed by the balance sheet but has also concludes that some respondents faced some problems in understanding the contents of the annual reports.
Furthermore, in an empirical research, the cash flow section was the only section of the annual report that the user group has significant differences regarding its value. This is not surprising as the findings reported by Lee and Tweedie (1975), Wilton and Tabb (1978) and Yap (1997) for developed countries disclosed that individual and institutional investors have little interest in the cash flow statement, nevertheless Day (1986) and Yap(1997) reported that cash flow statements have become an important sources of information.
In New Zealand, Chang and Most (1985), disclosed that newspapers and magazines were the preferred source of information and the comprehensive income statement was found as the main statement in the annual report for decision making.
Moreover, Anderson (1979) and Courtis (1982) also found that the balance sheet and the profit and loss statement were regarded as the two most essential statements for decision-making.
In addition, Anderson and Epstein's (1997) study revealed that in Australia, New Zealand and US, the comprehensive income and financial position statement were ranked as the most essential items but the cash flow was less important to New Zealand and Australian investors than to US respondents.
Moreover, in an empirical study carried by Daniels and Daniels (1991) it was found that information present in financial statements is important and very useful and quite sufficient enough to evaluate the financial condition of a company.
It was seen that despite some improvements have taken place in reporting in recent years, the users groups of annual reports wish to have more information than is currently provided (Abu-Nassar and Rutherford, 1996; Hatif and Al-Zubaidi, 2000; Naser and Nuseibeh, 2003).
On the other hand, Dye and Bowsher (1987) concluded that most users seek an annual report to include other information that will enhance their understanding. Hay and Antonio (1990) found that users demand for highly detailed disclosures in annual reports. In addition users want information on future prospects, company products, publication of quarterly reports and management audit reports (Anderson 1981).
In summary, results from preceeding studies shows that users believed that an annual report is the main sources of information; though each section was not considered as of equal significance. The results also disclose a necessity to establish some changes to the annual reporting that allow the information to be more understandable and sufficient for potential users.
2.7 USERS OF ACCOUNTS
According to IASB, financial information is prepared for users, "presuming that they have a reasonable knowledge of business and economic activities and accounting and a willingness to study the information with reasonable diligence." The different users are investors, shareholders, lenders and financial institutions, employees, government and the public.
2.8 ARE ANNUAL REPORTS USEFUL?
Throughout the literature review, there are various studies that have been conducted on the different sections of the annual reports, the perceptions of people towards the annual reports and whether it is the only source of information. However there are limited studies on whether the annual reports are really useful or not. Nowadays it is seen that many firms are spending huge amount of money and issuing colorful annual reports, but the question arise is: do people really read these reports?
In 1976, Buzby concluded that there was an opportunity for improvement concerning accounting information disclosed in the annual reports. Since the publication of Buzby's work, there have been huge changes in corporate reporting, thus it will be interesting to confirm whether the perceptions of respondents have really changed. This research will try to perceive the usefulness of annual reports in the eyes of the issuers.