SYNOPSIS: The value relevance of intangible assets is now well documented in the literature, leading to calls for standard setters to adopt more flexible reporting rules for these assets. In this study, I evaluate the merits of intangibles capitalization from a bankruptcy and default risk perspective, which has not been previously considered in the literature. The study is conducted in a unique reporting environment, where managers have had considerable discretion to capitalize a wide range of intangibles over an extended period. Three main results are reported. First, failing firms capitalize intangible assets more aggressively than non-failed firms over the 16-year sample period, but particularly over the five-year period leading up to firm failure. Second, drawing on the accounting choice literature, I find that managers’ propensity to capitalize intangible assets has a strong statistical association with earnings management proxies, particularly among failing firms. Finally, voluntary capitalization of intangibles has strong discriminating and predictive power in a firm failure model, even after controlling for several other factors.

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