This paper investigates the difference between two widely used measures of accruals and their differential impact on accrual strategy returns. The two measures are accruals computed using consecutive changes in the balance sheet items and accruals computed as earnings minus cash flows from operating activities, both from the cash flow statement. Our investigations reveal that the difference between the two measures is caused by four items and non-articulations in changes in working capital accounts and depreciation expenses, in addition to non-articulation events as identified by Hribar and Collins (2002). We find that the non-articulation in working capital accounts and depreciation expenses between the cash flow statement and other financial statements is surprisingly prevalent and economically significant, and it can be attributed to special events, errors made by Compustat, firms' inconsistent definitions, and non-standard classifications of assets/liabilities. We show that, after excluding non-articulation events, the accrual strategy returns are higher for accruals computed using balance sheet items than accruals computed using cash flow statement items. Further investigations suggest that the return differentials are mainly due to other funds from operations and the non-articulation in changes in accounts receivable.
JEL Classifications: G12; G14; M41.
Data Availability: Data used are available from the sources identified in the study.