SYNOPSIS

Capitalization of software research and development costs (SDC) under SFAS No. 86 is the only exception to SFAS No. 2 that calls for immediate expensing of R&D costs. Although intangible assets have become increasingly relevant for firm valuation, they remain largely unexplored in audit research. This is an important topic because intangible assets, especially those that are internally developed, pose greater challenges in assessing audit risk relative to tangible assets. Capitalization of SDC offers a unique opportunity to study how auditors assess audit risk associated with the recognition of this intangible asset. While capitalized SDC could shed light on software products' potential commercial success and inform the auditor about the client's business risk, the accounting flexibility allowed by SFAS No. 86 also increases the risk of earnings management, and thus implies higher audit risk. Using audit fees as a proxy for audit risk, our results indicate that capitalized SDC are negatively associated with audit fees for firms where capitalization is inconsequential to beating analysts' forecasts, and also for firms with low analysts' following. These results support the notion that capitalized SDC signal lower business risk, especially for firms with low earnings management risk or high private information.

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