Seemingly self-serving attributions either attribute favorable performance to internal causes (enhancing attributions) or poor performance to external causes (defensive attributions). Managers presumably provide such attributions in earnings press releases to heighten (dampen) investors' perceptions of the persistence of good (bad) earnings news, thereby increasing (decreasing) the market reward (penalty) for good (bad) earnings news. Building on attribution theory and prior research on earnings commonality, this study investigates cross-sectional differences in investors' responses to quarterly earnings press releases that contain seemingly self-serving attributions. Using a random sample of press releases from 1999 to 2005, we find that firms that provide defensive attributions to explain earnings disappointments experience less severe market penalties when: (1) more of the their industry peers also release bad news, and (2) their earnings share higher commonality with industry- and market-level earnings. On the other hand, firms that provide enhancing attributions to explain good earnings news reap greater market rewards when: (1) more of their industry peers release bad news, and (2) their earnings share lower commonality with industry- and market-level earnings. Collectively, our results demonstrate that investors neither ignore seemingly self-serving attributions nor accept them at face value, but rely on industry- and firm-specific information to assess their plausibility.
Data Availability: Data are publicly available from the sources identified in the text.