ABSTRACT: Following high-profile accounting scandals (e.g., Enron), Congress passed the Sarbanes-Oxley Act, which established the Public Company Accounting Oversight Board (PCAOB). The PCAOB conducts regular inspections of audit firms and issues inspection reports that describe audit deficiencies identified during the inspections. One purpose of these reports is to improve public confidence in auditor credibility. We conduct a between-subjects experiment to provide initial evidence concerning investors’ perceptions of audit opinion credibility following PCAOB inspections. While we find an overall increase in perceptions of the credibility of future audit opinions, the degree to which perceptions increase is a function of three salient characteristics of PCAOB reports. Specifically, we find that investors anticipate more (less) improvement in the credibility of future opinions when: (1) inspections contain high (low) severity deficiencies; (2) firms respond to the reports with concessions (denials); and (3) for small (large) firms. Further, investors’ assessment of the credibility of the firm’s response to the PCAOB report is higher for concessions than denials; response credibility fully mediates the effect of response type (concession or denial) on the perceived improvement in the credibility of future opinions. Therefore, the inspections may be a useful tool for improving the perceived credibility of audit opinions under certain conditions. Implications include the possibility that firms should consider carefully the nature of their responses and the PCAOB should consider establishing outreach programs to investors to educate them about its regulatory role.

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