Information Conveyed in Announcements of Analyst Coverage*

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1 Information Conveyed in Announcements of Analyst Coverage* BRUCE C. BRANSON, North Carolina State University DARYL M. GUFFEY, East Carolina University DONALD P. PAGACH, North Carolina State University Abstract This paper examines the security market response to the announcement of sell-side analysts' decisions to initiate coverage of a firm. We examine the market reaction to the initiation announcement and the accompanying investment recommendation, by disaggregating our sample based on existing analyst coverage at the announcement date. We find, on average, a significantly larger, positive stock price reaction to buy recommendations conveyed in announcements of coverage initiation for firms with a small existing analyst following compared to such announcements for firms receiving no prior analyst coverage. Tests show that the relation between the extent of preexisting analyst coverage and market response is nonlinear and concave down in shape. Specifically we find that lightly followed firms, on average, experience larger price reactions to announcements of coverage initiations than either previously uncovered firms or more heavily followed firms. We test for and find that this result holds over a range of definitions of light coverage and is not attributable to the presence of an underwriting relationship existing between the analyst's employer and the firm receiving coverage. We do find that initiations by analysts named to Institutional Investor magazine's "All-American Research Team" produce a significantly larger market reaction than do initiations by non-all-american security analysts. In addition, similar to the market response associated with other types of information events, we observe that proxies for the richness of the initiated firms' preannouncement information environment are associated with event-day average abnormal retums. Condense Les auteurs examinent la reaction du march6 des valeurs mobilieres a Tannonce des decisions des analystes travaillant du cote des vendeurs d'evaluer pour la premiere fois les titres d'une societe. Ils se penchent plus particulierement sur la decision de premiere evaluation des titres d'une societe, et sur la recommandation qui accompagne habituellement cette evaluation, par opposition a la decision de reviser une recomniandation relative a * Accepted by John Wild. The authors are grateful to three anonymous reviewers, Anthony Catanach, Jennifer Francis, Paul Irvine, William T. Moore, Siva Nathan, Beverly Walther, John J. Wild (Associate Editor) and workshop participants at North Carolina State University for helpful comments and suggestions on earlier drafts of this paper. This paper was presented at the 1997 annual meeting of the American Accounting Association (AAA) under the title "The Information Content of Announcements of Analyst Coverage." Contemporary Accounting Research Vol. 15 No. 2 (Summer 1998) pp CAAA

2 120 Contemporary Accounting Research un titre d6j& 6valu6, compte tenu du fait qu'il parait de plus en plus Evident que la decision des analystes d'6valuer les titres d'une societe pour la premiere fois differe de leur decision de reviser une recommandation existante. Selon McNichols et O'Brien (1997), les analystes selectionnent les titres qu'ils evaluent pour la premiere fois selon que l'information privilegiee dont ils disposent au sujet de la societe est ou non positive. Si rinformation privilegiee qu'ils possedent n'est pas suffisamment favorable, ils n'entreprendront pas revaluation des titres de la societe. Cette propension se traduit par une distribution plus positive de recommandations observables pour les societes dont les titres sont nouvellement evalu6s que pour les socidtes dont les titres sont deja evalues par I'analyste. En examinant uniquement les cas de premiere evaluation, les auteurs ont pu concentrer leur etude sur un groupe de societes 6valu6es par les analystes pour la premiere fois. Trente-cinq pour cent de leur echantillon, soit 97 societes aw total, proviennent de ce groupe de societes jamais 6valufes auparavant. L'evaluation des titres d'une societe par les analystes est importante, du fait qu'elle modifie ou enrichit de maniere appreciable l'environnement informationnel de la societe. II existe des avantages clairement etablis dont beneficient les societes qui ont des environnements informationnels plus riches, entre autres un contenu en information superieur du cours des actions, un volume d'6change et une Uquidite accrus des titres, et de moins grands 6carts entre cotirs acheteur et vendetir. L'analyse des cas de premiere Evaluation permet 6galement aux auteurs de mesurer I'effet marginal d'une augmentation du nombre d'analystes qui emettent de l'information et des recommandations au sujet des titres d'une societe ; elle leur fournit Egalement l'occasion d'etudier si la reputation d'un analyste qui entreprend d'evaluer les titres d'une societe et l'envergure de la maison k laquelle il appartient influent sur le cours des titres. Les auteurs examinent d'abord la reaction du marche des valeurs mobiliferes k I'annonce d'une premiere Evaluation de titres en procedant k la desagregation de leur Echantillon selon qa'k cette date, les titres ont fait ou non Tobjet d'une Evaluation par d'autres analystes. L'Echantillon constitue par les auteurs comporte 277 observations pour lesquelles la premiere Evaluation Etait accompagnee d'une recommandation d'achat. L'Echantillon regroupe des societes cotees k la Stock Exchange (NYSE), k 1'American Stock Exchange (AMEX), et des societes dont les titres se negocient sur le marche de la National Association of Securities Dealers Automated Quotation (NASDAQ). Les auteurs consignent 144 observations de societes cotees k la NYSE et k I'AMEX, dont 110 ont deja EtE EvaluEes par des analystes et 34 le sont pour la premiere fois. Des 133 observations provenant de la NASDAQ, 70 portent sur des titres dej^ EvaluEs et 63, sur des titres EvaluEs pour la premiere fois. Le premier test empirique vise a examiner les rendements anormaux moyens enregistres le jour de I'annonce d'evaluation parmi les societes dont les titres Etaient soit deja EvaluEs soit non EvaluEs. Les auteurs constatent que, en moyenne, une reaction positive plus importante du cours des actions aux recommandations d'achat communiquees dans les annonces d'evaluation dans le cas de certaines societes deja EvaluEes par d'autres analystes financiers par rapport aux societes n'ayant fait l'objet d'aucune Evaluation. Ce resultat etant interessant et inattendu, les auteurs procedent a des tests supplementaires dans le but d'approfondir leur analyse. Les tests realises par les auteurs revelent que la relation entre le suivi effectue jusquela par les analystes et la reaction du cours des titres aux annonces de premiere Evaluation est non lineaire. Plus precisement, ils observent une reaction positive du cours des actions plus importante dans le cas d'annonces de premiere Evaluation dans le cas des societes

3 Information Conveyed in Announcements of Analyst Coverage 121 ayant fait jusque-l^ l'objet d'un faible suivi de la part des analystes que dans le cas soit des societes n'ayant fait Tobjet d'aucun suivi, soit des societes ayant fait l'objet d'un intense suivi. Par consequent, le profil des rendements semble etre de forme concave descendante croissant d'abord, decroissant ensuite en magnitude, k mesure que le nombre d'analystes exerfant un suivi sur les titres de la societe augmente. Les auteurs testent leur classement des societes dans les categories suivi faible et suivi intense et concluent k la robustesse de leurs resultats dans le cas du classement des societes ayant fait l'objet d'un faible suivi de un a trois analystes jusqu'k un h neuf analystes qui, k la date de I'annonce, assuraient toujours une Evaluation continue. Les auteurs analysent ensuite les determinants transversaux des rendements anormaux du jour de l'evenement. Ils constatent que les deux variables substituts de la richesse de l'environnement informationnel anterieure k I'annonce, dans le cas des societes faisant l'objet d'une premiere Evaluation, sont associees k des rendements anormaux. Plus precisement, ils relfevent une association negative statistiquement significative entre la taille de la societe et la reaction du cours des titres le jour de I'annonce et une association positive statistiquement significative entre l'inscription k la cote du marche de la NASDAQ (par opposition k la NYSE ou I'AMEX) et les rendements enregistres le jour de l'evenement. Ces resultats sont conformes k l'hypoth^se de McNichols et O'Brien (1997) selon laquelle TautosElection operee par les analystes fait en sorte que les societes dont I'image est moins favorable ont des dossiers d'information moins riches, outre l'information comptable qu'elles sont tenues de produire, que les societes dont I'image est plus favorable. Les auteurs constatent Egalement qu'une variable substitut de la reputation de I'analyste sa participation h l'equipe de recherche americaine de la revue Institutional Investor est en association positive marquee avec les rendements anormaux du jour de l'evenement. Cette constatation est analogue k celle de Stickel (1992) selon laquelle il existe une association positive entre la reaction du marche des valeurs mobilieres et la reputation de I'analyste qui prononce une recommandation d'investissement dans le cadre d'une Evaluation continue. Deux variables explicatives supplementaires, la taille de la maison k laquelle appartient I'analyste et le fait qu'elle joue ou non le role de preneur ferme aupr^s de la societe dont les titres sont EvaluEs, sont Egalement integrees au mod&le. Les auteurs constatent que la taille de la maison de courtage est en association negative avec le rendement enregistre le jour de l'evenement, tandis que la variable indicateur denotant le role de preneur ferme de la maison de courtage ne presente pas d'association significative avec la reaction du marche. Enfin, pour les variables relatives k I'intensitE du suivi exerce par les analystes, les auteurs concluent k la robustesse des resultats du modele, sous presque tous les aspects. Pour le classement du faible suivi de un k trois analystes jusqu'i un k neuf analystes, les auteurs observent une valeur estimee positive du coefficient significative en ce qui a trait k la variable du faible suivi, ce qui indique une reaction marginale k I'annonce de premiere Evaluation, par rapport aux societes dont le suivi est intense, dont le coefficient se situe approximativement entre 1,5 et 3,0 pour cent, selon la specification. Les auteurs font aussi cette constatation, conforme aux resultats qu'ils obtiennent dans leur analyse k une variable : aprss avoir controle les effets de la taille de la societe, de la bourse k laquelle sont negocies les titres et de la reputation de I'analyste, les societes qui n'ont fait l'objet d'aucune Evaluation anterieure affichent, en moyenne, une reaction moins grande aux annonces de premiere Evaluation que ne le font toutes les societes ayant fait jusque-1^ Tobjet d'un suivi de la part des analystes.

4 122 Contemporary Accounting Research Les auteurs testent dans les regies l'existence d'un profil concave descendant des rendements anormaux du jour de l'evenement. Ils rejettent rhypothese nulle supposant I'absence de differences entre l'ensemble des differentes specifications au seuil p < 0,05 ou en de9a. Ce resultat, conjugue a la valeur estimee significative des coefficients relatifs k la variable de faible suivi, confirme la forme concave du profil des rendements. L'Etude revele une relation non lineaire entre I'ampleur de la reaction du marche k une information importante une premiere Evaluation de la part d'analystes en valeurs mobilieres accompagnee d'une recommandation d'achat et I'intensitE du suivi exerce jusque-la par les analystes. Cette relation peut etre decrite comme Etant de forme concave descendante. Plus precisement, les auteurs constatent que la reaction du marche est plus marquee dans le cas des premieres Evaluations de titres de societes faisant l'objet d'un faible suivi. Dans le cas des entreprises n'ayant anterieurement fait Tobjet d'aucune Evaluation, une fois controlees les autres explications possibles y compris le role de preneur ferme que peut jouer la maison de courtage aupres de la societe les auteurs observent une reaction plus faible a I'annonce que dans le cas des entreprises ayant jusque-la fait l'objet d'un suivi. Comme dans les resultats observes par Stickel (1992, 1995), les auteurs relevent aussi une association positive significative entre la reaction du marche a une annonce de premiere Evaluation et la participation a l'equipe de recherche americaine de la revue Institutional Investor. Les resultats qu'ils obtiennent donnent aussi a penser que c'est la reputation de I'analyste particuiier qui procede a la premiere Evaluation, et non pas la taille de la maison de courtage a laquelle il appartient, qui contribue a la reaction positive du marche. En fait, les auteurs notent une association negative significative entre la reaction du marche a Fannonce de premiere Evaluation et la taille de la maison de courtage a laquelle appartient I'analyste. Les autres observations des auteurs confirment l'incidence de la taille de meme que de la bourse a laquelle se negocient les titres sur la reaction du marche a la premiere evaluation des analystes en valeurs mobilieres. En d'autres termes, les auteurs relevent une association negative statistiquement significative entre la taille de la societe et le rendement anormal moyen du jour de l'evenement, ainsi qu'une association positive significative entre le fait que I'entreprise est cotee sur le marche de la NASDAQ et la reaction du marche lejour de l'evenement. Enfin, reste Tassociation negative Etrange relevee par les auteurs entre la variable substitut choisie par eux pour representer la reputation et I'intensitE du suivi anterieurement exerce par les analystes. La correlation a une variable permet de croire qu'il se peut qu'une caracteristique des analystes en valeurs mobilieres de «grande qualite ou de grande reputation» soit leur tendance a reperer les societes inconnues ou moins connues pour les Etudier de maniere plus approfondie. Les auteurs constatent Egalement qu'une part disproportionnee des premieres Evaluations proviennent des analystes membres de l'equipe de recherche americaine de la revue Institutional Investor. Ils n'explorent pas cette voie plus avant dans leur presente recherche, mais ils estiment interessante cette extension possible de leurs travaux. Elle permettrait en outre d'etudier si la qualite, par opposition a I'intensitE du suivi exerce jusque-la, influe sur I'ampleur de la reaction du marche des valeurs mobilieres a une premiere Evaluation des analystes. 1. Introduction This paper examines the security market response to announcements of sell-side analysts' decisions to initiate coverage of a firm. We focus on the initiation of

5 Information Conveyed in Announcements of Analyst Coverage 123 coverage and the recommendation that typically accompanies it, as opposed to a revision in a recommendation on a security currently covered because there is increasing evidence that the analysts' decision to initiate coverage is different from the decision to revise an existing recommendation. McNichols and O'Brien (1997) suggest that analysts selectively choose to initiate coverage on firms based on whether the analysts' private information about the firm is positive. If the analysts' private information is not sufficiently favorable, no coverage is initiated on the firm. This situation produces a distribution of observable recommendations for newly covered firms that is more positive than for firms already covered by that analyst. By examining initiations alone we are able to focus attention on a group of firms that are receiving analyst coverage for the first time. Thirty-five percent of our sample 97 firms in all are from this previously uncovered group. Analyst coverage is important in that it substantially alters and/or enriches the firm's information environment. There are well-documented benefits enjoyed by firms in richer information environments. These benefits include more informative prices, increased trading volumeaiquidity, and reduced bid-ask spreads.' The examination of initiations also allows us to assess the incremental effect of an increase in the number of analysts providing information and recommendations about a firm and provides the opportunity to examine whether the reputation of an analyst initiating coverage and the size of the analyst's employer influence security prices. We first examine the security market reaction to the initiation announcement by disaggregating our sample based on existing analyst coverage at the announcement date. We find, on average, a larger positive stock price reaction to buy recommendations conveyed in announcements of coverage for certain firms already covered by other financial analysts compared to firms having no prior analyst coverage. Because this is an interesting and unanticipated result, we perform additional tests to investigate this finding. Our tests indicate that the relation between preexisting analyst following and the price reaction to announcements of newly initiated coverage is nonlinear. Specifically, we observe a larger positive stock price reaction to announcements of coverage initiation for firms with a small preexisting analyst following than for either no prior analyst following or a large analyst following. Thus, the pattern of retums appears to be concave down in shape first increasing, then decreasing in magnitude as the number of analysts following the firm increases. Our assignment of firms to the lightly versus heavily followed categories is tested over a range of values. As we discuss in further detail later in the paper, we find that our results are robust for definitions of lightly followed firms ranging from one to three analysts providing ongoing coverage at the initiation date to one to nine analysts providing such coverage. We include other explanatory variables in our investigation of the determinants of event-day abnormal retums to control for competing explanations of the results discussed above. We find that two proxies for the richness of the initiated firms' preannouncement information environment are

6 124 Contemporary Accounting Research associated with the announcement-day abnormal retums. Specifically, we identify a statistically significant negative association between firm size and price reaction on the announcement day and a statistically significant positive association between listing on the National Association of Securities Dealers Automated Quotation (NASDAQ) market (versus Stock Exchange (NYSE) oramerican Stock Exchange (AMEX) listings) and event-day retums. This finding is consistent with McNichols and O'Brien's 1997 conjecture that self-selection by analysts results in less favorably viewed firms having less rich information sets, apart from mandated accounting disclosures, than more favorably viewed firms. We also find that a proxy for analyst reputation inclusion on Institutional Investor's Ail-American research team is significantly positively associated with event-day abnormal retums. This observation is similar to Stickel's 1992 finding that there is a positive association between security market reaction and the reputation of the analyst making an investment recommendation in an ongoing coverage relationship. Two additional explanatory variables the size of the analyst's firm and the presence/absence of an underwriting relationship between the analyst's firm and the firm receiving coverage are also included in our model. We find that brokerage size is negatively associated with the event-day retum, while the indicator variable we employ to signify the presence of an underwriting relationship is not significantly associated with the market response. The remainder of this paper is organized as follows. The next section briefly describes related work on security analysts in the accounting literature and focuses on the relationship between public disclosure of analysts' recommendations and the concurrent stock price response. In this section we also develop the hypotheses we test. A description of our sample and the empirical methodology used in the study is then provided, followed by a discussion of our empirical results and conclusions from this research. 2. Related work and hypotheses Previous research on analysts' recommendations has focused on two main areas the types of recommendations and the characteristics of followed firms and analysts. While the accounting literature has predominantly focused on analysts' forecasts of eamings, many investigations have been undertaken to better understand analyst behavior and the characteristics of firms that attract an analyst following. For example, Bhushan (1989); O'Brien and Bhushan (1990); Previts, Bricker, Robinson, and Young (1994); Barron (1995); Hirst, Koonce, and Simko (1995); and Lang and Lundholm (1996) have all examined security analysts and their individual and/or aggregate behaviors. This attention on security analysts seems well placed in the accounting literature. As Schipper (1991) notes, "analysts are among the primary users of financial accounting information". McNichols and O'Brien (1997) examine analysts' decisions to issue investment recommendations. They present a model in which an analyst's decision to initiate coverage is a function of the analyst's private information and

7 Infonnation Conveyed in Announcements of Analyst Coverage 125 beliefs about the firm's future performance. The analyst issues a forecast only if his or her private infonnation is sufficiently positive. This self-selection on the part of the analyst results in a more optimistic distribution of initial recommendations, as compared to existing recommendations, because negative beliefs go unannounced. Consistent with their model, McNichols and O'Brien find that the distribution of recommendations is significantly more positive for newly covered firms than for firms already receiving coverage. The informativeness of revisions in analysts' existing recommendations has been documented for a variety of analyst sources. Stickel (1985), using changes in Value Line recommendations, Womack (1996), using changes in recommendations reported in First Call, and Stickel (1995), using changes in analyst recommendations supplied by Zacks Investment Research, Inc., all find statistically significant event-period retums in the direction suggested by the recommendation change. Consistent with this evidence and the McNichols and O'Brien model, we expect a positive price response to an analyst's initiation announcement when accompanied by a buy recommendation. Accordingly, our first formal test is HYPOTHESIS I. The market reaction to initiation of coverage announcements that include buy recommendations is significantly positive. Dempsey (1989) finds that larger security price reactions to annual eamings announcements occur for firms less-closely followed by analysts. He also documents that this "neglected-firm effect" exists independently of the welldocumented firm-size effect in that lightly followed large firms exhibit larger price reactions to the arrival of information (eamings announcements) than do widely followed small firms. This result suggests that the magnitude of the market reaction to the initiation announcement will be inversely related to the extent of prior analyst coverage. Hence, our second hypothesis is HYPOTHESIS 2. The market reaction to initiation of coverage announcements will be more positive for firms with a smaller preannouncement analyst following. There are several plausible explanations for why public announcements containing the same (or similar) information cause differential market reactions. These explanations argue that a difference exists in the preannouncement information sets available to investors. Therefore, the degree of news conveyed by the infonnation varies cross-sectionally. Two common manifestations of this phenomenon have been termed the "size effect" and the "exchange effect". The size effect posits that the market will have a larger reaction to information announcements conceming smaller firms than for larger firms. The newsworthiness of public announcements may be less for large companies because there is typically more privately developed information for these firms. Therefore, an inverse relationship is expected between the magnitude of the

8 126 Contemporary Accounting Research abnormal retum and firm size. Lease and Lewellen (1982) find that the size effect is incremental to, rather than an altemative explanation for, the exchange effect. The exchange effect suggests that because there is typically less prior information available for NASDAQ firms as opposed to NYSE/AMEX firms, market reactions to similar information will be greater for NASDAQ traded firms due to the increased informativeness of any single piece of infonnation. Evidence of this relationship is found by Grant 1980, who documents that market reactions in the week of the annual eamings announcement were greater for NASDAQ firms than for NYSE firms. When firms of similar size were compared by Atiase 1987, the sample containing NASDAQ firms still produced substantially larger responses to eamings announcements than did the sample of NYSE and AMEX firms, thus confirming the existence of an independent exchange effect. We test for the presence of both size and exchange effects in our data by examining price reactions to initiation announcements. HYPOTHESIS 3. The market reaction to initiation of coverage announcements will be more positive for small firms. HYPOTHESIS 4. The market reaction to initiation of coverage announcements will be more positive for firms traded on the NASDAQ market. Within the context of our study, two papers by Stickel are particularly relevant. Stickel (1995) presents a cross-sectional analysis of the determinants of the market reaction to continuing coverage recommendation announcements. He finds that the price response is positively related to the analyst's reputation and the size of the brokerage house employing the analyst. Stickel (1992) examines the performance of security analysts named to Institutional Investor's All-American Research Team. He finds that All-American ahalysts supply more accurate eamings forecasts and that abnormal retums to All-American analysts' forecast revisions are larger in the expected direction of the revision. This suggests that initiations by analysts with better reputations in the financial industry will result in larger retums. The size of the brokerage house employing the analyst is included because larger brokerage firms should be able to create more demand for recommended stocks than smaller firms. Our tests examine these relationships for initiations of coverage. HYPOTHESIS 5. The market reaction to the initiation of coverage announcement will be more positive for initiations by high reputation analysts. HYPOTHESIS 6. The market reaction to the initiation of coverage announcement will be more positive for initiations by analysts employed by large brokerage firms.

9 Information Conveyed in Announcements of Analyst Coverage 127 Lin and McNichols (1997) explore whether an underwriting relationship that exists between a covered firm and the analyst's employer alters the perceived informativeness of forecasts and recommendations issued by the analyst. Their results suggest that analysts provide significantly more favorable eamings forecasts and recommendations to underwriting clients than those same firms receive from unaffiliated analysts. Dugar and Nathan (1995) report that analysts affiliated with investment banks provide overly optimistic eamings forecasts and investment recommendations for client firms relative to such forecasts and/or recommendations by unaffiliated analysts. Given these findings, we test whether the presence of an underwriting relationship is associated with the magnitude of the market response to the initiation announcement. HYPOTHESIS 7. The market reaction to the initiation of coverage announcement will be more positive for initiations by analysts that are not employed by firms that have underwritten a recent security issue. This paper examines the information content of initiation announcements and analyzes the security price reactions to these initial recommendations. Our study is unique in that it exclusively examines announcements by analysts of newly initiated coverage of a particular firm. The initiation of coverage is further disaggregated into two groups firms with a preexisting following within the analyst community and newly covered firms. This second group of companies, for which no previous analyst following exists, offers the opportunity to investigate the effects of the arrival of information to the market that fundamentally alters the "information environment" of these firms. 3. Sample description An initial search for announcements of initiation of coverage by financial analysts resulted in 522 observations. These announcements were obtained from two sources. First, we searched the company library of LEXIS-NEXIS using the strings "financial analyst" and "initiate" for the year The company library provides business and finance news from wire services such as Reuter's, among others. The wire service reports provide broad dissemination of brokerage firm press releases the actual source of the initiation announcements. Our search provided us with 474 announcements of initiation of analyst coverage. Second, we examined the "Research Report" column of Barron's, which publishes selected research reports from Investext. This search yielded an additional 48 independent observations.^ From this sample we excluded 55 observations for having two or more missing security retums over the 11-day event period (34 of these firms were not traded on U.S. exchanges).' Seven firms had two initiations (14 observations) within the same 11-day event window we examined; these observations were omitted from the analysis as confounding events. Additionally, after searching the Dow Jones News Index, another 151 observations were excluded from the

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