Does audit market concentration harm the quality of audited earnings? Evidence from audit markets in 42 countries

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Journal Article
Contemporary Accounting Research, 2013, 30 (1), pp. 325 - 355
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Audit regulators around the world have expressed concern over market dominance by Big 4 accounting firms and the potential adverse effect it may have on the quality of audited financial statements. We use cross-country variation in the audit market structure of 42 countries to examine two separate aspects of Big 4 dominance: (1) Big 4 market concentration as a group relative to non-Big 4 auditors; and (2) concentration within the Big 4 group in which one or more of the Big 4 firms is dominant relative to the other Big 4 firms. We find that in countries where the Big 4 (as a group) conduct more listed company audits, both Big 4 and non-Big 4 clients have higher quality audited earnings compared to clients in countries with smaller Big 4 market shares. In contrast, in countries where there is a greater concentration within the Big 4 group, we find that Big 4 clients have lower quality audited earnings compared to countries with more evenly distributed market shares among the Big 4. Thus concentration within the Big 4 group appears to be detrimental to audit quality in a country and of legitimate concern to regulators and policymakers. However, Big 4 dominance per se does not appear to harm audit quality and is in fact associated with higher earnings quality, after controlling for other country characteristics that potentially affect earnings quality. © 2012 The Canadian Academic Accounting Association.
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