Original Research

The many faces of earnings before interest, tax, depreciation and amortisation (EBITDA): Assessing the decision usefulness of EBITDA disclosure by Johannesburg Stock Exchange-listed companies

Mattheus T. Mey, Christiaan Lamprecht
Journal of Economic and Financial Sciences | Vol 13, No 1 | a488 | DOI: https://doi.org/10.4102/jef.v13i1.488 | © 2020 Mattheus T. Mey, Christiaan Lamprecht | This work is licensed under CC Attribution 4.0
Submitted: 20 June 2019 | Published: 09 July 2020

About the author(s)

Mattheus T. Mey, School of Accountancy, Faculty of Economic and Management Sciences, Stellenbosch University, Cape Town, South Africa
Christiaan Lamprecht, School of Accountancy, Faculty of Economic and Management Sciences, Stellenbosch University, Cape Town, South Africa


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Abstract

Orientation: The voluntary disclosure of non-Generally Accepted Accounting Principles (non-GAAP) earnings may lack decision-usefulness if not faithfully represented or comparable. Commonly accepted as being well defined, earnings before interest, tax, depreciation and amortisation (EBITDA) may be misleading if labelled, defined and calculated inconsistently.

Research purpose: To assess the decision-usefulness of EBITDA disclosure by Johannesburg Stock Exchange (JSE)-listed companies.

Motivation for the study: Prior research on voluntary disclosure largely excluded EBITDA from its focus, accepting it as standardised.

Research approach/design and method: A quantitative content analysis was used to analyse the EBITDA disclosure in 220 Stock Exchange News Service (SENS) reports in which JSE-listed companies reported their annual results for the period 2014–2016.

Main findings: Companies inconsistently labelled, defined and calculated EBITDA. Twenty-four per cent of the SENS reports labelled and defined EBITDA as earnings before interest, tax, depreciation and amortisation, but calculated it by adjusting for other items as well. Companies’ definitions of EBITDA also differed widely, with 27 different definitions identified in 52 SENS reports that disclosed an unmodified EBITDA label.

Practical/managerial implications: Existing JSE reporting requirements appear lacking in ensuring that companies disclose EBITDA that is faithfully represented and comparable. The identified diversity of definitions has implications where EBITDA is used for valuation and contracting purposes.

Contribution/value-add: The study contributes to the voluntary disclosure literature by focussing on a non-GAAP earnings measure that has largely been ignored by prior research, namely EBITDA. Empirical evidence is presented on the diversity that exists in EBITDA disclosure by JSE-listed companies.


Keywords

EBITDA; non-GAAP; decision useful; comparability; faithful representation; inconsistency

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