Accounting Policy and Research

During spring semester, all MAcc students take Accounting Policy and Research with Professor Zach. In addition to learning about accounting research methods, the efficient-market hypothesis, and Chipotle Mexican Grill (you’ll see when you take it), we worked in small groups on topics of our choice for session-long research projects that we presented during the final week of classes.

The words “accounting research” might not get your blood pumping right off the bat, but the projects were really interesting and much more entertaining to put together than I initially expected. My group worked on Petróleo Brasileiro (“PBR”), a Brazilian state-owned oil company that is currently embroiled in a massive corruption scandal. Using techniques that we learned from articles we covered in Professor Zach’s class, we ran regressions on the changes in PBR’s stock price during particularly important timeframes of the corruption probe, demonstrating that much of the loss in stock value could be attributed to the fall in the price of oil rather than the corruption investigation.

Not only did this give us the chance to show off our newly developed Excel skills (side note: make sure to take the Financial Modeling elective with Oglevee if at all possible), it gave us experience using accounting research as we would in a real-world scenario. We set up our project as though we were working with the PBR legal defense team against a shareholder class-action lawsuit, and used our research to argue that shareholder damages should be significantly reduced due to the impact of oil price changes.

This was interesting not just because of the dramatic background reading on the situation in which Petrobras currently finds itself, but because the techniques we were using could (and likely will) be used in actual litigation between PBR and shareholders. Instead of simply plugging in numbers, we had to strategically pick our event windows and market indexes, anticipate questions and counter arguments, and frame our data in the most persuasive manner possible.

I don’t want to get into technical details, as I certainly wouldn’t have understood them prior to joining the MAcc program, but I will include a few pictures of the more interesting charts we created as part of the project. We used our regressions to determine the abnormal returns during several specific event windows (the difference between the actual returns and the returns that would have been expected absent the relevant corruption event): 

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As you can see, the returns during these windows were actually better than would be expected given the drop in oil prices. We also created charts to show stock returns of PBR and several other oil companies during the period as compared with the price of oil:

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We concluded that while the corruption probe had increased stock volatility, the declines were much more correlated to oil prices than to developments in the corruption probe. And although we had a few classmates who seemed skeptical of our results during the presentation, it was a lot of fun to apply what we learned in a way that could actually be used in our future careers.