In the Chinese stock market, special treatment (ST) firms are the firms listed as facing imminent danger of delisting, unless they return to profitability after reporting two consecutive annual losses. Some ST firms voluntarily pay substantial fees to their external auditors to conduct interim audits, which are not required by regulations. In this study, we investigate and find that ST firms that pay for voluntary interim audits report greater discretionary accrued earnings, higher non-operating earnings, and higher returns on assets in ensuing annual reports. As a result, these firms are more likely to return to profitability and reduce their delisting risk. Our results, which contribute to the current debate on auditor independence, appear to be consistent with the possibility that ST firms "buy" external auditors' cooperation to manipulate earnings when faced with the threat of delisting. © 2011 Springer Science+Business Media B.V.
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