A condition describing how earnings are recognized. Earnings of high quality are attributable to conservative accounting standards and/or strong cash flows. Low quality earnings come from artificial sources, such as inflation or aggressive accounting. For example, a publicly-traded company may claim strong earnings and consequently have a high stock price. However, the company may have low cash flow from operations and the strong earnings may come mainly from the accounting structures it uses. Therefore, its stock is overvalued. Quality of earnings ratings is subjective, but it does take into account matters such as corporate governance, inventory to sales ratios, and other factors.
The extent to which a firm's reported earnings accurately reflect income for that period. Firms using conservative accounting practices tend to penalize current earnings and are said to have high earnings quality. At least over the short run, the earnings reported by a firm are as much a function of its accounting methods as they are a measure of its business success. Also called quality of earnings. See also inventory profit.