What is 'Income Smoothing'
The use of accounting techniques to level out net income fluctuations from one period to the next. Companies indulge in this practice because investors are generally willing to pay a premium for stocks with steady and predictable earnings streams, compared with stocks whose earnings are subject to wild fluctuations.
Examples of income smoothing techniques include deferring revenue during a good year if the following year is expected to be a challenging one, or delaying the recognition of expenses in a difficult year because performance is expected to improve in the near future.
BREAKING DOWN 'Income Smoothing'
Income smoothing does not rely on "creative" accounting or misstatements - which would constitute outright fraud - but rather on the latitude provided in the interpretation of GAAP.
An often-cited example of income smoothing is that of loan-loss provisions by banks, since they have considerable leeway in determining this provision. Banks may be tempted to understate annual loan-loss provisions in years of low profitability, and may be inclined to overstate them during highly profitable periods.