This paper investigates whether and how Japanese firms use management earnings forecasts as a performance target for determining executive cash compensation. Consistent with the implications of the agency theory, we find that the sensitivity of executive cash compensation varies with the extent to which realized earnings exceed initial management forecasts. In particular, we find that the executive cash compensation is positively related to management forecast error (MFE) for a sample of Japanese firms comprising 15,941 firm-year observations from 2005 to 2013. Moreover, we show that the relationship between executive cash compensation and MFE strengthens (weakens) when current realized earnings exceed (fall short of) aggressive initial forecasts. In additional analysis, we find that pay-forperformance
sensitivity is weaker for extremely positive MFEs due to the ceiling on total cash compensation. Overall, we find that initial management forecasts can be used as a performance target in executive compensation contracts. These findings also suggest that management earnings forecasts are important for improving contract efficiency as well as for providing useful information to investors in the capital market.