Is it a good thing for investors and companies?
Is the practice of corporations filing quarterly earnings estimates stifling innovation?
Berkshire Hathaway Chairman Warren Buffett and JPMorgan CEO and Chairman Jaime Dimon are lobbying to have Corporate America ditch earnings estimates now done quarterly.
In an OpEd in the Wall Street Journal Thursday, the two executives wrote:
“...today, together with Business Roundtable, an association of nearly 200 chief executive officers from major U.S. companies, we are encouraging all public companies to consider moving away from providing quarterly earnings-per-share guidance. In our experience, quarterly earnings guidance often leads to an unhealthy focus on short-term profits at the expense of long-term strategy, growth and sustainability.”
The issue of short-termism has been plaguing corporations as executives have focused on short-term gains in lieu of long-term value. That has hampered innovations in products and services, many argue, including Buffett and Dimon.
The former CEO of DuPont told Directors & Boards that he doubted Kevlar — DuPont’s lightweight, super-strong fiber used in body armor that has saved thousands of lives — would have come to market in today’s short-term business climate.
But will doing away with filing quarterly estimates make company executives change their approach? Is it good or bad for investors? And is less frequent disclosure the answer?
• Gary Lutin, chairman of The Shareholder Forum, weighs in:
Buffett and Dimon — along with others including institutional investor BlackRock CEO Larry Fink — are pushing only for the elimination of quarterly ‘guidance,’ basically forecasting, he explains. Although others, particularly in European markets, are pressing for the elimination of all quarterly reporting.
“My observation of ‘sound’ corporate management, defining that as focused on the long-term production of competitively successful goods and services, is that monitoring of short-term performance — even monthly or weekly — is often important, and even essential. When done properly, the short-term data is viewed for the purpose of measuring progress toward a long-term performance objective.
“It’s like monitoring a construction project, and watching how many stories are added each week. You need to do that to make sure the progress is on schedule.” But the weekly information on the number of stories you’ve climbed to, he adds, “isn’t your performance objective.”
• Peter Gleason, CEO and President of the National Association of Corporate Directors (NACD), weighs in:
“NACD, representing more than 19,000 corporate board members, applauds the CEOs of the Business Roundtable for embracing the move away from quarterly earnings reporting.
"Beginning with the 2015 Report of the NACD Blue Ribbon Commission: The Board and Long-Term Value Creation, our organization has long called for moving away from quarterly reporting because doing so can foster a culture of focusing only on short-term results, versus the long-term value creation that corporate boards and management should be focused on. This challenge is underscored by NACD's 2017 survey of more than 500 public company boards. The survey results revealed that short-term performance pressure continues to be acutely felt by boards and management teams, with nearly three-quarters (74%) of respondents reporting that management's focus on long-term strategic goals has been compromised by pressure to deliver short-term results.
"NACD joins the Business Roundtable in supporting companies' efforts to move away from this practice and instead devote their attention to the long-term growth of their companies and the economy as a whole.”
(BOARD BREAK is an ongoing Directors & Boards feature where experts weigh in on board ramifications, best practices and lessons learned.)