If I was running a public company, I would not give investors and analysts any type of precise financial guidance. Giving such sales and profit estimates stems from the implementation of Regulation FD, which required companies to divulge all meaningful information to the public, not just Wall Street analysts and boards of directors. No longer faced with having the luxury of “guiding” analysts to how a particular quarter was tracking, companies began issuing financial guidance in their press releases for everyone to see and interpret.
Unfortunately, earnings guidance plays right into the hands of those who focus too much on short-term financial performance, as opposed to building long-term shareholder value. CEO’s should not make business decisions in order to ensure they can make their numbers every quarter, but instead because it is in the best interest of the company and its shareholders long-term.
Making sound decisions that succeed in hitting both short-term and long-term goals is not always possible. Sometimes corporate managers have to make short-term sacrifices to ensure long-term stability and growth. Examples of these actions might be a dilutive acquisition, or price cutting to prevent a key customer from bolting to a competitor. Price discounts and dilutive deals will cause many companies to miss a quarter or two, but investors will be much better off five years later.
The fact remains that Wall Street focuses too much on quarter-to-quarter financial results. Investors see this every day when companies miss their EPS numbers by a penny or two and their stock drops 10, 20, or 30 percent in a single day. As a result, CEO’s begin to manage their business just to make sure they hit their numbers.
Taser (TASR) shipped out a $1 million order on December 31, 2004 to ensure they hit Q4 profit estimates. Pharmaceutical companies convinced wholesalers to take delivery of more product than they needed (a tactic called “channel stuffing”) so sales would be on target. According to court records, former WorldCom CEO Bernie Ebbers agreed to cook his company’s books because they needed to “hit their numbers to keep the stock price up.”
Finding companies that manage their businesses based on strategic plans, and not their public financial guidance, will do a much better job over the long term, and that’s something investors should look out for.