Companies Shunning Quarterly Guidance?

I’ve said here on several occasions that giving earnings guidance does two things, and neither one is beneficial to shareholders. One, it puts management’s focus on short term results, not a long term strategic plan for boosting shareholder value. Two, it does Wall Street analysts’ jobs for them so they can avoid having to do any real legwork on their own.

An interview on CNBC last Friday afternoon was centered around how some companies have begun to stop issuing quarterly guidance in favor of annual projections. Evidently the number of company giving guidance for three-month periods has dropped from over 60% to slightly more than 50%. I don’t expect most firms to take the Sears Holdings/Google approach of not issuing guidance at all, but this is certainly a good start. A company should never be put in a position to feel compelled to ship product on the last day of a quarter just to hit their numbers, appease shareholders, and prevent a one-day stock price blowup.

One ramification of this shift is that quarterly earnings results will be more volatile. Rather than coming in right on target or a penny ahead of consensus every quarter, there will be a lot more instances of big upside surprises and large shortfalls. This will undoubtedly make share prices more volatile during earnings season, but it will also make my job as a money manager much more fun and important as more surprises require more analysis and decision making.

Fortunately, there seem to have been relatively few earnings warnings this quarter (this is a trend I began to see last quarter as compared with prior periods), so I would guess results will be pretty good when companies begin announcing their first quarter results later this month.