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Non-GAAP crackdown renders earnings process complex, poll says

Tammy Whitehouse | March 8, 2017

Investor relations officers say compliance with a crackdown on non-GAAP financial reporting has led to little investor or analyst reaction and only made the earnings release process unnecessarily long and complex.

That’s a key finding of a year-end survey by Edelman Financial Communications and Ipreo to gauge investor reaction to new guidance from the Securities and Exchange Commission meant to shore up non-GAAP reporting that had fallen outside permissible guardrails.

The SEC’s Division of Corporation Finance put a focus in 2016 on various ways companies had let their use of non-GAAP accounting measures in their financial communications get out of hand, most notably the placement and prominence of non-GAAP results in relation to GAAP-compliant results. Companies say they use non-GAAP numbers to give investors a more complete understanding of the business. Regulators worry that companies use non-GAAP numbers to mislead investors.

The Edelman/Ipreo poll suggests companies acted quickly to respond to the SEC’s guidance. Four out of five respondents said the companies they represent took measures to adjust the placement and prominence of non-GAAP numbers in their public documents, while 86 percent said they made changes to press releases in some fashion, and 37 percent said they adjusted their earnings call script. About one in five made adjustments to their public filings, such as 10Ks or 10Qs.

The survey also suggests, however, companies didn’t necessarily embrace the point, as 77 percent of investor relations officers said they believed compliance with SEC’s directives to clean up uses of non-GAAP accounting metrics had complicated the earnings reporting process and made press releases longer and more complex than they needed to be.

Only 8 percent of IR officers said they had received requests from investors or analysts to adjust their reporting methodology. More than three-fourths said compliance with the recent guidance did not make the company’s investment story any clearer to investors or analysts.