All public companies face the challenges of helping the investment community understand their business—how they’ll grow, how fast they’ll grow, what investments are required, and what kind of volatility there may be in their financial results. Those companies that can effectively communicate how they will grow, and then execute predictably, have the greatest potential to earn higher-than-average valuations over the long term.
The practice of providing financial guidance is a powerful tool for helping the market realistically frame its expectations for your performance, as well as for decreasing the likelihood that your actual results will miss the Street’s expectations in the near term. And indeed, according to IR Magazine, 68 percent of companies worldwide provide earnings guidance to investors at some point during the year, to create greater transparency for their shareholders and analysts.
While every quarter is different, the “playbook” for preparing senior management for a successful earnings conference call is largely the same. Specifically, the best prepared CEOs and CFOs follow a set of key strategic and tactical steps designed to bring them through a review of all of the essential elements pertinent to the investment community’s analysis of quarterly earnings. In short, CEOs and CFOs that have allocated adequate time to understanding the results, in the context of both internal and external expectations, and are capable of addressing all possible topics with ease and transparency will succeed. Drafting the conference call script is just one piece of this important process. Below, we walk you through these best practices of an effective earnings call.
1. Establish a timeline of deliverables at the outset so all participants know what is expected of them and when.
- Map out the mission-critical items, such as preparing the earnings press release and all the necessary financial tables and disclosures; the requisite SEC filings; the drafting of the conference call scripts and any supporting documents (e.g., slides); the creation of a Q&A document; and the dry-run.
- Include administrative tasks such as arranging for the call itself, creating the queue order in which analysts will ask questions on the call, obtaining the proper pre-clearance of the press release with the Nasdaq or NYSE and so forth.
- Be mindful of potential bottlenecks such as audit committee approval and legal review.
At this point in the year, many companies are preparing to issue 2013 guidance as part of their calendar 4Q earnings call. We thought it would be helpful to share some insights and best practices about the most effective ways for your company to issue earnings guidance.
- Be realistic. Trying to figure out what you’re going to earn a year from now is difficult, and occasionally companies trip themselves up because they issue guidance that they know in their hearts is not attainable. Managements should honestly assess their prospects for the next year, haircut their internal numbers a bit, and provide guidance that feels 100% attainable.
- Range or point estimate? Issuing a guidance range is always the best answer. As you consider this range, make sure it is appropriate for your company’s size and business model. Too wide of a range implies that you may not have a good handle on your business. Too narrow a range doesn’t leave any wiggle room. Continue Reading