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.
A “miss” relative to a company’s financial guidance can happen to even the best management teams. Misses can arise from a hiccup in company operations or they can be related to factors outside your company’s control. In either case, the ways in which you assess the problem, communicate it, and follow up in later quarters will have a powerful and lasting impact on the Street’s views of management’s credibility and thus your stock’s long-term valuation.
Assessing the problem
Before you communicate with the Street, make sure you’ve honestly assessed the reason for the miss and its ongoing impact to your results. Was this merely a soft quarter for seasonal or other factors, or was there a one-time event? While it’s possible that ongoing results won’t be impacted, it’s also possible that greater forces are at play: a business segment could be maturing, or your internal growth expectations may have to be moderated. Even if the miss is truly related to an issue out of your control, such as a reimbursement change, make sure you critically evaluate the impact before you communicate any revised guidance.