Loyal readers of this blog know that Calcbench has been paying close attention to companies’ use of non-GAAP financial metrics. Now we’re happy to present our first in-depth report on the subject: “Measuring Non-GAAP Metrics: A Look at Adjusted Net Income.”

You can find the report on the Research page of our website, and anyone can download it for free. Calcbench customers can also see the underlying raw data upon request. (If you’re not a customer and still want to see the raw data, sign up for a two-week trial or email us.)

The report is a joint effort done with our friends at Radical Compliance. We examined the 2015 earnings releases of 816 companies that report both GAAP and non-GAAP net income, to see how large the difference is between those numbers. The bottom line, so to speak: those non-GAAP metrics inflated net income by $164.1 billion over traditional GAAP.

We also looked at the reconciliation statements those companies included, to see how non-GAAP metrics inflated net income. While companies can cite all sorts of reasons to adjust traditional net income, you can classify them into five broad categories: acquisition costs, debt, equity compensation, legal costs, and restructuring charges.

Our report examines how much each of those five categories contributed to the $164.1 billion difference in non-GAAP net income (hint: restructuring, acquisition, and equity pay costs are a large majority of the total). It also looks at non-GAAP net income metrics across nine business sectors, and includes a close review of three specific companies—Facebook, HP Inc., and Merck—that demonstrate particularly significant examples of non-GAAP reporting.

And as we said, we have the raw data on all 816 companies in our study, including the specific adjustments they made to net income. We’re happy to provide that company-specific analysis to the curious.

This may be a good time to stress that nobody is saying the non-GAAP metrics used by these companies are illegal, or that the numbers behind those metrics are inaccurate. Calcbench and Radical Compliance simply wanted to quantify how companies are using non-GAAP metrics for net income. We’ll let other people argue over whether those metrics are defensible.

The Securities and Exchange Commission has been squinting at non-GAAP metrics for months, warning in speeches that companies are using non-GAAP metrics too often and urging everyone to stick with Generally Accepted Accounting Principles as much as possible. Here on this blog, we’ve also looked at related issues like restructuring costs, and you can find any number of critics elsewhere online who do say use of non-GAAP metrics has gone too far.

Calcbench and Radical Compliance will keep one eye on this debate, since it isn’t going away any time soon. If anyone has specific questions or ideas for more non-GAAP research you’d like to see, always feel free to contact us.

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