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Game recognizes game, so we would be remiss if we did not note a new paper from Jack Ciescielski, publisher of the Analyst’s Accounting Observer, examining trends in how companies report non-GAAP metrics.

You might recall that angst over non-GAAP reporting (that is, reporting financial metrics that do not follow U.S. Generally Accepted Accounting Principles) was all the rage in 2016. The SEC launched a campaign to remind filers of how non-GAAP can violate Regulation G, and to discourage abuses of non-GAAP reporting that might confuse investors about a filer’s true financial picture. Corporate governance enthusiasts fretted that non-GAAP metrics were becoming a bad habit. Heck, even Calcbench published a study and a few posts about just how much non-GAAP can distort “true” metrics like net income.

Ciescielski has now returned to the subject, with a long look at the prevalence of non-GAAP metrics and how financial analysts should assess a company’s use of them. The article is in the latest edition of the Financial Analysts Journal, and we should also give a shout-out to Ciescielski’s co-author Elaine Henry.

So what did Ciescielski have to say on the subject?

First, while more S&P 500 companies are reporting non-GAAP met income in the last five years, and the total dollar value of those non-GAAP adjustments has more than doubled; the percentage of change from GAAP-approved net income has held steady. Non-GAAP net income was 22.8 percent higher than net income in 2009, and 21.9 percent higher in 2014.

Second, while non-GAAP net income adjustments might hold steady within a certain industry sector (many tech companies adjust for equity-based compensation, for example); the adjustments among sectors can vary widely. That harms an investor’s ability to compare financial results across multiple industry sectors.

Ciescielski and Henry then offer seven ideas for how financial analysts can assess non-GAAP metrics more effectively, from challenging management and questioning motives, to not waiting for regulators to crack down on non-GAAP abuses.

The paper is chock-full of data, and well worth your time if you’re a financial analyst looking for a better sense of how to use (or avoid) non-GAAP metrics in your decision-making.

The only shameless self-promotion Calcbench will do today is to note that non-GAAP earnings are typically presented—and reconciled back to GAAP-approved earnings—in an earnings press release. You can study filers’ earnings press releases to your heart’s content in our databases, including reconciliation back to plain old GAAP.

Then you can get make more informed decisions. Forewarned is forearmed.


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