Suspended Earnings Guidance Should Not Obscure Vision or Value
With the uncertainty surrounding the Covid 19 pandemic, numerous companies have suspended near-term earnings guidance. Unknows such as virus infection rates, timing for reopening and vaccine availability have a significant impact on near-term predictions, and thus in our view the move to suspend near term forecasts is prudent. While many investors may read into the suspended guidance as a negative, we see it as neutral at worst, and more likely a potentially positive development.
Just as many people believe that working from home may become more prevalent in a post-Covid world, we think that limited quarterly guidance could also be a new and lasting trend. We see the potential positives of reduced volatility and lengthened investor horizons from the diminished focus on estimated quarterly results. The view of eliminating quarterly guidance has been gaining support among seasoned investors, most notably with Warren Buffett and Jamie Dimon calling for the suspension of company earnings guidance in June 2018.* While quarterly estimates may be useful for short-term or quantitative investors who trade against the data point, in our opinion they are rather useless in determining the value of a company under most traditional long-term valuation methods, including discounted cash flow analysis, multiple analysis or free cash flow yield analysis. Longer-term investors, in our opinion, must asses both the current financial strength of a company, beginning with the balance sheet, and take into account a minimum of a 3 to 5-year vision of how a company can grow and what it can earn over and above its cost of capital.
To be clear, we absolutely still value financial transparency and management commentary from quarterly reports and 10-Q and 10-K filings. This information is critical in forming our long-term vision and longer term assessed fair value (AFV) price targets for companies. However, the actual earnings result of one 90-day period, in our view, reveals very little about the value of a company, and building investment strategies based off how many pennies a result was over or under an estimate, hold little long-term merit.
While we will not try to predict the short-term milestones of the pace of economic recovery or vaccine availability, our long-term investment view does incorporate the high probability of these milestones emerging well within our investment horizon. Thus, we believe that instead of viewing suspended earnings guidance as a negative, investors should view any resulting share price weakness as a longer-term opportunity to buy shares at potentially compelling values.
* Warren Buffet, CEO of Berkshire Hathaway and Jamie Dimon, CEO of JPMorgan Chase commentary on CNBC 6/7/2018. https://www.cnbc.com/2018/06/07/dimon-buffett-plan-to-stop-earnings-guidance-draws-fire-from-dick-bove.html.