Aug 17, 2018

Trump's CEO-friendly tweet

Illustration: Lazaro Gamio/Axios

President Trump today proposed a major change to corporate transparency, in a tweet calling for the Securities and Exchange Commission to change quarterly reporting for publicly-traded corporations.

The bottom line: This was just a request to study the idea, but it gives Trump another talking point in addition to deregulation and the tax cuts when he hears CEO concerns over social issues and immigration.

That "one" was outgoing Pepsi CEO Indra Nooyi, who told Axios today in a statement:

  • "Many market participants, as well as the Business Roundtable which we are a part of, have been discussing how to better orient corporations to have a more long-term view."
  • "Most agree that a short-term only view can inhibit long-term strategy, and thus long-term investment and value creation. My comments were made in that broader context, and included a suggestion to explore the harmonization of the European system and the U.S. system of financial reporting."

One case for ending quarterly guidance (but not reporting, as Trump proposed):

  • "The pressure to meet short-term earnings estimates has contributed to the decline in the number of public companies in America over the past two decades. Short-term-oriented capital markets have discouraged companies with a longer term view from going public at all, depriving the economy of innovation and opportunity." [Jamie Dimon and Warren Buffett]

The other side: "Scrapping the quarterly requirement 'is a solution in search of a problem,' said Charles Elson, a professor and director of the University of Delaware's Weinberg Center for Corporate Governance. 'Earnings manipulation can take place whether quarterly or every six months.'" [AP]

Between the lines, from Axios business editor Dan Primack:

  • Europe only requires publicly-traded companies to report full financials on a semi-annual basis.
  • But some European exchanges still require quarterly reports, at least for large companies, while many European companies continue to report at least top-line numbers on a quarterly basis (often to satisfy shareholders).
  • Halving the number of reporting periods is certain to reduce the amount of information available to investors, without solving the core problem of CEOs trying to meet artificial data deadlines.
  • A much more commonly-suggested fix would be to change CEO incentives, primarily by decoupling compensation from short-term stock price goals.

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