Buffett, Dimon Write Op-Ed Railing Against Earnings Guidance; Fail To Mention Stock Buybacks

Prompting some to question "why now", late on Wednesday the two "titans of financial industry", Warren Buffett and Jamie Dimon doubled down on their appeal to corporations to stop providing quarterly earnings guidance (at a time when virtually every intellectually honest bank admits the economy is very, very late in the cycle).

The Berkshire and JPMorgan CEOs said in a joint WSJ editorial that they are encouraging all public companies to consider moving away the practice, arguing that it can stifle long-term investments.

"Quarterly earnings guidance often leads to an unhealthy focus on short-term profits at the expense of long-term strategy, growth and sustainability."

A 2017 report by FCLTGlobal similarly found that guidance can lead management teams to under-invest in the future and can crimp earnings growth.

Their plea is not new, as both have in the past urged management teams to halt providing guidance as the practice of telling Wall Street what to expect from earnings distorts management’s priorities.

In their latest appeal, the duo said companies often hesitate to spend on technology, hiring, and research and development to meet quarterly earnings forecasts that can be affected by seasonal factors beyond their control. Dimon and Buffett also said the pressure to meet short-term earnings estimates has contributed to a drop in the number of public companies in the U.S. in 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."

Earnings forecasts “can often put a company in a position where management, from the CEO down, feels obligated to deliver earnings and therefore may do things that they wouldn’t otherwise have done,” Dimon said Thursday in an interview with CNBC. “We’re hoping a bunch of companies drop it right away.”

Back in 2016, Dimon, Buffett and Larry Fink similarly urged companies to refrain from short-term earnings forecasts in a letter and report sent to  other financial industry executives. They offered “common-sense” recommendations for public companies to improve governance and relations with shareholders, although these were largely rejected.

Yet what is ironic is that Buffett and Dimon appear to be focusing on the wrong thing: as Bloomberg reports, the FCLTGlobal report found fewer than a third of S&P 500 companies still issued quarterly guidance in 2016, down from 36 percent in 2010. About 31% gave annual earnings-per-share guidance. Companies including Unilever NV, Facebook Inc., GlaxoSmithKline Plc and BP Plc have scrapped the practice in favor of multiyear outlooks, according to the report.

Yet what virtually all companies do, is issue mountains of debt and use the proceeds to repurchase their stock, a process which many - such as Larry Fink - argue is far more debilitating to corporate growth than issuing simply guidance which, since GAAP accounting is dead anyway, companies have little problems beating. After all, it was Apple's gargantuan buyback and shareholder friendly plans that prompted Buffett to become the 3rd largest shareholder in Apple.

We mention this only because while Dimon and Buffett rail against issuing guidance, perhaps because they two are CEOs of public companies that get numerous questions about the future, there was exactly zero mention of the artificial market support mechanism that is stock buybacks, and which as we reported earlier this week, just hit an all time high in Q1.

For those who like cliches, the full Dimon-Buffett op-ed can be read here.