Trump Calls For End To Quarterly Earnings Reporting

Shifting his attention from trade war, military parades, bashing the fake news medial and conducting foreign policy via Twitter, on Friday morning Trump unexpectedly advocated for a proposal suggested previously by several corporate CEOs and most notably BlackRock's Larry Fink, suggesting an end of quarterly earnings reporting, and shifting to a half year convention instead, which was the US convention starting in 1955 and ending in 1970 when the current quarterly reporting standard was implemented.

In speaking with some of the world’s top business leaders I asked what it is that would make business (jobs) even better in the U.S. “Stop quarterly reporting & go to a six month system,” said one. That would allow greater flexibility & save money. I have asked the SEC to study!

The proposal is not new: in 2015, the influential law firm Wachtell, Lipton suggested the same idea - which while music to the ears of its big corporate clients was a nightmare for investors and analysts - calling on the Securities and Exchange Commission to consider allowing U.S. companies to do away with quarterly earning updates, which it claimed distract executives from long-term goals.

The idea proposed by Wachtell was to combat what it and some others see as an excessive focus on short-term performance that they say has been encouraged by activist shareholders. The investors had widened their influence in recent years and drawn criticism from those, including not only Larry Fink but also then-presidential hopeful Hillary Clinton, who said "short-termism" encourages companies to focus on gimmicks that provide short-term stock gains at the expense of long-term health.

As the WSJ reported in2015, as part of her campaign for the Democratic presidential nomination, Hillary Clinton pledged reforms to “help CEOs and shareholders alike to focus on the next decade rather than just the next day.”

And now it is being picked by up Donald Trump.

Ending quarterly reporting still seems a pipe dream, given the stiff resistance the idea would likely receive from governance advocates and from shareholders and analysts who depend on them. It could also make it more difficult for companies to communicate with their investors, given the need to avoid sharing information selectively. Activists often argue that managers haven’t earned the trust of investors to make decisions without regular oversight.

However, in recent years, to avoid the mad dash scramble to beat some arbitrary "consensus estimate", some companies have stopped giving quarterly forecasts, hoping to de-emphasize the “beat-or-miss” mentality that is prevalent on Wall Street. But they still reliably report their numbers for every quarter, because it is a legal requirement for public companies in the U.S. In 1934, amid a wave of Depression-era regulations, the SEC forced U.S. companies to file annual reports and disclose more information to investors. In 1955, the mandate became semiannual and in 1970, quarterly.

So is the 10-Q about to be replaced by the 10-H, or will companies report earnings just once a year? While we doubt Trump's proposal will gain much traction - as the alternative is a lot of bored Wall Street analysts who will have an extra 6 whole months each year in which to do nothing - the alternative does open up several amusing possibilities, starting with this one.