Thursday, March 27, 2014

Experts Say Use Non-GAAP Measures Carefully

Normalized adjusted EBITDA less capex. Adjusted consolidated segment operating income. Adjusted EBITDA (as adjusted). Even enthusiasts of non-GAAP metrics have to admit that such measures often sound just a wee bit ridiculous.

Non-GAAP metrics, those not addressed in U.S. generally accepted accounting principles, are as controversial as ever. A small number of such measures, like EBITDA and free cash flow, have gained widespread acceptance in the investor community. But regulators often give companies flak for the way they use non-GAAP measures in public filings, press releases and other communications consumed by investors and analysts.

Groupon, the perpetrator of “adjusted consolidated segment operating income” (ASCOI), took heat from the Securities & Exchange Commission in 2012 because the metric excluded online marketing expenses, a critical part of the firm’s business model, from company performance. Groupon eventually dropped the metric from its initial public offering filing, but it absorbed further criticism for its post-IPO use of other non-GAAP measures.

Black Box, a telecommunications company, got some bad press in January 2013, when it included the metric “adjusted EBITDA (as adjusted)” in its quarterly earnings release. The metric subtracted from net income ordinary expenses such as a $2.7 million loss on a joint venture, creating EBITDA (as adjusted), then further excluded stock-based compensation expenses to create the final, rather silly-sounding redundancy. Black Box said the measure demonstrated its ability to service its debt. Others thought it made the company look like well, a black box.

A common opinion is simply that non-GAAP metrics are misleading to shareholders. “They may be perfectly understandable to accountants who know what that company is doing but confusing to others,” says Michele Amato, partner at accounting firm Friedman LLP. Indeed, the SEC has long subjected companies that use non-GAAP metrics to heightened scrutiny, and the chairman of the commission’s new accounting-fraud task force has vowed to keep up the pressure.

But companies that use these black-sheep metrics argue that they often depict financial performance more accurately than GAAP measures and afford investors a window to how management sees things.

Public companies are allowed to disclose non-GAAP metrics in their SEC filings, press releases and earnings calls, subject to certain rules. Under Regulation G, mandated by the Sarbanes-Oxley Act, use of a non-GAAP financial measure must be accompanied by the most directly comparable GAAP measure and a reconciliation of the two metrics.

Everything in Moderation

For her part, Amato says there’s a place for non-GAAP metrics:
 “A very significant variance between GAAP and non-GAAP metrics that management uses as a baseline for internal financial analysis might be of some use,” 
There is nothing wrong with using a non-GAAP metric to provide an additional perspective about something very germane to the company’s performance, like its valuation, credit standing or working-capital management, that can’t be communicated well through GAAP metrics alone, says Robert Rostan, CFO and principal at financial training firm Training the Street.

Original article by Marielle Segarra ad

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