“The proliferation of non-Gaap (financial measures) has added to the proliferation of growth,” said Charlie Dreifus, CFA.
Dreifus is a managing director and portfolio manager with The Royce Funds which focuses on providing small-cap, value mutual funds. Dreifus is the portfolio manager for the Royce Special Equity Fund and the Royce Special Equity Multi-Cap Fund, with over 18 and 5 years on the funds, respectively.
Dreifus’ focus, for many years, has been on the value approach to portfolio management. A key aspect of his approach is the utilization of accounting skepticism. Dreifus shared his thoughts on the increased usage of non-GAAP measures and the resulting side effects.
He started with a story. He had a conversation with a particular company to seek GAAP guidance. Although the company already provided non-GAAP guidance, Dreifus was informed that “GAAP guidance is unavailable without unreasonable effort.” Dreifus responded, “…but you need GAAP to get non-GAAP.” And the attendees broke out laughing.
Dreifus reported that the number of S&P companies reporting non-GAAP measures has increased to 88%. The consequences of the increased focus on non-GAAP include decreased clarity in reporting results and in increase in wiggle room to achieve desired results. The desired results have, of course, have a direct linkage to executive and incentive compensation. Executive compensation is being geared more towards non-GAAP and with the ability to front load expenses with non-GAAP measures, financial windfalls can be significant. Audit committees have been strengthened by Sarbanes-Oxley. Dreifus would like to see the committees act to disallow the gaming of earnings to beat analysts’ expectations. They should take more responsibility for the reported economic stats. Ideally, we would see “full, fair & balanced reportable numbers.”
Dreifus finds the number of times audit committees meet informative. If the number is low or high, it raises a red flag. He would like to believe that changes to our non-GAAP reliant system would develop within the audit committee; however, the challenge is sparking any involved person/party to take ownership of the responsibility.
On the other hand, Dreifus does grant that GAAP is not perfect either. Nevertheless, his goal is to raise the level of consciousness within the industry and its participants. Especially in the context of recent record-setting equity market levels, the talk has motivated deeper reflections on valuations.