October 30, 2018

Non-GAAP: “Everyone’s Doing It”

According to this Audit Analytics blog, 97% of the S&P 500 use at least one non-GAAP metric in their SEC filings. That’s up from 76% in 2016, and only 59% in 1996.

And not only are more companies using non-GAAP metrics, the number of metrics used in each filing has shot up. This article says that the number has tripled in the last 20 years – from 2.35 to an eye-catching 7.45. It also says that when it comes to Reg G compliance, there’s room for improvement:

Under Regulation G, which sets forth the regulatory framework companies are required to follow in presenting non-GAAP metrics, any EBITDA metric that excludes from income any items other than interest, taxes, depreciation, and amortization must be labeled as “adjusted EBITDA.”

However, according to Audit Analytics, among 46 companies that labeled a non-GAAP metric as EBITDA in 2017, more than half (24) excluded an item other than those. For example, two companies excluded acquisition-related items and two others excluded impairment-related costs.

There’s nothing inherently wrong with using non-GAAP metrics – in many cases, shareholders think that information is useful. But proper labeling and reconciliation is key – Corp Fin is still commenting on this – and in a speech last week, SEC Commissioner Kara Stein even floated the idea that auditors could take on a greater role in public disclosure, including offering assurance about the fair presentation of non-GAAP measures. All that to say, just because you might see other companies intentionally or unintentionally hide the ball, that doesn’t mean you should do it too. Check out our “Non-GAAP Handbook” for all the latest guidance.

Non-GAAP Comments: No More “Low-Hanging Fruit”?

It’s not just your imagination – Corp Fin’s been issuing fewer non-GAAP comments this year. But as detailed in this Audit Analytics blog, the number & percentage of these comments are still above 2015 levels.

Although non-GAAP comments continue to focus on areas that were clarified in the May 2016 CDIs, this Cooley blog points out that the Staff has moved on from easy-to-fix issues like undue prominence (possibly because companies have self-corrected). Now, they seem to be more focused on whether there’s adequate disclosure for individually-tailored accounting adjustments and “free cash flow” presentations. Here’s more detail:

– 12.3% of the non-GAAP comments referenced individually-tailored accounting – and this WSJ article explains how complex the topic can be. The Staff typically requests that companies remove individually-tailored recognition & measurement adjustments from non-GAAP measures – or explain how they considered the guidance in Question 100.04 of the non-GAAP CDIs and concluded that the adjustments were appropriate.

– The percentage of companies receiving comments referencing presentation of free cash flow & CDI 102.07 has increased significantly since 2016. And an increasing percentage of companies received a comment on the required presentation of the three major categories of the statement of cash flows when a non-GAAP liquidity measure is used (Question 102.06). Since the presentation of free cash flow is a non-GAAP liquidity measure, an increase in comments related to the three major categories of the statement of cash flows may indicate that companies are receiving both comments related to one item of financial reporting.

Non-GAAP: Don’t Call It “Pro Forma”

Here’s the intro from this Bass Berry blog:

In monitoring SEC comment letters, we came across this SEC comment letter recently made public. While we acknowledge the term “pro forma” is often used by companies when adjusting their GAAP results to provide additional meaningful information to investors, this comment by the Corp Fin Staff serves as a reminder that the Staff generally dislikes non-GAAP measures titled as “pro forma” when the information is not presented in compliance with the pro forma rules in Article 11 of Regulation S-X.

In this situation, the company agreed to delete the words “pro forma” and instead use the words “as adjusted.” The comment was issued in connection with the Staff’s review of an initial public offering Form S-1.

Liz Dunshee