May 21, 2020

Non-GAAP: Are Companies Adjusting Away Covid-19?

The Financial Times recently reported that some companies have presented non-GAAP metrics – such as “EBITDAC” – that effectively adjust away the effects of the Covid-19 pandemic on their operations. Maybe I’m too cynical, but presenting “as adjusted” numbers that back out an event of the pandemic’s magnitude seems akin to asking a question like, “Other than that, Mrs. Lincoln, how did you enjoy the play?”

Just how prevalent are presentations of non-GAAP Covid-19 adjusted numbers? According to a recent Bass Berry survey, not very. The firm reviewed 55 public companies that presented Adjusted EBITDA in earnings releases during the period from April 1, 2020, to May 14, 2020. This excerpt says that only a handful included Covid-19 related adjustments in their Adjusted EBITDA presentations, but a number did narratively disclose the impact Covid-19 had on that metric:

Of the surveyed companies, five companies, or 9%, included an adjustment in their calculation of Adjusted EBITDA related in some form to the COVID-19 pandemic, and 91% did not. Certain surveyed companies within this 91% group, while not including an adjustment for COVID-19 in the definition of Adjusted EBITDA, noted the impact that the COVID-19 pandemic had on Adjusted EBITDA at either the consolidated or the segment level (for example, by noting that the COVID-19 pandemic had a specified percentage impact on Adjusted EBITDA as the result of the shutdown of a manufacturing facility as the result of the COVID-19 pandemic).

That seems to me to be a better way to present this information than adjusting it away. Covid-19’s impact on key performance indicators is clearly relevant information, but including it in the Adjusted EBITDA metric itself implies that it should be regarded as a one-time event. Unfortunately, it appears that the pandemic is more like the “new normal,” and may impact operations in future periods even more significantly than it did during the first quarter.

Virtual Meeting Admission Practices: Public Companies Respond

We’ve run a couple of blogs in recent weeks that have aired investor criticism of admissions practices for virtual annual meetings. That has prompted responses from some of our members. This one is representative:

I’m the Assistant Secretary of a company that held its first virtual meeting this year. We have two service providers – Corporate Election Services mails to our registered holders and Broadridge mails to most of the beneficial holders. When we switched our meeting to a virtual meeting, we had two options. Have Broadridge host the virtual meeting so most could have a control number to access the meeting. This would have required us to re-mail to the registered holders a new proxy card. This would have canceled their votes and required re-voting.

The second option was to have Corporate Election Services run the virtual meeting using the model we use for attendance at our in-person meeting. Registered shareholders all have access to the in-person meeting in normal years because they receive an admission card with their proxy card or they can come to the meeting and check in using the registered shareholder list we keep on hand. Beneficial holders are not on the registered roles so to attend the in-person meeting they need to provide a legal proxy from their broker. Sometimes we accept a brokerage statement for a beneficial holder to attend in person.

Rather than re-mail, we choose to hold the virtual meeting the same way we would have held the in-person meeting – the same method described in the post above. We did have a couple of complaints. Note that Computershare hosted virtual meetings are also using this same access model. Also note that not all brokers use Broadridge so if Broadridge hosts, some beneficials still do not have access.

Admission practices for physical annual meetings vary, but it isn’t unusual to require some proof of beneficial ownership. As the member’s comments suggest, there’s usually some flexibility when it comes to the credentials required for admissions that doesn’t necessarily translate to a virtual platform. But the bottom line is that many companies that are being criticized for their virtual admissions policies aren’t doing anything that hasn’t been standard practice at their physical meetings in prior years.

Earnings Season: Trends During the Covid-19 Crisis

In their recent statement on Covid-19 disclosures, SEC Chair Jay Clayton & Corp Fin Director Bill Hinman said that this earnings season would not be routine. In that same vein, “Investor Relations” magazine recently published an article about trends that IR professionals have identified from companies’ recent earnings reports & calls. This excerpt points out that the crisis has “softened” some of the commentary from executives:

Given the current circumstances, corporate leaders have understandably focused less on market performance and more on their Covid-19 response. ‘While mitigating actions in most cases include cost cutting, the current crisis has provided an opportunity for leadership to show its human side and demonstrate genuine affection and respect for employees,’ says Sandra Novakov, head of IR at Citigate Dewe Rogerson, who is based in London. As an example, she points to the personal CEO message delivered by ABF, a Citigate client, in its interim results announcement.

The article identifies several other trends, including detailed scenario planning, intraquarter updates, and increased use of prerecorded comments.

John Jenkins