Warren Buffett and Jamie Dimon are at it again. The pair joined forces today on a WSJ op-ed to call for an end to earnings guidance. Is this really the best advice they have to offer given the issues that dominate boardrooms today?
According to Messrs. Buffett and Dimon, providing quarterly earnings forecasts leads to an unhealthy focus on short-term thinking when corporate leaders should be acting for the long term.
This isn’t the first time the Buffett-Dimon duo has championed this cause. Mr. Buffett has been on this horse for years, to little effect. Here’s his 2002 shareholder letter, where he quips about CEOs who focus on making the numbers “will at some point be tempted to make up the numbers.”
More recently the two amigos led a study on best corporate governance practices. Their 2016 report, dubbed the “commonsense principles,” had a moment of fame and then was quickly forgotten. What was the top recommendation? Yep, ending earnings guidance.
Of course, finger wagging about earnings guidance is an ideal PR issue. It’s hard to oppose. It’s nearly impossible to measure. And it deflects attention from more bothersome topics the media might ask about.
Earnings guidance may exist for a perfectly logical reason: Investors and companies find it useful. It helps keep management accountable for performance and in many cases it helps keep investors focused on long-term trends and challenges because it eliminates the earnings-forecast guessing game.
Here’s a less charitable thought, too. It’s not surprising that a frequent buyer of public companies like Berkshire Hathaway would want earnings guidance to end. It likely would make valuations less clear and more subjective, making companies cheaper to buy. Mr. Buffett likes nothing so much as a bargain.
It’s disappointing to see two prominent business chiefs squander their influence on a puny issue. How about a call for a sensible immigration policy? Or perhaps some action to disclose material risks from climate change, as the Task Force on Climate-related Financial Disclosures (TCFD) recommends? That would bring some much needed momentum to the discussion about financial risk and long-term shareholder value.