My friend, Peter Atwater, likes to say, “media follows mood.” Well, here’s a terrific example:
Six weeks ago, as the stock market was only just beginning to rise out of its February lows after a fairly brutal selloff, the Wall Street Journal was abuzz with stories criticizing corporations’ widespread and growing use of “pro forma” financial reporting. These stories grew in number as the month went on:
Today, in contrast, after stocks have now run higher for over 50 trading days since their lows, the paper runs a bullish story on Facebook ahead of its earnings announcement. Funny, there’s no mention, however, that Facebook is one of the most egregious examples of aggressive “pro forma” reporting.
To demonstrate, the gap between the company’s GAAP earnings and its “pro forma” earnings last year amounted to no less than a 77% overstatement ($1.29 GAAP versus $2.28 pro forma). The article also fails to mention that the forward price-to-earnings measure the author references, in claiming, “Facebook looks like a bargain,” is based on these inflated “pro forma” earnings.
It’s pretty fascinating how quickly skepticism can fade away simply as a result of higher stock prices. And I guess I probably didn’t really need to read beyond the, “this time is different,” headline to know how the piece would go.