Markets In Action

Learn to Listen in on a Quarterly Earnings Call

If you’re interested in learning more about how a business works, here’s an idea: learn how to listen. That is, learn about a public company’s performance by listening in on the quarterly earnings conference call.

We’ve written before about the importance of reading to learn more about a company. Learning how to read 10K reports that public companies file with the Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) will give you deeper insight into how a corporation is performing.

Quarterly earnings calls are another way to gain insights. Whether you’re an investor, planning a career in the financial sector, or simply want to be better informed about the world of business, understanding the information presented in earnings calls can help.

Let’s back up for a moment. Publicly traded companies, i.e., those listed on a stock exchange and whose equity shares trade on the open market, are required to provide detailed reports on their corporate performance at regular intervals –those annual 10K reports mentioned above, along with quarterly 10Q report, are filed with the SEC. Companies also publish annual and other reports for investors, which are easily accessed on their websites.

Most companies issue periodic – most typically quarterly — earnings reports and hold earnings calls for the company’s management to present results in the report and participate in a discussion with investors, analysts and other interested parties to share their perspectives on the previous quarter’s performance, as well as thoughts on where the company is headed. This usually takes place a few weeks after the quarter’s end.

These calls, and the accompanying earnings releases, serve as a regularly scheduled “check up”.

So how do you get started on tapping into this source of information? As an example, let’s say you’re interested in Apple and you want to check in on the company’s performance by listening in on an earnings call:

  • First, you’ll want to find out how to listen in on the call. Look for the “Investor Relations” page on the company’s website. Here’s the investors’ page for Apple: http://investor.apple.com/, which offers the date and time for the call and a link to where you can listen in via webcast.
  • Typically, the company will publish supporting materials in advance of the call—a press release with an overview of the results, for example, and some supporting financial documents that you can download or print as a reference. In the case of our sample company, Apple, you would find materials here: http://investor.apple.com/financials.cfm.
  • If you have time and you’re particularly interested in getting a clearer sense of how the company has performed over time, previous quarterly calls are often archived online, or you can search for a transcript of an earlier call. Looking back at earlier quarterly reports will help you put the company’s recent performance in context.
  • A typical call structure may look something like this:
    • Welcome and opening statement.
    • Presentations from company officers about the overall performance during the quarter.
    • Financial overview, typically delivered by the chief financial officer. This is where having a copy of the supporting documents can come in handy, so you can follow along.
    • Question and answer session. No, this is not a free-for-all—you probably won’t get a chance to grill the company leadership. In most cases, thousands of people will be on the call, so management fields questions from analysts who cover the company about key points in the quarterly report.
  • Many companies make transcripts of calls available soon after it is completed. This can be a great tool to allow you to review key points or if you need to search for specific topics discussed in the call.

While calls vary in length, on average they run about one hour. While some understanding of basic financial and accounting terminology is helpful, it’s not essential. If you’re curious about how to start digging deeper when you listen to an earnings call, finance professor Scott Rothbort of Seton Hall University provides a handy primer on how to analyze earnings conference calls at TheStreet.com.

The financial media can be a valuable resource to learn about what’s going on in corporate America, but it needn’t be your only source. If you’re interested in empowering yourself as an investor, employee, or entrepreneur, take advantage of sources like financial reports, CEO letters and quarterly earnings calls.

 

 

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