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There continue to be frequent complaints among accounting purists, some of whom share my profession, that there is something wrong with the Street’s use of non-GAAP earnings measures.

For many companies, especially in the technology sector, the common practice has been to report profits at least two ways, and sometimes more than that - the GAAP number, as well as a non-GAAP number that excludes stock options; when a company has other one-time charges, you will sometimes see a third number reported.

This creates the potential for confusion when the Street and the companies they cover are not on the same page. A case in point: Wednesday night’s earnings report from F5 Networks (NASDAQ:FFIV). As I noted in my earnings roundup post Wednesday night, F5 reported fiscal first quarter EPS of 53 cents a share; the problem was that there were two quite different numbers floating around on the Street consensus: Yahoo Finance said the consensus was 60 cents; Reuters had the consensus as 45 cents, which meant the company had either blown the quarter or had a blowout quarter, depending on which number you believed was right.

Well, it turns out that the company reported only a GAAP number; the Yahoo number was the non-GAAP consensus; the Reuters number was using GAAP. The whole thing was compounded by the fact that F5 did not provide a non-GAAP EPS number in its release; Merrill Lynch’s Tal Liani yesterday morning reported the non-GAAP number would have been 69 cents.

Likewise, the guidance for the March quarter of 44-46 cents a share is just a little light (as implied by the 48 cent estimate Reuters is using), rather than a lot light (which is what you would assume based on the 60 cent estimate used by Yahoo Finance).

Ergo, F5 shares were a bit lower yesterday morning on the light guidance, but the mammoth after-hours swoon after the numbers were first released has largely been reversed. The lesson in all of this is that for both the companies and the estimate tracking services, more information is better than less, and clarity matters most of all.

F5 yesterday was down $1.55, at $72.93; the stock had lost $4.58 when I wrote about it Wednesday night, and had been down even more than that.

FFIV 1-yr chart

ffiv chart

Source: F5 Networks: See What Happens If You Only Report GAAP Numbers?