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Houston research: Is no news always bad news in market reports?

Earnings report delays generally lead to drops in stock prices. Disclosure can soften this market reaction. Photo via Getty Images

Investors eagerly wait for the news in their earnings reports. When these reports don't appear on the expected date, investors worry — and stock prices often fall as a result. But what if managers could present late reports in a way that spared their companies?

Research by K. Ramesh, a professor at Rice Business, shows that managers' approach to late earnings reports can profoundly affect market reaction. When firms put off filing a report, it's up to managers to decide whether to speak up or stay quiet. Those who choose to talk about a postponement then must decide how, what and how much to say.

All earnings delays, whether they're attended by a statement or not, prompt negative market reaction, prior research suggests. But in his research, Ramesh, Herbert S. Autrey Professor of Accounting, wanted to learn more about the exact consequences of these late reports, and how managers can lessen the blowback.

To do this, Ramesh and a team of coauthors first looked at the incidence, timing and contents of a comprehensive sample of press releases announcing an earnings delay. Then they studied what those delays did to market value.

Conventional wisdom in the business press already suggested that investors viewed any announcement of a delayed earnings report as bad news. But finance theorists tell a more complicated story, one in which the market response might be partially shaped by managerial behavior. Subtle factors, they found, such as whether the impending delay is discussed or treated with silence, really can make a difference.

In the view of some theorists, merely announcing a delay can sometimes avert a drop in stock prices. Others argue that this isn’t necessarily the case, especially if the company discloses that the delay stemmed from legal concerns. The better approach: making it clear up front that reports aren't being postponed to hide disastrous information. But what if the information is indeed disastrous?

That may be the one case where disclosure won’t change much, Ramesh and his team found.

“Those companies that are in fact concealing disastrous results will experience no benefits (in the form of higher stock price) from revealing their true situation,” the research team wrote, “because the market will infer the worst from the manager’s decision not to announce the delay.” For this reason, they added, delayed earnings without a stated explanation prompt the most negative market reaction. As in so many areas of public relations, without a narrative, investors will infer a negative one of their own.

To better understand the impact of late reports, Ramesh and his coauthors built a comprehensive sample of 545 delay announcements by using a keyword search of the Dow Jones Factiva database between January 1, 1995, and December 31, 2009.

As conventional wisdom suggested, the study showed that announcements of late earnings reports led to negative market reactions. (Earlier studies have shown smaller firms are hit hardest by this dynamic, perhaps because investors assume large companies have more finely tuned financial reporting systems, so are less worried by their earnings delays).

Consistent with the anecdotal evidence, the average one-day abnormal stock return for the sample was -6.29 percent, while the median return was -2.27 percent. Both figures are economically and statistically significant.

The researchers next classified the announcements according to stated reason, dividing the delays into “Accounting” and “Non-Accounting” categories. “Accounting” explanations were subdivided into “Accounting Issue,” “Accounting Process” and “Rule Change.”

Meanwhile, “Non-Accounting” explanations were divided into “Business,” which linked the delay to some event such as divestitures or regulatory proceedings, and “Other,” which ranged from earthquakes to power outages. Finally, there were delays for no stated reason at all.

About two-thirds of the late announcements, the team found, were linked to accounting. When firms named a specific accounting issue as the cause for delay, the average abnormal return reached a statistically significant -8.15 percent. When managers explained that the accounting process was not complete, the average abnormal return was slightly lower, at -7.04 percent.

After accounting issues, business events drove most earnings delays. In theory, these events could have been either good or bad news. But the average abnormal return for the subsample was a statistically significant -3.74 percent — a reflection of the fact that most business events linked to late earnings reports tend to be negative.

Curiously, the average abnormal return for the grouping classified as “Other” was almost nil — at 0.53 percent. This suggests that the market does not penalize managers for events outside of their control that have little, if any, relevance to firm performance.

“No Reason,” the researchers found, was the most damaging explanation of all. Seven percent of the sample, or 37 out of 545 delays, came without a stated reason. The average abnormal return for these was a significant -10.41 percent, a greater negative number than the returns for any of the other reasons.

So what should managers do when a deadline is going to be busted? Bite the bullet and disclose the reasons, Ramesh suggests. For one thing, it helps limit legal exposure and preserve credibility. When the reason for the late report is innocuous, explaining to investors can also mitigate the market's displeasure. A caveat: While informing investors that a power outage caused earnings delay will calm jitters, disclosure may not make a difference if the company just can’t balance its books.

It's human nature, apparently, to read no news as bad news. Relaying something—anything—about the cause of a late report seems to soothe investors' nerves by preventing them from filling the silence themselves.

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This article originally ran on Rice Business Wisdom and was based on research from K. Ramesh, Tiago Duarte-Silva, Huijing Fu and Christopher F. Noe. K. Ramesh is the Herbert S. Autrey Professor of Accounting at Jones Graduate School of Business at Rice University.

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Building Houston

 
 

Check out this curated list of innovation events in Houston for February. Photo via Getty Images

It's time to look at what's on the agenda for February for Houston innovators — from pitch competitions to networking events.

Here's a roundup of events not to miss this month. Mark your calendars and register accordingly.

Note: This post might be updated to add more events.

Feb. 8 — Digital Marketing Luncheon

Join Insperity, a partner of The Cannon, and digital marketing expert, Danny Gavin, at The Cannon Downtown for a lunch and learn.

The event is Wednesday, February 8, at noon, at The Cannon Downtown. Click here to register.

Feb. 9 — Innovation on Tap: Fred Higgs, Engineering at Rice University

Discuss research in the speaker’s engineering lab at Rice University on key Industry 4.0 technologies, namely additive manufacturing.

The event is Thursday, February 9, at 4 pm, at the Ion. Click here to register.

February 10 — Women in Leadership Conference 

The 23rd annual Women in Leadership Conference will be held in-person at Rice University. The conference has been a beacon of inspiration in the Houston community, empowering women to accomplish their career goals. In panel discussions and interactive workshops, attendees hear from leaders across different industries, explore various approaches to leadership, and discuss future opportunities for success.

The event is Friday, February 10, at 8 am, at McNair Hall at Rice University. Click here to register.

Feb. 15 — Real Talk from Real VCs

Join this event for a candid fireside chat on venture capital and its role in supporting and growing innovative startups.

The event is Wednesday, February 15, at 5:30 pm, at the Ion. Click here to register.

Feb. 16 — Engage VC: Lerer Hippeau

Lerer Hippeau is an early-stage venture capital firm founded and operated in New York City. Since 2010, they have invested in entrepreneurs who embody audacity, endurance, and winning mindset – good people with great ideas who aren't afraid to do hard things. Join the HX Venture Fund to hear Caitlin Strandberg, Partner at Lerer Hippeau discuss her perspective on how to build and scale a great company, what early-stage investors are looking for, why Houston, and market trends among other topics.

The event is Thursday, February 16, at 8:30 am, at the Ion. Click here to register.

Feb. 16 — Female Founders and Funders

Calling all rockstar female founders and investors in the Houston area. Mark your calendars for this month's Female Founders and Funders meetup. Coffee and breakfast is provided and the event is free to attend.

The event is Thursday, February 16, at 9 am, at Sesh Coworking. Click here to register.

Feb. 21 — Web3 & HOU: Demystifying the Web3 Space Panel I

Join us to learn more about Web3 and its numerous applications.

The event is Tuesday, February 21, at 6 pm, at the Ion. Click here to register.

Feb. 22 — The Trailblazer’s Guide to Cultivating Authenticity

In this fun and interactive workshop presented by Erica D’Eramo of Two Peirs Consulting, we’ll look at how to foster a leadership style that works for you, even in the absence of role models.

The event is Wednesday, February 22, at 2 pm, at Sesh Coworking. Click here to register.

Feb. 22 — Houston Startup Showcase

The Houston Startup Showcase is a year-long series of monthly pitch competitions. Founders will pitch at the Ion and compete for the grand prize package. Watch the startups pitch their company and see who the judges will name the champion of the Houston Startup Showcase 2023.

The event is Wednesday, February 22, at 6 pm, at the Ion. Click here to register.

Feb. 23 — Navigating Innovation in the Corporate World

Join us for a fireside chat with leaders from Houston's largest employers, including Microsoft and Chevron to discuss how they have navigated successful careers in technology and innovation.

The event is Thursday, February 23, at 11:30 am, at the Ion. Click here to register.

Feb. 27-March 2 — Houston Tech Rodeo

The Houston Tech Rodeo is a conference showcasing the best and brightest of the Houston startup community in the region and beyond by putting investors, entrepreneurs, industry leaders, and creative minds in a room to talk about the biggest innovations and the future of tech sandwiched by some happy hours and friendly competition.

The events run Monday, February 27, through Thursday, March 2, at various locations in Houston. Click here to register.

Note: This post might be updated to add more events.


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