Wall Street analysts still hyping their stock picks

Wall Street analysts are painting an awfully rosy picture of earnings growth, according to a study done by Penn State researchers. “[T]heir long-term earnings-per-share growth-rate forecasts are excessive and upwardly biased,” says J. Randall Woolridge, a professor of finance at the Smeal College of Business.

Over the period 1984 to 2006, analysts’ predicted EPS growth at an average of 14.7% for the long term (three to five years). Actual EPS growth: 9.1%.

On one-year forecasts, analyst projections fared a little better, but they were still overly optimistic: 13.8% instead of the actual rate of 9.8%.

So why is this happening?

  • Analysts’ employers want them to hype stocks so the brokerage can win commissions and underwriting deals. “This conflict of interest should have been squelched by former New York Attorney General Elliot Spitzer’s investigation and the $1.5 billion payment made by U.S. investment firms in the 2003 Global Analysts Research Settlements (GARS).” But the study found that GARS had no effect; analyst forecasts remained at their historic levels of about 15%.
  • Analysts don’t issue forecasts on stocks they don’t like.
  • Analysts becoming attached to the companies that they follow and, as a result, lose objectivity.

Most companies fail at forecasting earnings
The fallacy — and cost — of giving quarterly earnings guidance

The fallacy — and cost — of giving quarterly earnings guidance

Many executives believe that the quarterly game of giving Wall Street “earnings guidance” provides various benefits: visibility, reduced stock volatility, better valuations. But thorough research by McKinsey & Co. indicates that the practice doesn’t actually work — there’s no evidence that it produces the expected benefits — but carries its own costs.

The two costs:

  • It takes up valuable management time to prepare the guidance reports (i.e., it’s a distraction).
  • The practice produces too much emphasis on short-term performance.

In my opinion, that short-term mindset gets in the way of long-term strategic thinking and thwarts important investments in areas such as innovation, human capital, environmental sustainability, safety, and competitive intelligence. This short-term mentality — called “short-termism” — could be the No.1 problem in American business.

Oh, and McKinsey’s researchers found that, when some companies stopped providing the quarterly guidance, there were no dire consequences.

Continue reading “The fallacy — and cost — of giving quarterly earnings guidance”