“To pre-announce, or not to pre-announce, that is the question.”

Next month marks the 38th year of the great pilgrimage to San Francisco. For five days every January, healthcare executives, investors, research analysts, bankers, and venture capitalists congregate in and around Union Square, searching for the next blockbuster company while trying to avoid a Theranos-like disaster. While this is all playing out in hotel suites and coffee shops, executives from publicly traded healthcare companies are giving presentations and hosting dozens of investor meetings. Before arriving in San Francisco, these executives had already determined if they would pre-announce some or all of their company’s financial results for the quarter ended December 31, 2019 and would provide guidance for the upcoming year. On the surface, pre-announcing financial results for the quarter ending December 31st seems like a simple decision, as it allows companies to speak freely about their most recent quarterly results. In reality, this decision is not always easy and can actually be quite tricky.

First, the data. Based on the 135 public companies we track in the Medical Technology and Tools & Diagnostics sectors, the trend of pre-announcing financial results and providing forward guidance has increased. However, this trend has flattened, as the number of companies pre-announcing and providing guidance during the J.P. Morgan Healthcare Conference in 2019 was similar to that of 2018.

  • 2016: 23% pre-announced; 9% provided guidance for the upcoming year
  • 2017: 28% pre-announced; 11% provided guidance for the upcoming year
  • 2018: 39% pre-announced; 17% provided guidance for the upcoming year
  • 2019: 38% pre-announced; 17% provided guidance for the upcoming year

Below are some of the top factors to consider when thinking about pre-announcing and providing forward guidance during the week of J.P. Morgan Healthcare Conference:

  • Are the financial results “final?” Most public companies use the traditional calendar as their reporting calendar, with the fourth quarter and fiscal year ending on December 31. Based on this, not only will a company need to close its quarterly financials, but it will also need to close its fiscal year. This reporting “double whammy” can add complexity to the reporting cycle, which may increase the time required to finalize the financials.
  • Which financials should you pre-announce? The majority of the companies that pre-announce typically only provide preliminary quarterly revenue, with some supplying a range. Unless warranted, we discourage our clients from providing other financial metrics in a pre-announcement, as it could create a precedent for future pre-announcements.
  • Investors like consistency. Once a company pre-announces financials during the week of the J.P. Morgan conference, many investors and analysts will expect this to occur every year. If a company decides not to continue with this practice, investors may assume the worst.
  • Past performance does not necessarily predict future results. If a company does not intend to provide guidance and believes results for the upcoming year could be below the current consensus, it should be careful about pre-announcing positive results. Investors and analysts could view a positive pre-announcement as a sign of strong future financials, which could lead to a loss in management credibility after the quarterly report.

Conclusion

Over the past four years, the number of companies pre-announcing and providing forward financial guidance during the week of the J.P. Morgan Healthcare Conference has increased. Pre-announcing quarterly financials makes some sense, as it gives companies the ability to talk about their quarterly and annual results without potentially violating SEC rules. However, companies should consider many factors before choosing to pre-announce and providing financial guidance, as the repercussions of this decision could last for years.

Greg Chodaczek, Managing Director