Just Say No to Wall Street: Putting a Stop to the Earnings Game

Journal of Applied Corporate Finance, Vol. 22, No. 1, Winter 2010

Harvard Business School NOM Unit Working Paper No. 10-090

9 Pages Posted: 5 Apr 2010 Last revised: 18 May 2013

Joseph Fuller

The Monitor Company

Michael C. Jensen

Social Science Electronic Publishing (SSEP), Inc.; Harvard Business School; National Bureau of Economic Research (NBER); European Corporate Governance Institute (ECGI)

Multiple version iconThere are 3 versions of this paper

Date Written: April 5, 2010


Putting an end to the “earnings game” requires that CEOs reclaim the initiative by avoiding earnings guidance and managing expectations in such a way that their stocks trade reasonably close to their intrinsic value. In place of earnings forecasts, management should provide information about the company's strategic goals and main value drivers. They should also discuss the risks associated with the strategies, and management's plans to deal with them.

Using the experiences of several companies, the authors illustrate the dangers of conforming to market pressures for unrealistic growth targets. They argue that an overvalued stock, by encouraging overpriced acquisitions and other risky, value-destroying bets, can be as damaging to the long-run health of a company as an undervalued stock.

CEOs and CFOs put themselves in a bind by providing earnings guidance and then making decisions designed to meet Wall Street's expectations for quarterly earnings. When earnings appear to be coming in short of projections, top managers often react by suggesting or demanding that middle and lower level managers redo their forecasts, plans, and budgets. In some cases, top executives simply acquiesce to increasingly unrealistic analyst forecasts and adopt them as the basis for setting organizational goals and developing internal budgets. But in cases where external expectations are impossible to meet, either approach sets up the firm and its managers for failure and in the process value is destroyed.

Keywords: Value Maximization, Overvaluation, Incentives, Managing Earnings, Analyst Expectations, Managing Wall Street, Earnings Guidance, Financial Reporting, Budgeting Process

JEL Classification: G14, G29, L21, M10, M40, M46

Suggested Citation

Fuller, Joseph and Jensen, Michael C., Just Say No to Wall Street: Putting a Stop to the Earnings Game (April 5, 2010). Journal of Applied Corporate Finance, Vol. 22, No. 1, Winter 2010; Harvard Business School NOM Unit Working Paper No. 10-090. Available at SSRN: https://ssrn.com/abstract=1583563

Joseph Fuller

The Monitor Company ( email )

Two Canal Park
Cambridge, MA 02141
United States

Michael C. Jensen (Contact Author)

Social Science Electronic Publishing (SSEP), Inc. ( email )

7858 Sanderling Road
Sarasota, FL 34242
United States
617-510-3363 (Phone)
305 675-3166 (Fax)

HOME PAGE: http://ssrn.com/author=9

Harvard Business School ( email )

Soldiers Field
Negotiations, Organizations & Markets
Boston, MA 02163
United States
617-510-3363 (Phone)
305-675-3166 (Fax)

HOME PAGE: http://drfd.hbs.edu/fit/public/facultyInfo.do?facInfo=ovr&facId=6484

National Bureau of Economic Research (NBER) ( email )

1050 Massachusetts Avenue
Cambridge, MA 02138
United States

European Corporate Governance Institute (ECGI) ( email )

B-1050 Brussels

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