General Electric Company (GE) plans to adopt a “back-to-basics” approach to its financial reporting, said incoming CFO Jamie Miller in the company’s recent third quarter earnings call. According to The Wall Street Journal’s report on the call, “Investors have long grumbled about complex, aggressive accounting at GE, while the SEC has questioned some practices, too.” However, GE’s intended simplifications will not satisfy all critics. In a follow-up call with investors, Ms. Miller made clear that the company plans to continue using non-GAAP metrics such as free cash flow, defending the practice as a “fairly common way” to do things. For more on the use of non-GAAP financial measures, see this recent Ticker report.
GE’s aim of simplifying its financial reporting comes at an opportune time. A November 1 lawsuit, Hachem v. General Electric et al, described in this recent Reuters story, claims that GE misled investors with its financial reporting, a charge the company denies. “The complaint appears to focus on projections conveyed during earnings calls, which by definition, were forward-looking statements,” GE spokeswoman Jennifer Friedman said in an email cited by Reuters. “We intend to vigorously defend against these claims.” Forward-looking statements are generally protected by a safe harbor under the Private Securities Litigation Reform Act of 1995.
In the future, there may be less complexity for GE to explain in its financial reporting. On November 13, The New York Times reported that the company will cut its dividend by 50 percent and shed non-core units.