IBM pleased investors Wednesday by surpassing analysts’ fourth-quarter revenue and earnings estimates, but its numbers this coming year could be boosted even more because the tech behemoth is moving to non-GAAP accounting starting in Q1.
As Barron’s pointed out, IBM originally told investors last spring of the planned move. The company forecast $12.56 in earnings per share under GAAP for Q1 on Wednesday, but also predicted that under its new non-GAAP accounting, it will earn about $13 in EPS.
IBM is among the global companies that have been pushing and preparing for the eventual move to International Financial Reporting Standards. While the Securities and Exchange Commission has not yet given its approval to incorporating IFRS into the U.S. financial reporting system (a decision is expected later this year, though IFRS would not likely be allowed for a few more years in any case), IBM is apparently planning to come up with its own IFRS roadmap. Here’s how the company explained the move on its Web site in an announcement last August:
“At its Investor Briefing on May 12, 2010, IBM announced the introduction of Operating Earnings as the basis for its 2015 Roadmap. Operating Earnings is a non-GAAP measure that IBM defines as GAAP results that are adjusted to exclude the effects of certain acquisition-related charges and retirement-related costs.
“For the balance of 2010, IBM will continue to focus on GAAP results in its earnings report. This will allow the company to finish the 2010 Roadmap on the basis on which it was introduced. As outlined in the Investor Briefing materials, beginning in 2011, IBM will separately report business results as operating and non-operating categories, in addition to providing GAAP information. IBM will also expand on the discussion of Operating Earnings in its quarterly earnings report and provide future guidance on that basis. To facilitate the transition to the new reporting format, IBM provided a summary level view of Operating Earnings for 2008, 2009, and the first half of 2010 as supplemental information in its second quarter 2010 earnings presentation, and today is providing additional relevant historical information.
“The company believes that the presentation of Operating Earnings will provide a number of key benefits to investors:
• provide better transparency and clarity into both the operational results of the business and the impact to IBM of the performance of the company's pension plans;
• improve visibility to the operational effects of management decisions, offer more effective metrics for evaluation of management’s performance, and better align external reporting with how the company will manage its business;
• enable better comparison to peer companies, many of which have been adjusting for these acquisition-related items, and/or have no defined benefits pension plans or plans with a less significant impact to their financial results; and
• allow the company to provide a long term strategic view of the business.”
While IBM’s non-GAAP reporting is apparently not going to be in line with accounting standards approved by either the U.S. Financial Accounting Standards Board or the International Accounting Standards Board, it apparently could produce more favorable EPS numbers, at least for Q1. However, the SEC is still going to expect to see the GAAP numbers in the Armonk, N.Y., tech giant’s official filings. Still, as with any company’s pro forma numbers, investors would do well to compare the non-GAAP results to the official GAAP figures filed with the SEC.