Analyzing Company Press Releases: Reading Between the Lines

Companies frequently put out news releases, and these can often send clues to the investor who reads between the lines. One example of this type of work originally appeared at Stock Market Beat and is reprinted here with the author’s permission.

We’d venture to guess that not too many people follow both small-cap headset maker Plantronics (PLT) and large-cap enterprise software vendor Oracle (ORCL.) We do, which is probably the only reason we noticed this little gem. Both companies recently issued remarkably similar press releases, each extolling the other’s virtues.

Oracle Standardizes on Plantronics Wireless Headset Systems to Optimize VoIP Communications

“We evaluated numerous headset offerings to complement Oracle’s VoIP deployment, and the Plantronics Voyager 510-USB is clearly ahead of the pack for audio performance, ease of use and style and comfort,” said Mark Sunday, Senior Vice President and CIO, Oracle. “We are also very impressed with Voyager’s performance with Oracle Collaboration Suite. Now employees have a single wireless headset for all of their voice and data communications.”

Plantronics Standardizes Global Operations on Oracle(R) … – Yahoo! News (press release)

“We get a great deal of value and cost savings out of the Oracle system,” said Plantronics Vice President of Finance and Worldwide Corporate Controller Susan Fox. “The external auditors we work with have experience using the Oracle E-Business Suite and have developed proven methodologies for testing and verification. That expertise allows us to reap the benefits of economies of scale and avoid the process of educating auditors on the nuances of our system.”

Now, it’s quite likely that this was simply a way to share cost-free favors (talking each other up in a press release) as each business negotiated a standard supply contract. However, it is always something that should draw attention when two parties enter an agreement that may not be arms-length. It would be better to look at it and decide nothing is wrong than to overlook something that could potentially be a warning.

In Financial Shenanigans: How to Detect Accounting Gimmicks & Fraud in Financial Reports, Second Edition (aff. link) Howard Schilit has this to say about such deals:

On October 5, 1999 Microstrategy (MSTR) announced in a press release that it had signed a deal with NCR Corporation…. Under the agreement, MSTR invested in an NCR partnership and NCR returned the favor and purchased MSTR’s products. We refer to that practice as a “boomerang.” (p. 44)

Later, Schilit elaborates:

A two-way transaction means that you both buy from and sell to the same party. Questions should be raised about the quality of the revenue recorded on such transactions….

If, as a condition of making a sale, the buyer receives something of value from the seller (in addition to the product) the amount of revenue recorded becomes suspect. This may involve a barter exchange, offering the customer stock or stock warrants, or investing in a partnership with the buyer. (p. 80).

In the cases of Plantronics and Oracle, there were no specifics regarding the size of the deals or time frame over which they extend. Neither is a major (10%) customer of the other, so there is some limit as to how much the deal could help one or the other. Questions investors may want to pursue include:

  1. Were the agreements similar in size? Revenue recognized from barter agreement is of lower quality (less likely to recur) than cash revenue.
  2. Given that Oracle’s fiscal quarter ends in November, the arrangement could have allowed them to book last-minute revenue. If their revenue for the quarter misses or only slightly exceeds analyst estimates when they report next Monday, a good conference call questioner could ask how much this agreement contributed (particularly with respect to license revenue.)
  3. Given that Plantronics is much smaller, they could potentially benefit more from the deal than Oracle but they are potentially in a less favorable bargaining position. Their investors might want more information regarding the size of the agreement for that reason.

Or, as we suggested earlier, it could all simply be PR fluffery. But even in that case it is best if investors know all the details.

Disclosure: At time of publication author is long Plantronics (PLT) call options and short Plantronics put options.

For more information, see all articles on: Analyzing Press Releases, Case Studies, Fundamental Analysis, Investing in Stocks

See also:
  • Revenue Recognition from Barter Transactions
  • Analyzing the Auditor’s Statement: Adverse Opinion
  • Analyzing the Auditor’s Statement: An Unqualified Opinion
  • Reading the Income Statement
  • Analyzing the Auditor’s Statement: The Going Concern Clause
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    The Intelligent Investor: The Classic Text on Value Investing

    Financial Statement Analysis: A Practitioner's Guide, 3rd Edition

    Managing Investment Portfolios: A Dynamic Process (CFA Institute Investment Series)

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