Reading the commentary contained within a company’s annual report during reporting season is often no simple exercise. With all the airy-fairy “management speak” it can be difficult to decipher exactly what is being said by the CEO running your company.

It does not take a rocket scientist (or accountant) to know that management will attempt to put a positive spin on anything no matter how bad it actually is. So I have put together five pieces of commentary that wouldn’t be out of place in a company’s annual report in August 2019 and also provide a translation that may more accurately reflect reality.

The translation may be perceived as a little harsh on company management, and granted they are slightly tongue in cheek but the point is clearly made: what management says and what management means are often (but not always) two very different things.

 The company posted a small loss but more importantly profit from continuing operations was up 25%.

Translation: We, unfortunately, had to discontinue a business segment after demand turned out to be well below what we now admit were extremely ambitious expectations. Our poor decision making has resulted in the business posting a loss.

 Excluding a one-off write-down company profits were up 30%

Translation: We now admit that we paid far too much for a previous acquisition and as a result we have to write down the value of our business assets, which has resulted in value destruction for shareholders. Fortunately, our increased bonuses survived the destruction.

The acquisition of XYZ Ltd has proved successful with profits up 15% on last year.

Translation: Despite the business having doubled in size after the acquisition of XYZ Company Ltd, profits have only increased by 15% on last year as the synergies that we promised shareholders have failed to materialise.

We are very happy to have strengthened our balance sheet during the financial year.

Translation: Following on from our recent disastrous debt-fueled acquisition spree, our bankers became concerned and we were forced to pay down some of our liabilities to avoid breaching our debt covenants. Due to our own poor management, our only option was to ask shareholders for more money to pay down the debt.

Given recent drilling reports we are confident that we are getting closer to reaching the production phase.

Translation: Despite the millions of dollars shareholders have already generously given over, we are still yet to generate any revenue and live in eternal hope that shareholders will continue to give generously.

What To Look For This Reporting Season

So you might be wondering if you should even bother reading what management has to say in the next annual report. The answer is that yes you should because the commentary contained within the report can provide you with extremely valuable information. What you are looking for is a management team that consistently does what they have said they will do. For this, you will either require an ongoing knowledge of the company or it will be necessary for you to go back and look at annual reports from recent years.

Typically management will make forecasts regarding the future of the business and how they plan to grow in the coming year. If they continually abandon what they say they will do, this is clearly a bad sign and they may not be worthy of your trust. And it pays to be skeptical. Don’t simply take what you read on face value, cross-check it against other pieces of management commentary, not only from past annual reports but also from announcements made throughout the year.

The Easy Way To Assess Management

If you find that deciphering management code is too difficult there is a simple solution: concentrate on the numbers. For the most part, the numbers won’t lie. If company debt is mounting up and yet the return on equity has been falling this is a sign that the management team is potentially being wasteful; regardless of what they might be saying about synergies, strategic acquisitions and the like.

Better yet, stay connected to Rask Media for the most up-to-date and unbiased news and analysis this reporting season.

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Disclaimer: Any information contained in this article is limited to general financial/investment advice only. The information has not taken into account your specific needs, goals or objectives, so please consider consulting a licenced and trusted adviser before acting on the information. Please read The Rask Group’s Financial Services Guide (FSG) for more information. This article is authorised by Owen Raszkiewicz of The Rask Group, which is a corporate authorised representative No. 1264179 of Strawman Pty Ltd (ACN: 610 908 211) (AFSL: 501 223).

Disclosure: At the time of publishing, Luke has no financial interest in any companies mentioned.