PITTSBURGH (AP) – General Electric Co.’s decision to stop issuing specific quarterly earnings per share guidance, announced Tuesday, may prompt other firms to take similar measures as they grapple with economic uncertainty, analysts say.

GE joins other companies that have long shunned the practice of predicting financial performance every three months, sometimes to Wall Street’s consternation.

In an annual outlook presentation Tuesday, Jeff Immelt, chief executive of the Fairfield, Conn.-based company, which makes light bulbs, aircraft engines and medical devices, said it will drop the practice. The decision to stop issuing specific profit targets comes after the company struggled this year to meet some of its own forecasts, part of the reason its stock has tumbled roughly 50 percent this year.

“You may see other companies follow suit,” said Matt Collins, an analyst with Edward Jones, who noted that another company – Milwaukee-based building systems and auto parts maker Johnson Controls Inc. – earlier Tuesday withdrew its 2009 guidance and predicted a fiscal first-quarter loss, citing sharply lower vehicle production and industry uncertainty.

GE’s move wasn’t unprecedented, he added, and similar steps by other companies “certainly would take some of the pressure off management” as they try to manage earnings at the end of each quarter.

“It could add to a bit more volatility in the stock, but it could allow management to run the business for the long-term,” Collins said. “That would be good for everybody, in theory.”

Even before the current economic turmoil, companies, industry groups, academics and others criticized the earnings-per-share forecasts, saying they forced companies to focus on short-term returns.

Some large firms, meanwhile, don’t engage in the practice or have done away with it.

Billionaire investor Warren Buffett’s Berkshire Hathaway Inc. of Omaha, Neb., has long refused to provide any earnings guidance and doesn’t even have an investor relations department at its 19-person headquarters.

In 2002, Coca-Cola made headlines when it announced it would stop providing quarterly or annual earnings-per-share. Other big names followed, including AT&T Corp., Google Inc. and McDonald’s Corp.

In October, online brokerage TD Ameritrade Holding Corp. announced it would no longer provide quarterly updates to its earnings guidance. The move was attributed to market uncertainty and research questioning the benefit of such guidance.

Many jewelers have stopped offering outlooks ahead of the crucial holiday season, a popular time for gifts and engagements, as softening discretionary spending has consumers scaling back on purchases of expensive items.

Several large homebuilders have also ceased offering earnings forecasts, as the housing market slump and slowing economy have hammered the sector.

Earlier this month, Horsham, Pa.-based luxury homebuilder Toll Brothers Inc. warned investors its fiscal 2009 revenue will be well below fiscal 2008’s, but declined to give investors any further forecasts, also citing the uncertain economy.


Only subscribers are eligible to post comments. Please subscribe or to participate in the conversation. Here’s why.

Use the form below to reset your password. When you've submitted your account email, we will send an email with a reset code.