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What Is an Earnings Press Release?

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It's not the quarterly earnings report, but it is an important document.

The quarterly "earnings season" is a busy period for public companies and their investors as updates on business progress and financials are released. The first step is usually an earnings press release. What is that exactly? In this Motley Fool Live segment from "Beat & Raise" recorded on Oct. 5, Fool.com contributors Jason Hall, Brian Withers, and Nicholas Rossolillo discuss this document.

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Jason Hall: Here's that cadence. The company drops an earnings release, and sometimes, it gets called the earnings report, and really, it's not the earnings report. Companies start off with the press release for the most part and that gets filed on the SEC Form 8-K, which is basically anytime a company drops anything material they report it on an 8-K. In this case, the press release is just that, it's a press release. They're going to put some of their financial stuff in it, but it's also a bit of a marketing document. They're going to tout the things that matter to them.

From company to company, it's going to vary how much actual financial data is really disclosed. They're almost filed with a lot of non-GAAP or adjusted numbers. I'd say, in most cases, guys, the companies tend to lead with the data that supports both the good news and also the message that management is wanting shareholders to lead with when they're thinking about it. Some companies actually try to hide, I shouldn't say hide the bad numbers, but they certainly try to minimize the numbers if they're not good, and adjusted numbers is the way to do that. That's not always the case. I've seen a lot of companies, Starbucks is one that comes to mind, the adjusted numbers that they report often can be lower than the GAAP numbers. They're really trying to tell a story about just the core business. They are useful numbers, but again, remember it's more of a marketing document than a financial release.

Brian Withers: Jason, you made a point at the top. Usually, there's a couple of bullets at the top, like our articles now, you see, there's a lot of key points. I always love it when you can't find the revenue growth, it's like, wait a minute. [laughs] Anyway, key customers added, earnings-per-share went up sequentially, and some other point. Cash remains at an all-time high. Wait, [laughs] how much money did you make?

Hall: I know, absolutely. Nick, I know you don't like it when I throw the word "pro" out there, but you're putting on three different hats. You're putting on the hat of disseminating knowledge for yourself as an investor, managing your own money, as a writer for The Motley Fool, as a contributor here on Backstage, so you're looking at that information for those audiences. Then you are looking at that information for the audiences of people that you help manage their investments for. How do you think about that first cadence, sir?

Nicholas Rossolillo: Yeah, exactly. It's really useful, helpful information even though sometimes it comes across as very biased. Sometimes, depending on the company, it has this really a lot of braggadocio added into it, look at everything we accomplished in the last three months. But I still think it's an important document because it's a hot take on what just happened in the last quarter. When we are a long-term investor and we own shares of a company, we are part business owner of that company. We want that hot take. Give us a rundown on what just happened. Oftentimes, when the news outlets will report on quarterly earnings, they're copying and pasting what they get off of this press release.

Hall: They're a megaphone.

Rossolillo: They're a megaphone, exactly. Why not just bookmark the investor relations pages of the companies that we own and get that high-level PR report directly from the source, from the people that are managing our assets. The C-suites and the board of directors, we've given them our money to take care of. I always like to go to this on earnings day and just get the hot take directly from management.

Withers: I look at it that way too, Nick. I may not have a ton of time to dive in, but I want to know some of the key numbers. How did revenue do? How did gross margins? Did they finally get a positive bottom line? Whatever it is, the quick pop, pop, pop, hit the key numbers, and OK, I got it. We'll see what management has to say, which is the next step.

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