Meanwhile, another debacle was occurring somewhat further east, as Telekom Austria yesterday issued a tersely-worded recalibration of market expectations for 2010, wherein, despite revenue outlook being in line with consensus, EBITDA was forecast to be 11% below consensus, capex 14% higher, and as a result, operating free cash flow 25% lower. No additional color was offered by way of explanation for the variance, and the market understandably did a 14% tap dance on the share price.
Some friends of mine on the sell-side had a few hours before unfortunately published a buy note on the company. It is common practice for analysts to run their forecasts and note past a company prior to publication, just to ensure there are no factual errors or misrepresentations. Whether that occurred in this case or not, I don't know, but I assume it did, and if so, the fact that the company was on the verge of publishing material information and said nothing is not the sort of thing which endears companies to analysts.
In fact, in this case, the analysts in question, rather than trying to explain things away and goose their numbers to fit their recommendation, have done the right thing, and terminated coverage. They write:
This is hard stuff to have to write when you're in their position, and if anything, I think they're being overly polite. I am of the humble opinion that if companies become aware of a material change to outlook over the coming 12 months (I consider EBITDA variation of 11% to be material), there is every incentive (and indeed, in some markets, a regulatory requirement) to issue a formal statement and get the pain over with in a way which preserves some degree of trust and respect from the analyst and investor base. Such a move would also avoid having to surface revelations such as the fact that the four year budget is reviewed once a year, three weeks before Christmas. Investors don't want nasty short-term shocks, but they also don't want persistent nagging suspicions that there is a culture of complacency in such a rapidly changing industry landscape, or more frankly, that visibility is too poor to make credible four-year budgets.