NEW YORK, (TheStreet) -- There are two ways to look at
earnings: right and wrong. One way will inform you; the other will make you feel dodgy.
Let's start with the right path. When it came to Target's 4th quarter earnings, reported yesterday, here's what The Wall Street Journal said in clear and prominent terms: "Per-share earnings were flat at $1.45...the company last month cut its profit target to a range of $1.35 to $1.43 a share, citing the softer-than-expected holiday sales."
Got that? They beat expectations, with a defining caveat. Management reduced expectations for Target's 4th quarter about two minutes ago--specifically, January.
The Associated Press (and many others) merely said this: "Analysts had expected $1.40 per share." They mentioned neither hide nor hair of the recent reduction.
This is a central oversight, one witnessed all too frequently. Reducing expectations you soon beat could be a sign of gamesmanship, never good. It could also be indicative of a management team that doesn't have a good bead on its entire business, also less than ideal.
In the case of Target, it seems that as a result of a swing in the larger economy, (a remarkably warm winter in many regions of the country is freeing up cash normally spent on home heating) business probably faded, then snapped back a touch quicker than management expected. Still, the late reconfiguring of expectations means traders should not overreact on the upside. When the media does not mention the precise nature of the beast, traders stand to lose.
At the time of publication, Fuchs had no positions in any of the stocks mentioned in this column.
Marek Fuchs was a stockbroker for Shearson Lehman Brothers and a money manager before becoming a journalist who wrote The New York Times' "County Lines" column for six years. He also did back-up beat coverage of The New York Knicks for the paper's Sports section for two seasons and covered other professional and collegiate sports. He has contributed frequently to many of the Times' other sections, including National, Metro, Escapes, Style, Real Estate, Arts & Leisure, Travel, Money & Business, Circuits and the Op-Ed Page.
For his "Business Press Maven" column on how business and finance are covered by the media, Fuchs was named best business journalist critic in the nation by the Talking Biz website at The University of North Carolina School of Journalism and Mass Communication. Fuchs is a frequent speaker on the business media, in venues ranging from National Public Radio to the annual conference of the Society of American Business Editors and Writers.
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