When Snap (SNAP - Get Report) reports its first earnings as a public company after Wednesday's closing bell, what's left out of the fiscal first-quarter results could be just as important as what's included.
Snap won't be giving earnings guidance for the quarters ahead, which could rattle analysts and investors, as they often use such projections to build models and analysis predicting future financial performance. The Snapchat parent company said in its IPO prospectus in February that it doesn't plan to give quarterly or annual financial guidance.
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The practice of giving guidance has been widely debated among market experts. Those who are critical of it say it provides a free service to investors who should be doing their own analysis. Others, however, believe there are clear benefits for both the company and financial markets, such as reduced stock price volatility, higher valuations and improved transparency between company executives and investors.
Critics, including billionaire investor Warren Buffett and JPMorgan Chase CEO Jamie Dimon, have said earnings guidance encourages "malpractice" among companies trying too hard to meet it, and also wastes managers' time. Giving guidance can also ramp up investors' focus on short-term results, rather than on the big picture, according to a 2006 report from McKinsey and Company, which surveyed 4,000 companies to examine how many were issuing earnings forecasts.
The firm found that between 1994 and 2001, the number of companies who provide guidance increased from 92 to 1,200. Subsequent to then, however, McKinsey found the number had started to taper off.
"The current trend -- more and more companies discontinuing quarterly guidance and substituting thoughtful disclosures about their long-range strategy and business fundamentals -- is a healthy one," the firm said in the report. "In this way, companies will better signal their commitment to creating long-term, sustainable shareholder value and encourage their investors to adopt a similar outlook."
For Snap, issuing guidance could give investors a better idea on where it's headed next. The young social media company has been assigned some high-flying valuations and growth trajectories by Wall Street analysts. Many expect Snap to continue to post triple-digit, year-over-year increases in both total sales and advertising revenue. JPMorgan analyst Doug Anmuth, for example, said he's looking for Snap's revenue to increase 251% year-over-year to $136 million, which is actually below the consensus estimate of $158 million.
Investors like certainty, so they often look to guidance as a means of strengthening financial models, said Eric Kim, managing partner at venture capitalist firm Goodwater Capital. But recently, large Silicon Valley companies in particular have strayed away from providing it because they believe it's in the best interest of their business, Kim added.
"The Googles, the Facebooks, the Amazons of the world -- they don't give guidance," Kim said. "I think what's interesting about Snap is they've now kind of put themselves into that category."
"By not giving guidance, Snap has put themselves in the same caliber as those tech giants," he added.
If Snap can beat expectations, there will be no need to issue guidance, Kim explained. But if the company starts missing expectations, Snap may need to start guiding for the quarters ahead as Twitter (TWTR - Get Report) does, he noted.
"Snap is likely following Facebook's lead as that company does not provide explicit guidance (although Facebook does guide to expense growth)," said FBN Securities analyst Shebly Seyrafi by email. "Often companies with poor visibility do not provide guidance, but I don't think that's the case here, although Snap's outlook could be quite variable."
While Snap won't be providing guidance during its earnings call, CEO Evan Spiegel (who may or may not be on the call) can alleviate some investors' anxieties by addressing what is likely to be the biggest elephant in the room: Its ongoing competition with Facebook (FB - Get Report) .
Snap on Tuesday introduced looping videos, limitless videos and what it calls a "magic eraser" feature, likely as a way to continue beefing up the user experience on Snapchat. In April, the company also rolled out new options for advertisers to make it easier for brands to purchase ads.
In lieu of guidance, then, analysts will be looking to Spiegel to detail how it's holding off competition from Facebook during the earnings call.
"Hopefully Evan Spiegel is on the call to talk about Facebook," Kim said. "I think their current use base, which is primarily millennials, is very loyal to the product. But investors need to feel comfortable not just about today's users loving the product but tomorrow's users loving the product, too."