Tim Cook has a message for short-term investors: Saddle up for the long haul, or consider moving on.
At an event Monday night in San Francisco, the Apple Inc. (AAPL) CEO decried the 90-day reporting cycle as "remnant of a different day and time," and suggested that short-term investors should take their money elsewhere if they're in it for a quick buck.
"As CEO, I'm going to take the heat and tell my investors: We welcome you but if you're short term, maybe this isn't for you," Cook said at the Fortune CEO Initiative. "If you're making decisions based on the short-term investors, you're making a terrible decision...the CEO and the board must be willing to take the turbulence, with the activists and all the rest."
Cook isn't alone. Some of the most powerful leaders in business have similarly called for changes to the status quo of quarterly guidance, if not an end to quarterly reporting altogether.
Earlier this month, Berkshire-Hathaway (BRK.A) CEO Warren Buffett and JP Morgan (JPM) CEO Jamie Dimon published a joint op-ed in the Wall Street Journal arguing that the quarterly reporting cycle leads to "an unhealthy focus on short-term profits at the expense of long-term strategy, growth and sustainability." They encouraged CEOs of public companies to stop offering quarterly guidance, though they stopped short of asking the SEC to change its rule mandating quarterly financial reports 35 days after the end of every quarter.
Others have, though. In a 2015 memo, the law firm Wachtell, Lipton, Rosen & Katz called for the SEC to eliminate the quarterly reporting mandate for most companies.
In 2013, the European Commission amended its requirements, mandating yearly and half-yearly financial reporting; and subsequently, several major companies regulated outside of the U.S have pulled the plugs on quarterly reporting, including Schroders (GBX) , National Grid (NGG) , Unilever (UN) and Legal and General. In total, more than 40% of FTSE-listed companies had abandoned quarterly reporting, according to a 2017 survey by UK-based Investment Association.
"Better decisions are being made. We don't have discussions about whether to postpone the launch of a brand by a month or two or not to invest capital...We have moved to a more mature dialogue with our investor base," Unilever CEO Paul Polman said of the decision in January 2018.
The SEC hasn't commented on any plans to reconsider quarterly earnings mandates, but a growing minority of U.S. companies have backed away from offering quarterly profit guidance, including Facebook (FB) and British energy giant BP (BP)
"While U.S. companies do not, as of yet, have the option of discontinuing quarterly reporting (though they do have discretion to decline giving quarterly earnings guidance), the SEC should keep these observations in mind in pursuing disclosure reform initiatives and otherwise acting to promote, rather than undermine, the ability of companies to pursue long-term strategies," wrote Martin Lipton of Wachtell, Lipton, Rosen & Katz in the 2015 memo.
Apple has certainly rewarded its long-term stockholders, having increased 27% in the last year, 226% over the last five years and almost 1,400% over the last ten years.