The movement to eliminate earnings guidance just got another powerful banker in its corner.
Kelly King, BB&T's chairman and chief executive, said during his company's quarterly conference call that he supported the effort — led by JPMorgan Chase Chairman and CEO Jamie Dimon — to do away with quarterly earnings projections.
Dimon, alongside other corporate leaders such as Berkshire Hathaway's Warren Buffett and BlackRock's Larry Fink, unveiled the initiative Thursday morning as part of a broad set of recommendations for public companies.
Expressing his support, King said providing investors with short-term targets distracts from long-term company goals. He also suggested that Dimon's effort may gain more support from bankers. Banks "are doing an injustice, frankly, to the market at large, and to our own shareholders, in terms of trying to be that specific … projecting quarter to quarter," King said.
Earnings guidance is a "trap" and such projections are a long-standing industry practice that "just makes no sense," King said.
The recommendations from Dimon's group, if adopted, could change the way banks communicate with — and set expectations for — their biggest investors. The advice is one aspect of a longer memo, titled "Commonsense Principles of Corporate Governance," that addresses a host of hot-button issues.
Dimon's group, for instance, recommends that companies design executive pay packages with "a substantial portion" of stock. It also wades into the topic of whether boards should combine the chairman and CEO roles, which has been a hotly debated topic at previous JPMorgan Chase annual meetings.
Still, the group, in an open letter, refrained from providing "overly prescriptive advice," instead focusing on high-level recommendations. "While most everyone agrees that we need good corporate governance, there has been wide disagreement on what that actually means," the letter said.
The call to scrap earnings projections comes as bank profits are under pressure. Banks of all sizes are under the gun to make big investments in technology, even as interest rates hover at historic lows and new sources of revenue remain scarce.
During BB&T's call, King said that the $222 billion-asset company has been trying to wean itself from sharing detailed projections with investors about its efficiency ratio. The metric increased slightly from the first quarter, to 59.3% on June 30.
"Frankly what I'd like to say to our shareholders is that it's my pledge to you that we're going to work really hard to provide good, long-term, growing, steady, less-volatile shareholder returns," King said, adding that bank CEOs should not handle investor opinions with kid gloves.
If investors "like what we do, they buy more stock," King said. "If they don't, they sell."
King added that BB&T will "definitely" follow Dimon's suggestion to de-emphasize quarterly guidance.
"I'm glad that Jamie is on board," King said. "I think if all the major banks would start moving in that direction, you would see [the effort] move very quickly."