Why do some companies start their fiscal year in January and others start it in April? Why do some companies determine quarters by the calendar year and others by trends or season? In a nutshell, why do companies report quarterly results at different times of the year?
This is a question that puzzles many people because, unlike individuals, who must file their taxes to the IRS every year by the same annual deadline (usually April 15th), companies have the benefit of deciding when their fiscal year begins and ends.
There are a couple of things to keep in mind:
- Corporations must declare their fiscal year-end (or beginning) when they first form. They can't change it from year to year.
- Unlike individuals, publicly-traded companies must submit quarterly reports of their financial figures to the SEC.
- Unlike people, who must file their taxes on the same date every year, corporations have the luxury of determining when their fiscal years start and end.
- This flexibility enables companies in different sectors, subject to different seasonal trends and challenges, to devise a fiscal year that aligns with the firms' corporate goals.
- By being able to adjust the timing of their earnings reports, companies can minimize the negative seasonal effects that occur within their specific industries.
- Regardless of when the fiscal year starts, all publicly-traded companies must report quarterly results four times a year, with three statements filed as 10-Qs and one annual report (that includes Q4 data) filed as a 10-K.
- Companies are allowed to postpone their earnings for a variety of reasons, such as if an audit is not yet complete.
Why Companies Vary Fiscal Year-Ends
While there may be a variety of arguments for why companies might choose different fiscal year-ends, the main reason they opt to do it is that some industries fluctuate at different times, with some showing peak earnings during different seasons than others.
Thus, by being able to adjust the timing of their earnings reports, companies can minimize the negative seasonal effects that occur within their specific industries.
For example, a company that has to buy inventory during the summer months probably won't want to report its earnings during this time. This may be because the higher-than-normal inventory purchases will decrease its earnings and create a false image of the company's financial status for that quarter.
Reporting Results Quarterly
Each company is required to report earnings on a total of four separate occasions throughout the fiscal year. Three quarterly statements will be filed as 10-Qs, and one annual report with Q4 data within it will be filed as a 10-K.
Annual reports usually come with a letter from the CEO that summarizes the entire year, including strengths, challenges, and future strategies and goals.
The SEC requires companies to file 10-Qs no later than 45 days after the end of a quarter. These 10-Ks must be submitted no later than 90 days following a company's fiscal year-end.
Why Do Some Companies Postpone Earnings?
Some companies choose to postpone their earnings announcements for a variety of reasons. In some cases, the audits may not be completed on time to complete the report.
Other companies may have inexperienced staff who take longer to complete the task than anticipated; however, there are incidences where accidents, such as computer crashes, technical errors, loss, damage, or theft could compromise a company's financial data, making it impossible to report earnings on time.
When a company postpones announcing earnings, it can sometimes be a signal of a potentially negative earnings surprise, which could impact the share price. Delaying a company's earnings announcement could spur some investors to sell the stock, which could further impact share prices.
Is There a Set Schedule for Quarterly Earnings Releases?
There isn't a set schedule for quarterly earnings releases in terms of specific dates. Companies must file three quarterly earnings a year (at the end of each of their quarters) and an annual report that includes the fourth quarter's results. Companies can have different fiscal years from one another so their quarterly report release dates may be different. That being said, a quarterly report is required to be filed and released at the end of each quarter, regardless of the date.
Do Different Industries Release Earnings at Different Times?
Companies can release earnings at different times. A company is allowed to determine its own fiscal year so it may have a different year-end than another company. For example, one company may release its third-quarter results at the end of September while another company may release its annual report at the end of September. Industries themselves don't necessarily have to have the same earnings times, though companies in the same industries deal with the same seasonal effects, they may often have the same earnings release dates.
Are Quarterly Earnings Releases the Same as a 10-Q?
Yes, quarterly earnings releases are 10-Q releases. 10-Qs are the legal forms that a company must file with the SEC every quarter.
The Bottom Line
Companies can choose when to submit their financial filings and do so in order to take advantage of the seasonal trends of their business. Once a company decides on its fiscal year, it cannot change it as they please and must stick to that filing schedule.
Regardless of when a company chooses its fiscal-year end, all companies must abide by IRS and SEC filing rules and all companies are required to report three quarterly statements as 10-Qs and one annual report with Q4 data within it as a 10-K.