What Is an Earnings Call?

An earnings call is a conference call between the management of a public company, analysts, investors, and the media to discuss the company’s financial results during a given reporting period, such as a quarter or a fiscal year. An earnings call is usually preceded by an earnings report, which contains summary information on financial performance for the period.

Key Takeaways

  • An earnings call is a conference call between a public company's management team and interested parties to discuss earnings for a specific period.
  • The company discusses important aspects of its quarterly 10-Q report and annual 10-K report, particularly from the management discussion and analysis (MD&A) section.
  • Analysts use information from the earnings call in their fundamental analysis of the company.
  • Companies often publish an earnings report immediately before the earnings call.
  • At the end of the earnings call, participants are allowed to ask questions.

How an Earnings Call Works

The term "earnings call" is a combination of a company's report of "earnings" (such as its net income or earnings per share) and the conference call to discuss results.

Earnings calls often begin with the moderator issuing a safe harbor statement, which advises that the call may include forward-looking statements.

The vast majority of listed companies host earnings calls to discuss their financial results although small companies with minimal investor interest may be the exception to the rule. Many companies provide a phone recording or presentation of the earnings call on their corporate websites for a number of weeks after the actual call, making it possible for investors who could not log in to the call to access this information.

Earnings Call and SEC Forms 10Q and 10K

During an earnings call, company management discusses the details of its SEC Form 10-Q (quarterly report) or 10-K (annual report). Federal securities laws mandate that publicly traded companies provide certain information in these forms, including detailed financial results, along with a more qualitative discussion.

The MD&A section (management discussion and analysis) usually provides the most comprehensive discussion of financial results and other performance metrics. It will generally dig into the reasons behind certain aspects of growth or decline on the company’s income statement, balance sheet, and statement of cash flows.

The MD&A will discuss particular drivers of growth, risks that investors face when purchasing shares or extending loans, and even pending lawsuits. Management also often uses the MD&A section to announce the upcoming year by outlining future goals and approaches to new projects and initiatives, along with any changes in the executive suite and/or key hires.

Earnings Call and Fundamental Analysis

Analysts use the information they learn from the earnings call in fundamental analysis of the company. Fundamental analysis begins with the company’s financial statements. Analysts will comb through these statements in addition to listening in on verbal cues that company management gives during the earnings call. Analysts may ask questions during an earnings call related to main concepts or even details in the footnotes that focus on inventory and "less accumulated depreciation" lines.

Advantages and Disadvantages of Earnings Calls

Earnings calls can provide a wealth of information for investors, analysts, and members of the financial community. What's released during the earnings call can help analysts in their fundamental analysis of the company.

If allowed, some participants may present questions to be answered by the company's representative or executives during the call. The questions may yield valuable information that can enhance the company's image; however, some questions may be about topics management does not want in the forefront, thereby damaging the company.

With earnings calls, investors quickly receive the information they want without having to scour through dozens of report pages to find it. Also, they often schedule trades close to the earnings call, and how they trade is dependent on the information released.

Preparing for the earnings call can take time and command significant resources. This commitment may come at the expense of normal business operations. Also, once a company hosts an earnings call, it must continue to keep the investment community engaged. This means that it must continue these calls to prevent investors from thinking something is amiss.

Pros
  • Helps with fundamental analysis

  • Guides investors' decisions on trading

  • Allows participants to ask questions

Cons
  • Strains normal business operations

  • Q&A could produce unfavorable results

  • Must establish a regular cadence to prevent negative speculation

Example of an Earnings Call

On April 28, 2021, Apple (AAPL) held its 2nd Quarter (2021) earnings call with CEO Tim Cook, CFO Luca Maestri, other company executives, and analysts from other large companies, such as Morgan Stanley, Evercore, UBS, and Bank of America.

Tim Cook and Luca Maestri discussed the company's outlook on future revenues, income, expenses, and plans for its capital. Tim Cook highlighted the prior quarter's performance, noting a significant increase in revenues. He also boasted about iPhone and Mac's performance, as well as that of wearable products like the Apple Watch and services like Apple TV+.

Shifting the focus from its offerings, Tim Cook spoke about the company's commitment to the environment and its focus on the U.S. economy. In a quest for a net-zero carbon footprint by 2030, Apple plans to introduce approximately eight gigawatts of clean energy and continue supporting environmental projects globally. Regarding the nation's economy, it plans to invest more than $430 billion, which will result in approximately 20,000 new jobs.

Luca Maestri expanded on Cook's message by providing concrete figures. He celebrated their record-breaking performance of $89.6 billion in revenues recorded for Q2, a 54% increase compared to the same quarter of the prior year. In greater detail, he dissected revenues by segment, attributing $47.9 billion of the quarter's revenue to iPhone sales and $16.9 billion to services, such as App Store purchases, cloud services, Apple Music, and more.

Citing a remarkable performance, Maestri shared how Apple returned more than $23 billion—including $3.4 billion in dividends and $19 billion as open market repurchases of Apple stock—to shareholders during the March quarter.

Looking forward, the company expects the June quarter to not mirror the spectacular March quarter performance due to delayed launches and supply constraints. Gross margins are expected to be slightly below 50% and operating expenses are to be approximately $11 billion.

Analysts asked questions about reviving the existing customer base and attracting new customers, pricing, forward-looking initiatives, drivers for its high gross margin (42%), and the unexpectedly high performance in its Services division. In addition to the company's performance and outlook on revenues and expenses, they were asked how their plans for the U.S. economy would affect the company's expenses, to which Maestri reflected on the company's dedication to the goal, how much more revenues increased over its operations expenses in the prior quarter, and its plans to continue investing into the business.

Earnings Call FAQs

What Is the Purpose of an Earnings Call?

An earnings call allows a public company to discuss its past performance and future plans, as well as answer questions from analysts, investors, and media personnel.

What Do You Listen to in an Earnings Call?

Before listening to an earnings call, it is helpful to prepare to get a better understanding of what to listen for and what's particularly important to investors and analysts. Listen to the company's previous earnings call and read subsequent analysts' reports to gain insight into the company's performance.

Then, review the earnings press release, which is usually published before the call. This can provide valuable information, such as benchmarks and plans for dividends. As you listen to the earnings call, pay attention to the results, benchmarks, plans, and risks.

Afterward, you can analyze the call—management's tone, the results, and the answers to analysts' questions.

How Long Is an Earnings Call?

There is no prescribed time length for earnings calls. However, most last less than an hour. 

Where Can I Find Earnings Calls?

Earnings call recordings are typically published on the company's website for a specific time, such as two weeks. The transcripts are often available for a longer period. However, you can also find recordings and transcripts on investment websites. If an earnings call is not available, the next best alternative is to review the company's earnings report on its website or the Securities and Exchange Commissions's (SEC) website.

The Bottom Line

An earnings call is a conference call between company executives and the financial community. On this call, management reviews the company's performance for a specific period, as well as potential risks and future plans. At the end of the call, analysts and investors are generally welcome to ask questions, which can help in their fundamental analysis of the company.