Sunday, 10 November 2019

Why Listening to the Management Is of Limited Use

Savvy investors actively track management commentary, CEO’s message, and other such forward-looking stuff. They think that by tracking these, they can get valuable insight into the future performance of the business. I have even seen analysts “reading” and “decoding” the management’s body language and confidence level. In my view all this is dispensable. Even if someone must pay attention to this sort of things, he should use it in conjunction with other data or sources. However, what the management does is always useful information. That’s because actions speak louder than words. 

The case of an Indian airline is exemplary. This is the largest airline in the country and has about half the market share. In an industry where it’s difficult to turn profits, it has been consistently profitable. Its IPO also saw a surge in its share price. Everything seemed to be fine with the company until the tussle between its founders broke. The founders traded barbs, acted like recalcitrant children and sought mediation at multiple forums. One founder actually questioned the business practices of the airline.

The ego war between the founders of this airline tells us a lot about the airline’s management. Companies have a tendency to sugarcoat things. Even when they are “honest” about a gloomy scenario in the future, they still tend to hold back information or juxtapose bad news with many “howevers.” That could make the analyst believe that after all the situation isn’t so bad and probably the company would recover soon. 

Broadly, what people do tells you more than what they say. When it comes to speech, we put our best foot forward. But actions are what reveal the truth. Hence, paying attention to what people are saying is of limited use. Instead, look at what they have done. That can provide you more information. Similarly, while analyzing a company, discount what the management or the CEO is saying. Instead, see what the company has done in the past. That’s more insightful. 

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