FINANCIAL event calendars provided by the likes of Thomson Reuters, Zacks, Wall Street Horizon and a bunch of others are broken.
They are often incomplete and sometimes just plain wrong. Fixing this mess could save companies a lot of money, improve the flow of information to investors, and help firms meet their fair disclosure obligations.
It’s not hard to fix the problem because much of the work is already done. Existing technologies and standards can be used to solve the problem, but the global IR technology community needs to put their differences aside and work together on a common standard. Failing that, regulators should step in.
Calendars in a shambles
It doesn’t take a lot to figure out that none of the existing earnings release and conference call calendars is reliable. Looking at the calendars for Monday, Aug. 13 2007, here of a few of the discrepancies I noticed:
OpenCompany includes Empire Financial Holding Company’s (AMEX:EFH) call, but Yahoo! Finance’s and Google Finance’s calendars, which are sourced from Thomson Financial, make no mention of it. Reuters also doesn’t have it, despite saying its Kalends services is “unique in the coverage, quality and accuracy of its data.”
Meanwhile, Thomson’s calendar on Yahoo! Finance and Google Finance has a listing for American Community Newspapers Inc’s (Amex: CRB) conference call, but OpenCompany and Reuters don’t.
And Vcall says Great Canadian Gaming (TSX: GC) will hold its conference call at 5:00pm ET, but neither OpenCompany nor Reuters mention it.
OpenCompany says Vyyo Inc. (NASDAQ:VYYO), will be holding its conference call at 9:00am ET, but Yahoo! Finance’s Thomson-supplied lists of conference calls and earnings releases makes no mention of this. Nor is it mentioned on Google Finance.
Reuters does have it, but it says the call is at 1:00pm ET. I checked Vyyo’s website and its says 9:00am ET. So much for Reuters Kalends being “unique in the coverage, quality and accuracy of its data.”
|The company says 9:00am ET|
|Reuters says 1:00pm ET|
But this is not the only case of just plain wrong information. You’ll see mistakes like this a lot more often than you might think.
Take the example of Ignis ASA. Open company says the company will hold a conference call at 2:30am ET, which is confirmed by the company’s website, although it uses local Oslo time of 8:30am.
However, Thomson’s calendar on Google Finance says the earnings release will be at 6:00am ET (see screenshot), after the “earnings presentation” at 2:30am ET. I can’t figure out where they got that information.
|Thomson’s calendar says there’s a release at 6:00am ET, 3.5 hours after the earnings call. Of course, the company itself makes no mention of this on its website (see below).|
A standard calendar “microformat” for IR events
All of this is wholly unacceptable. The system is broken and we need a fix. The first thing to do is take people out of the equation as much as possible and automate the process. Let computers do the job.
There is an existing, very simple microformat for calendar information on the Web called hCalendar. You can create an entry on your website in this format that both humans and computers can read. It is based on the widely supported iCal format for calendar data.
When a company has an event to announce, it can simply add the event to its website with the various bits of information tagged in the hCalendar format. People visiting the site can then add the event to their own desktop calendar software, or to one of the many free online calendar applications. If their calendar software supports it, they can also receive automatic updates directly in their calendars.
hCalendar information can be syndicated or delivered to subscribers via an RSS feed. That means that once an event has been inputted at source, aggregators like OpenCompany, Reuters and Thomson — or anyone else for that matter — can automatically receive event information directly from companies without need for human intervention. Voila! Far fewer errors.
Widespread adoption through hosted CMS integration
Almost every IR website has an events calendar. And a large chunk of IR websites are using the same or similar content management systems to add events to their sites. That provides the IR community with an unique opportunity to adopt a calendar format that can achieve critical mass almost overnight.
If Thomson Financial, Shareholder.com, Investis, Ipreo, SNL Financial, Equity Story AG, and everyone else changed their calendars to create events in a standard format like hCalendar, we’d instantly have thousands of companies using the same format. And most companies wouldn’t notice anything different.
For companies that don’t use any of these big providers, the IR calendar format would be an open standard they could easily implement themselves, possibly with a free online tool like the hCalendar Creator.
Better info for investors, lower costs for companies
If the IR community cannot come together to sort this out, then perhaps this is another project for regulators like the SEC. They could simply rule that every company has to publish its upcoming events in a format like hCalendar to meet their fair disclosure requirements.
Doing so would help to ensure that all investors, and not just those with access to paid services, know when companies are releasing their earnings and other scheduled material news.
Some of what I’m talking about is already happening. Companies are issuing event announcements via RSS. Some are providing event info in desktop calendar formats. But there’s no common approach or tagging language, so we’re stuck with incomplete and inaccurate aggregated calendars.
Of course, having a standard, easily disseminated format for calendar events could save issuers a lot of money. It means they will no longer have to pre-announce conference calls and investor events in expensive news releases to satisfy Reg. FD.
Cost savings aren’t my primary motive for suggesting this. Giving investors more reliable information is my end goal. But saving companies money on PR wire services sure makes the idea a whole lot sweeter.