Monday, December 1, 2008

Some of My Favorite (IR Website) Things

Now that Thanksgiving is over, I thought that I would get in a Christmas holiday mood by listing some of my favorite (IR website) things. (Obscure fact of the day: The song “Some of My Favorite Things”, was sung by Julie Andrews in the movie The Sound of Music during a Summer thunderstorm, although it is now mostly associated with the holidays due to its optimistic lyrics.)  I’ve been working on a project lately that scores investor relations websites and it’s given me the opportunity to view many companies’ efforts in this area.  Overall, it seems as if investor relations web sites are becoming more robust.  I’ve been impressed with the variety and ingenuity exhibited on some of the sites I’ve seen.

As you might expect, not every site does everything, so for the benefit of those investor relations officers that don’t have time to conduct a review of other web sites, I thought I would list some of my favorite features:

Charting – there are lots of charting sites available, but some things can be done better on the company page.  For example, interactive charts with links to events and press releases are very helpful.  Many times I’ve stared at a stock price chart with a big dip or rise and wondered, “What happened here?” An interactive chart that leads you straight to the event saves a lot of time and effort.  Another helpful feature is being able to specify an exact time frame for your chart.  After all, most investors don’t invest on the exact day necessary to fit into the standard time range specified on most web sites.  I also found that charts that let you specify other companies to chart against very useful, although I’m sure many companies are not thrilled about having their competitors charted on their site.

I also found sites that provided a glossary helpful.  Every industry has its acronyms and special catch phrases and to the extent these can be explained and accurately defined, a lot of questions and head scratching can be eliminated.  In retail, for example, a common measure is same store sales, but many companies calculate it slightly differently.  A clear definition of how the measure is calculated can save IROs a lot of heartburn.  Along similar lines, another interesting feature I came across was a page that discussed other, non-company indicators as they may affect the company.  An obvious example, (I live in Houston) is the link between the price of oil and the performance of the oil companies.  Other companies have exposure to things such as inflation, commodity prices and consumer spending to name a few, and a page where companies gather the data and discuss their outlook on these trends is quite useful not only as a data source, but also as an additional insight into how the company thinks about how it is linked to the greater economy.

Finally, while most companies today provide links to their recent earnings conference calls, very few provide a transcript of the call.  Although you miss the tenor of the speaker’s voice when you rely upon a transcript, it is a more time efficient way of reviewing a conference call.  It would be fairly simple for most companies to post a transcript and save us all the additional hassle of going over to the Seeking Alpha web site to get it.

There are still plenty of IR sites out there that look as if the task was simply handed off to a third party provider with the lowest price option selected (frequent readers of this blog will know that I am generally incapable of writing a post without saying something critical), but overall my assessment is that the amount of data being presented is increasing and the ease with which investors can use the information is getting better.  So, from an investor relations standpoint, things are improving.  Now, if we could only say that about the economy…

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