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Do companies still have to immediately report material changes to earnings?
Under normal circumstances companies are obliged to inform the market if there is a material change in their circumstances e.g. they gain or lose a contract representing say 20% of turnover. As many companies have withdrawn guidance because of Covid-19 does this obligation still apply or might we be in for some enormous shocks?
Senior reporter Ian Conway replies:
At the end of March, the Financial Conduct Authority (FCA) issued a joint statement with the Financial Reporting Council (FRC) and Prudential Regulatory Authority (PRA) giving companies more leeway in their financial reporting.
Specifically, the statement allowed companies an extra two months to complete their audited year-end financial statements, on top of the statutory four months, without imposing a penalty or suspending their shares.
The FCA pointed out that the Market Abuse Regulation (MAR) remains in force and companies are still required to fulfil their obligations concerning inside information as soon as possible unless there is a valid reason to delay disclosure under the regulation.
Moreover, the FCA urged companies to assess carefully what information constitutes inside information at this time, ‘recognising that the global pandemic and policy responses to it may alter the nature of information that is material to a business’s prospects’.
In other words, if a company is in possession of inside information – for example, that its results are going to be wildly different to market expectations, because of the pandemic – the obligation to inform the market as soon as possible still applies.
When they posted their first quarter updates, many firms said they hadn’t seen a material impact on their operations until the last two weeks of March.
However, most of the companies that have updated the market since the end of the quarter have reported a much faster and more damaging drop in activity than they expected
It’s quite possible there will be a wave of profit warnings during May and June as companies are forced to comply with the FCA rules.
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