Preparing for Earnings During COVID-19

By Allison Malkin

COVID-19 has changed the way we work and how we communicate.  As a result, ahead of earnings, we felt it would be helpful to outline where, how and what companies should consider before reporting results.  It is important to remember that there is no precedent to the current environment and companies now have a lot more flexibility regarding the amount and type of information they share. However, this flexibility should be balanced with the goal of continuing to make it easy for investors to assess the Company’s current operations, ability to navigate during this time of uncertainty, as well as the potential to better position the business for success as conditions stabilize (See “Building a Wish List” here).  For many companies that have been significantly impacted by the COVID-19 crisis, investors are much more focused on cash, debt maturities, covenant triggers and cash flow information than in normal times, so prepared comments should weigh these areas more heavily.

Where and How

Assuming management teams are remote when reporting, below is a list of items to consider in an effort to deliver a seamless earnings call.

Pre-recording prepared remarks

While speakers can dial in from different locations for the live earnings call, a pre-recorded call will eliminate some stress as issues are less likely to occur.

  • Pre-recordings typically occur 24 to 48 hours ahead of the actual earnings call;
  • Speakers are able to dial in from different locations to record their remarks and can do so at the same time as other speakers or separately;
  • After recording, the playback is provided and speakers will have the opportunity to listen, approve or re-record the recording ; and
  • During the earnings call, the operator introduces the call and hits play. Speakers will be muted until the Q&A session, which will be live followed by live closing remarks.

Evaluating whether technology will be helpful for Q&A

Assuming speakers will not be in the same location, answering analyst and investor questions without talking over one another is key.  To achieve this:

  • Designate one speaker to announce who will handle the parts of each question –although this seems a bit formal, it is helpful; and
  • Video capabilities such as Zoom will enable the speakers to see each other and point to who will take the question – this will allow for a casual conversation.


Assumes the company is able to finalize prepared remarks in advance; and that there are no changes to final release that would cause a corresponding edit to the prepared remarks (ie: last minute changes to financials).

Live call option

If remarks cannot be finalized in advance, then a live call is the only option.

  • Speakers should do a sound check prior to the call, look for a quiet space when on the live call and ensure there is a good connection if utilizing a cell phone.
    • If a quiet space is not available, which is understandable, then reference where you are taking the call from and indicate that there may be background noise.

Evaluating whether or not to hold a live Q&A session or post-earnings callbacks

While we suggest holding a Q&A session, there may be times when management is uncomfortable speaking beyond what is outlined on the call and in the release. If this is the case consider:

  • Posting expected questions with answers on the website next to the webcast link and/or release;
  • Have management speak to questions and provide key messages related to those questions as part of the call;

If eliminating the Q&A session:

  • Management can say at the beginning of their prepared remarks that they will not be holding an interactive/live Q&A session today, but there are topics we believe will be of further interest posted to the website that will give you more context and some additional details related to financials to help analysts and investors build their models; and
  • Would apply same methodology to analyst and investor callbacks – can consider hosting callbacks with analysts and large holders only and mention to them upfront that you can only answer questions on the reported period and limited outlook that was provided, if any.

What to Report

For the current quarter – For many it will seem like the tale of two halves, as companies with the majority of their operations in the U.S. did not see a significant impact until the second half of the period.  ICR suggests transparent disclosure and consistent disclosure of metrics:

Companies can begin prepared remarks with the current state of operations, which can include:

  • Provide how the business was trending before the impact of COVID-19 – can be quantitative or qualitative;
  • Provide how the business is performing post COVID-19 – can be qualitative or quantitative Facilities update
  • Work remote update
  • Actions to ensure safety and well-being of employee base
  • Actions to protect customers and the communities in which a business operates
  • Supply chain update

Financial Liquidity/Balance sheet/Capital Allocation

  • Cash and revolver availability as of quarter end and a time period ahead of the earnings call;
  • Other working capital requirements or opportunities
  • Debt/leverage
    • Speak to current maturities and plans to pay what is coming due;
    • Speak to availability under revolver and other debt facilities; and
    • Speak to covenants and triggers.
  • Priorities in the short term versus long term as it relates to:
    • Share repurchase programs;
    • Dividends; and
    • Acquisitions
    • Consider providing cash balances at quarter end and the month ending following to give insight into cash burn


While many companies have suspended guidance given lack of visibility, Consider commenting on:

  • Capital expenditure outlook;
  • Providing confidence in liquidity to navigate during what is expected to be a sustained period of disruption
  • Focus on innovation/strategy to position company to accelerate growth when conditions stabilize; and

Conference Call Dial-in and Advisory Release Best Practice

Due to COVID-19, most conference call providers will have limited operators available to handle the upcoming earnings season, causing extremely long wait times which will most likely frustrate investors dialing into the call.  We have listed several options below to reduce the risk of delays and keep your earnings conference call going smoothly.

Option #1:

  • Only include the webcast link in the advisory release to eliminate the frustratingly long hold-time when dialing into the call.
  • Send the dial-in information to sell-side analysts separately via email to allow them to ask questions during the live call.
  • On the day of the call, dial in early and provide the call operator a list of names so that when the sell side analysts dial in and provide their name, and the call operator can match their names and firms with the list quickly.

Option #2 – If you still want to include the dial in information in the press release:

  • When scheduling with the call vendor, ask the vendor to set it up using “passcode entry.” This will allow participants to be connected to the call immediately upon entering the passcode. Please note that with this setup, you will not be able to get a record of the participant list as their names are not recorded when they dialed in to speed up the connection process.
  • On the advisory release, add a few sentences that due to Covid-19 and a low number of operators, wait times for the actual dial in will be long and the company suggests utilizing the webcast link.

With either of these two options, we suggest the following:

  • Avoid using an “internet-based” phone due to increased internet activity that can lower the call quality. Use landlines when possible.
  • Most analysts will be at home on their laptop this quarter. To make it easier for them to access any pertinent material, you can send the release (or presentation if available) in an email ahead of the call.

Finally, ensuring you are reporting when you have information that allows for transparent communication is important.  Therefore, reporting later than typical is preferred if that will give the company more insight into critical areas that investors will focus on, such as liquidity.  Waiting to report in order to relax a debt covenant or secure financing is a better option than reporting and indicating that those activities are still being evaluated and finalized.  Additionally, if companies have material information to provide after quarter-end that they believe is relevant to share with the investment community but are not able to provide full financial results, they can consider pre-announcing preliminary results and providing the material information.  This is a time where additional timely disclosures are helpful.

In conclusion, the COVID-19 pandemic has changed how, when and what we communicate.  The uncertainty of the length of this crisis and its impact on the economy is weighing on stocks across sectors.  ICR believes, it is imperative that companies maintain transparent communication regarding their efforts to maintain liquidity as sales are low or non-existent.  While the focus will be on the near term proactive measures to manage for cash flow, companies should also continue to highlight long term goals and areas of strength that separate them from peers, as well as their efforts to evolve their operating model to come out of this crisis in a position to win.