Forbes 500 Introduces Report on Pro Forma Earnings

Noting that aggregate corporate earnings for 2001 were "pretty awful," Forbes Magazine added a new table to its annual report on the 500 largest American companies. For the first time in 34 years of ranking companies, this year's report features companies that use "pro forma accounting."

Although it admits pro forma earnings can present useful information for investors at times, (e.g. following a significant merger), Forbes also likens them to a rug under which all manner of corporate mistakes are swept, particularly in a year when the aggregate net income of the 500 most profitable U.S. firms declined 23%.

By searching through the 824 firms that made it onto the Forbes 500 (ranked in various ways, such as sales, earnings, and assets), Forbes found 26% show a second set of numbers in addition to their "official" results.

Without passing judgment on the usefulness of the companies' respective pro forma information, the editors of Forbes published in the paper copy of the magazine a list of ten companies with significant discrepancies between their actual and adjusted results based on diluted earnings per share (EPS). An expanded chart is provided on the magazine’s subscribers-only web site.

The companies with the largest dollar differences in actual vs. adjusted diluted EPS in 2001 included US Airways Group, Corning, Whirlpool, Federated Department Stores, Lockheed Martin, Verizon Communications, and Ford Motor Company,

-Rosemary Schlank

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