Friday, November 28, 2008

Flawed analysis

Some new research from Newcastle Business School leads to an obvious objection.

Accountancy reader Richard Slack surveyed mainstream financial analysts, and found that they pay no attention to the social and environmental disclosures in the annual reports of UK banks. This, he says, 'will trigger fears over capital market analysts’ understanding of the broader challenges facing business and their attitudes to issues such as climate change'.

Mr Slack said the study, conducted jointly with Newcastle University, left question marks over analysts’ attitudes to the environmental challenges facing business. “Social and environmental reporting was universally considered irrelevant and incapable of influencing a financial forecast,” he revealed. “There was total dismissal of the importance of environmental issues in taking decisions such as giving loans to potential polluters, for example, and I would suggest that analysts are not taking potential climate change and environmental impact seriously enough.”
Mr Slack continued: “Our findings show that analysts are dismissive of anything other than financial metrics, and they deem large sections of voluntary narrative reporting as useless or worse. Analysts have been shown up to be narrow in their approach, often formulaic and rules-driven, and highly unlikely to be a source of change in respect of social and environmental issues. Their approach should be a major concern to wider market participants given analysts’ crucial role in the information supply chain.”

While, there's little doubt that analysts can be too focused on narrow metrics of questionable relevance to anything resembling real market conditions, it might be unfair to blame them for ignoring environmental and CSR reporting. Repeated studies by academics and pressure groups have shown that such reporting efforts are often meaningless, and little more than greenwash. Obviously there's exceptions to that, but ignoring the stuff that runs closer to self-promotion than to disclosure is hardly damnable behaviour. Still, it's never a bad idea to look beyond the analysts for information...

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