For a publicly traded company, the advantage of reporting earnings as OIBDA is clear: The OIBDA number is almost always going to be higher -- sometimes significantly higher -- than earnings figures calculated using any other accounting method. The standard calculation of net income takes into account all expenses, including corporate tax deductions that dramatically lower the taxable earnings of a company, and long-term investments in equipment, construction and intellectual property protections. OIBDA disregards all of those deductions and expenses, choosing to report only those expenses that directly relate to the daily operation of the business, like employee salaries, raw material costs and shipping fees.
If pleasing stockholders is your top priority, then a higher earnings figure is hugely important. But as an investor, your top priority is determining the real value of a company and how that value changes from quarter to quarter. In that case, whether an earnings figure is high or low doesn't matter as much as whether it's accurate.
Is OIBDA an accurate measurement of a company's value? Let's look at an example cited by the investment website The Motley Fool. In the 4th quarter of 2005, technology company Research in Motion (RIM), maker of the Blackberry handheld device, reported a GAAP net loss of $2.6 million, but an adjusted OIBDA of $140.1 million. That's a nearly $150 million swing in profitability. The higher non-GAAP number ignores two big transactions: The $249 million RIM paid in a patent-infringement settlement and the $151 million it was able to write off on its taxes in relation to the lawsuit [source: Motley Fool].
In this case, the non-GAAP OIBDA figure is a more useful figure for investors. Sure, it's troubling that RIM had to pay such a hefty settlement, but for earnings comparison purposes, pure operating income (minus the legal stuff) offers a clearer picture of the company's value.
The disadvantage of OIBDA for both companies and investors is the murkiness of the calculations. Investors should raise a red flag any time they see the term "non-GAAP." Why is this company resorting to non-standard earnings calculations? Are they trying to hide something? Once a company enters non-GAAP territory, it's easier to get "creative." For example, what is the line between an "extraordinary" expense and a recurring expense -- and how blurry can it get?
The advice for investors is to use multiple earnings calculations -- and not just the one provided in the earnings report -- to determine a company's true value [source: Corporate Executive Board].