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New metrics to Define Financial Performance?

In the tumult surrounding the 3D maelstrom (Debt Ceiling, Downgrading and Deficit) of several weeks ago, you may have missed another chilling corporate finance update on the relentless pursuit of performance metrics that extol the sunshine while you’re in the heart of darkness. Yes, there may be some economic value for certain of these metrics, but they’re dangerous barometers of realizable value and highly misleading as to future achievements of tangible operating profits and free cash flow.

Another Sign of the Apocalypse?

Most of us recall the “eyeball counting” that preceded the Dot-Com-Bomb and those certain “Signs of the Apocalypse”, as when your cab driver is telling you what stocks you should buy.

So, in case you missed the New York Times article describing the latest incarnation of these prayerful metrics, “ACSOI” is one the latest inventions. Pronounced as either “ack-soy” or “ask-saw” depending on the source, it stands for “adjusted consolidated segment operating income.”

It may be one of those metrics that falls into the bucket that Lynn E. Turner, a former chief accountant for the Securities and Exchange Commission, once called E.B.B.S., or “earnings before bad stuff.” Sweet, huh?

Let’s leave out some of them stinkin’ marketing expenses

ACSOI is one of three yardsticks that Groupon invites investors to consider and refers to operating profit minus the company’s large online marketing and acquisition expenses. Groupon wants to emphasize that it’s important to segregate the extraordinary cost of obtaining new subscribers vs. the cost of sustaining existing subscribers, which are much less expensive. Interesting information … but similar to a reporting strategy used by Pets.com before they hit the wall at Mach 10 during the dot.com bust.

Does Internet content have a 5 year life?

With similar objectives, the article reports that Demand Media stretches its payments to content contributors over 5 years to emphasize the long life of the content on their site. While Google searches might turn up some of these older articles, there is so much new content that the old adage about “today’s newspaper is tomorrow’s fish wrap” may likewise apply to digital content. (As a result of this treatment, Demand Media turned net income from a -$5M number to a +$5M number. Hmmm ….)

Pay attention, kids. Momma ain’t no pushover.

So, heads-up investors. It may be a different world than the dot.bomb era, and there may be more substance to some of the new technology ventures, but if you’re going to drink the Koolaid … remember that drinking it too fast will make you lose your cookies!

Caveat Emptor!

Does this bother you? Am I making a mountain out of a mole hill? What do you think?

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