LARRY P. VELLEQUETTE

Gassed at work: Was there a question in there somewhere?

Automotive News | February 2, 2013 - 10:36 am EST

I’m going to let you in on a little secret: The quarterly analyst calls that automakers conduct are like gold mines -- filled with valuable nuggets, but with dangerous pockets of trapped gas threatening at every turn.

For the most part, the problem is not the automakers or their executives.

Oh no, the dangerous gasbags are the analysts.

Chrysler Group’s analyst call on Wednesday morning was a classic example. After a quickly paced, fact-rich 23-minute presentation by CEO Sergio Marchionne and CFO Richard Palmer, the executives invited questions.

And the first questioner out of the gate -- an analyst who opined more than he actually inquired -- took 3 minutes and 11 seconds to reach the conclusion of his three- or four-part query. (Honestly, I lost track of how many parts his question had, even after I listened to it again today just so I could time how long he spoke.)

To put that in perspective, 3 minutes and 11 seconds is more than enough time to make a sandwich or take a shower or even do a Sudoku puzzle, depending on your skill. And it’s definitely enough time to ask a question, even one in four parts, unless you’re more interested in listening to yourself talk than you are in getting answers.

This analyst wasn’t alone by any means (though it should be noted that he did a command performance an hour later on the Fiat S.p.A. analysts’ call with another question of Palmer and Marchionne that was also ridiculously long). A number of other analysts on the call testified more than they questioned, offering seemingly insincere “congratulations” and “good-job” prefaces before their deep dives into Chrysler’s financials.

Marchionne and Palmer hadn’t yet gone through the new five-year product plan that had been attached to the online slides on the presentation. The product plan was a bonus nugget sure to attract much attention from those participating on the call and interested in Chrysler’s future. But it got just the briefest of mentions because of all the time spent on the 90-minute call as analysts spoke more than they listened.

Look, I’m not fully discounting what analysts do in the markets. Their jobs are important if investors are to get a clear picture of what companies are doing with their money. All I’m saying is that everybody participating in or listening to these earnings calls has something else they need to do.

I asked a spokeswoman for Chrysler if she’d like to comment on the ridiculous lengths of the analysts’ questions during the call. She acknowledged what had happened, but her response was pure poetry. “I’ll make it short and sweet,” she said. “No comment.”

So, analysts, if you can, please, for the love of God, just ask your %$##!!! questions.

Larry P. Vellequette is a reporter for Automotive News.Larry P. Vellequette is a reporter for Automotive News.

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