I've listened to many (too many) conference calls that companies do with analysts after reporting quarterly earnings. They can be stupefyingly boring, and the deference that analysts pay to management can be nauseating. "Congratulations on a great quarter," "Great job on your acquisition of company XYZ," etc.
Rarely does anything of note occur, because on one side you have management that may expound a little on the earnings, but is usually loath to give anything interesting or material away, and on the other side you have sell-side analysts that seem equally loath to ask a pressing question. Rarely does management refer directly to an analyst in a call, or a piece of research published by an analyst. "Leave well enough alone" seems to be the unspoken agreement between both sides. That unspoken rule was broken Thursday.
In a conference call with analysts, Rogers Communications CEO Guy Laurence had this to say about critical analyst comments that had been published on the company's latest earnings: "I saw some of the headlines this morning which I thought were a little bit sensationalist and, not pointing out anyone in particular – Dvai – but I really think that to be honest, these are little vibrations here and there and that actually we are in a good place right now,"
Wow, right? "Dvai" is Canaccord Genuity Corp. analyst Dvai Ghose, who had earlier published a note on Rogers' third-quarter results. Some on the Street have interpreted Mr. Lawrence's comments as being hostile towards Mr. Ghose, in the vein of "you better watch what you write, pal." And it turns out Mr. Ghose's phone has been ringing off the hook since the episode. He says that some of the reaction from his colleagues has been "Good on you, Dvai. Keep it up." Others though, have expressed concern to Mr. Ghose that his relationship with Mr. Laurence may be damaged.
When I asked Mr. Ghose about such things, he started cackling. He says the Street is "getting it all wrong." Mr. Laurence was "not being hostile at all" in his comments, he says. He was just "joking around," and even if he was being serious (which he wasn't), no offence was taken.
Mr. Ghose says the fact that Mr. Laurence said "not pointing out anyone in particular – Dvai" was a giveaway that the comments were meant to be interpreted in a tongue-and-cheek fashion.
"It's a cultural thing" said Mr. Ghose, referring to British "lad" humour. Mr. Laurence is from the U.K., and Mr. Ghose spent part of his career there.
Mr. Ghose notes that there has been a fair amount of public banter between them since Mr. Laurence was appointed CEO in December of last year. Mr. Ghose likes to get in a few digs about Mr. Laurence's beloved Manchester United. (You can see how it could be a sore spot for the Rogers boss. Poor old "Man U", one of the winningest teams in all of sport, has been struggling since long-time manager Alex Ferguson retired).
Mr. Ghose says he actually finds it refreshing that an engaging character like Mr. Laurence is running a major corporation in Canada. Canadian CEOs are known worldwide for their efficiency, professionalism and work ethic, but they can be "a bit staid and stuffy" said Mr. Ghose, and they rarely veer from the company script. Mr. Laurence is clearly not cut from the same cloth.
In Thursday's conference call, he referred to rival BCE Inc. as a "cry baby" for its complaint to the CRTC over the GamePlus mobile app being offered only to Rogers customers. His swipe at BCE was "great" said Mr. Ghose. "That was a colourful, humorous comment." (BCE owns 15 per cent of The Globe and Mail)
A final clue that Mr. Ghose has perhaps nothing to worry about: the now infamous analyst note that Mr. Ghose published that seemingly ticked off Mr. Laurence had the headline, "One step forward, one backwards; still, we maintain BUY rating."