By Nicholas Varchaver, assistant managing editor
FORTUNE -- It's earnings season again, which brings with it the regular wave of news articles about a company's latest results. But in this age of Twitter-sized attention spans and ever-more-compressed reading time, an old phenomenon brings increased peril: headline roulette. Particularly when companies' results are mixed, news outlets tend to spotlight different elements, creating headlines that leave wildly contrasting impressions. If you actually go to the trouble of reading the articles closely, they generally agree on the facts. But who has time to read full articles any more?
Consider these headlines from today about General Electric's results:
GE Profits Top Estimates (Bloomberg)
GE Posts Decline in Profits, Revenues (Wall Street Journal)
GE Industrial Profits Rise 12%, Shares Up (Reuters)
There's a similar effect for Goldman Sachs:
Profit and Revenue Drop at Goldman Sachs (New York Times)
Goldman Earnings Beat Estimates (Wall Street Journal)
Goldman Beats Estimates on Jump in Investment Banking (Bloomberg)
Goldman Sachs Profit Falls 11% But Beats Estimates (Reuters)
And these headlines about Philip Morris International could prompt a confused cough or two:
Philip Morris 1Q Profit Falls (Washington Post)
Philip Morris Tops Estimate on Higher Prices (Bloomberg)
Philip Morris Earnings Drop 12%, as Sales Volume Continues Decline (Wall Street Journal)
So which are right? It's hard to tell without -- gasp -- reading the actual articles, but the market has its own opinion: A few hours after the headlines, GE (GE) shares were up 2%, Goldman's (GS) had risen 1%, and Philip Morris's (PM) stock had fallen 3%.
The online retailer has pitched the idea that it doesn't matter what it earns right now. That's led to a lot of guesswork and differing opinions.Stephen Gandel, senior editor - Jan 30, 2014 5:00 AM ET
A drop in compensation and a boost from deals like Twitter's IPO helped the bank rebound from a disappointing third quarter.
FORTUNE -- Goldman Sachs' profits in the last three months of 2013 fell 19% from a year earlier to $2.3 billion, but the earnings were much better than analysts had expected.
"We believe that we are well positioned to generate solid returns as the economy continues to heal and provide considerable MOREStephen Gandel, senior editor - Jan 16, 2014 8:17 AM ET
Already at record levels, corporate profits aren't likely to boost the S&P 500.Shawn Tully, senior editor-at-large - Jan 13, 2014 5:00 AM ET
During a quarter in which rival Goldman struggled, Morgan Stanley CEO James Gorman made progress on a turnaround strategy.
FORTUNE -- James Gorman's Morgan Stanley makeover is finally showing results.
Despite a tough three months for Wall Street traders, Morgan Stanley's profits and revenue, driven by growth in its wealth management division, beat expectations for the third quarter. The bank earned $906 million, up from a loss of just over $1 billion MOREStephen Gandel, senior editor - Oct 18, 2013 10:57 AM ET
Proposed Volcker Rule hasn't stopped some of Goldman's trading businesses, and that could be a problem.
FORTUNE -- Goldman Sachs earned $1.4 billion in the third quarter, down 23% from the second. It maybe shouldn't have even earned that much.
Unlike other banks, Goldman (GS) has been slow to shut down businesses that could soon be forbidden by the so-called Volcker Rule. Named after former Fed Chairman Paul Volcker, the rule was MOREStephen Gandel, senior editor - Oct 17, 2013 2:31 PM ET
Accounting moves boosted bottom lines at the biggest banks this quarter. How long can this last?
FORTUNE -- Even as Washington is adding doubts to the recovery, investors have taken comfort in bank earnings. Perhaps they shouldn't be.
On Wednesday, Bank of America (BAC) said it netted $2.5 billion in the third quarter, up from basically breaking even a year ago. Shares rose, as they have at the other banks, even before MOREStephen Gandel, senior editor - Oct 17, 2013 10:36 AM ET
Why is Twitter using the same accounting tricks that have been criticized so many times before?
FORTUNE -- When it comes to its bottom line, Twitter would like potential investors to put on some heavily tinted rose-colored glasses.
In the registration statement for its upcoming IPO, which was filed on Thursday, Twitter said through the "eyes of management" the company had a profit of just over $21 million in the first six MOREStephen Gandel, senior editor - Oct 8, 2013 5:00 AM ET
What a rigorous metric called "EVA" says about the value of stocks. Hint: it ain't pretty.
FORTUNE -- Forget P/Es. Trailing, forward, westward, or eastward, the venerable price-earnings ratio tells you little more about the value of a company than its marketing budget. Or (ugh!) its "consensus analyst rating."
The best measure of how companies perform for shareholders is a wonkish tool called Economic Value Added, or EVA. The advantage of EVA is MOREShawn Tully, senior editor-at-large - Aug 19, 2013 8:51 AM ET
The company made more money from both its investments -- which have outperformed the market overall -- and in its operating businesses than it did a year ago.Stephen Gandel, senior editor - Aug 2, 2013 6:47 PM ET
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