How the media reported this earnings season

It wasn’t official until Wednesday but everyone knew it was coming: Australia has entered a recession for the first time in nearly three decades.

The spectre of this fact loomed large over the recent earnings season.

We spent some time this week analysing reporting-season coverage by comparing it to August 2019.

The results showed just how varied the impacts of coronavirus have been on Australia’s corporate landscape.

The retail sector experienced the biggest boom in reporting levels, with some smaller retailers experiencing nearly 400% increases in their coverage levels on 2019.

Some of these brands, like Kogan.com, were in the news off the back of bumper profits and a rising share price. Others, like retail conglomerate Mosaic Brands, were anticipating hundreds of store closures over the next few years.

Travel and healthcare were the other two sectors where coverage increased significantly.

Most sectors actually saw slight declines in their earnings coverage.

That’s because the overall number of earnings-focused stories this year was down 11% on last year, which is probably attributable to media redundancies (including at AAP), and the fact coronavirus has made for an unusually busy news cycle.

In the finance space, there was a particular interest this season in the big four banks and what sort of dividend, if any, they might pay. Dividends also featured heavily in Telstra’s coverage.

Tech darling Afterpay was mentioned in a similar overall number of stories as last year but was far more prominent than in previous years. Outside Afterpay, however, there was relatively subdued interest in the nation’s tech sector.

As well as tracking sectors, we also had some fun looking at the use of language in this year’s coverage.

It was the AFR’s James Thomson who christened “resilience” the buzzword of the season, and certainly it experienced a stellar rise, used 255% more than 12 months ago. ‘Unprecedented’ was another word to reach, er, unprecedented usage levels.

But it was the words that have fallen from grace which perhaps best reflect our grim economic circumstances.

‘Growth’ was used nearly 2000 times less often in journalists’ earning season stories this year than last. ‘Yield’, ‘trade’ and ‘investment’ also suffered very large drops. Interest rates have largely fallen from the news cycle as they remain rooted to the floor.

The words with the biggest fall in use from August 2020 vs August 2019:

The words used less in August 2020 vs 2019

Spiking higher were terms like ‘restriction’, ‘impact’ and ‘support’, alongside virus terminology like ‘lockdown’ that was barely in use a year ago.

One word that stood out in increased usage this year was ‘Government’, as business looked to our nation’s leaders to provide some degree of certainty and help kickstart the economic recovery. It’s likely to be a long road ahead.

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