Elegance in a forward looking statement

One of the other subjects to muse about in the ‘Forward-Looking Statements’ in annual reports is the length of these statements. [1] Some are excruciatingly long over 1100 words.  The shortest one I found was Abbott’s with 135 words, but even this is not so much difficult to read, but ever so dull.


This Form 10-K contains forward-looking statements that are based on management’s current expectations, estimates, and projections. Words such as “expects,” “anticipates,” “intends,” “plans,”“believes,” “seeks,” “estimates,” “forecasts,” variations of these words, and similar expressions are intended to identify these forward-looking statements. Certain factors, including but not limited to those identified under “Item 1A. Risk Factors” of this Form 10-K, may cause actual results to differ materially from current expectations, estimates, projections, forecasts, and from past results. No assurance can be made that any expectation, estimate, or projection contained in a forward-looking statement will be achieved or will not be affected by the factors cited above or other unknown or future events. Abbott undertakes no obligation to release publicly any revisions to forward-looking statements as the result of subsequent events or developments, except as required by law.” [2]

How useful do you think a shareholder finds this statement. I do not classify it as useful but useless.

I then checked to see how often Abbott’s management reviewed their forward looking statement. I went back 20 years. And eureka the sentences are at least 20 years old! All of the above appeared in their 2002 Form 10-K except for these two phrases: ‘Item 1A. Risk Factors” of this Form 10-K’, and ‘except as required by law’.

In 2002 the statement went on for over 750 words, so someone paraphrased it later but didn’t bother to change the wording. Then after 2008, they added: ‘except as required by law’ at the end as a further precaution. So yes, management does review their statement, but only from time to time!

Finally my prize for the most elegant English in Cautionary Statements goes to a French company: Sanofi. They turned this dull subject into a little story. Here is an extract:

“As a result of these factors, we cannot assure you that the forward-looking statements in this annual report will prove to be accurate. Furthermore, if our forward-looking statements prove to be inaccurate, the inaccuracy may be material. In light of the significant uncertainties in these forward-looking statements, you should not regard these statements as a representation or warranty by us or any other person that we will achieve our objectives and plans in any specified time frame or at all.” [3]

Almost a pleasure to read!

[1] I analysed the forward looking statements from the 2021 and 2022 annual reports of eight pharmaceutical companies, four based in USA – Abbott Laboratories, Abbvie Inc, Bristol-Myers Squibb Company, Johnson and Johnson, and four based in the Europe – AstraZenica, GlaxoSmithKline, Sanofi, Novartis.

[2] Abbott Laboratories, Form 10-K, for the fiscal year ended 31st December 2022, page 15.

[3]  Sanofi, Form 20-F, for the fiscal year ended 31st December 2022, Cautionary statement regarding forward-looking statements, page 5.