Revisited: The poetry of financial disclaimers

There’s a certain art and poetry to everyday life if you know where to look for it. One of the big differences, I believe, between happy people and sad people is that the happy among us are able to find joy and beauty in a bad situation. I often cite the great poet Raymond Stevens on this subject and his claim that “everything is beautiful in its own way/Like a starry summer night or a snow-covered winter’s day”.

In my real-life job working for a financial services company, I get to read a lot of writing that was never intended as anything more than stiff, informative prose: cash flow statements, auditors’ reports, etc. Occasionally, the author’s rhetoric will soar to unintended heights (perhaps while looking for a way to explain huge executive compensation packages, for example) but it’s usually pretty pedestrian stuff. Unless you can look at it a little differently.

The language that follows is a boilerplate disclaimer that appears in almost every financial document filed with the Securities and Exchange Commission. With a little imagination, an italic font, and the right line breaks, however, it’s a work of art:

These statements are intended to enjoy
The protection of the safe harbor
For forward-looking statements provided
By the Securities Exchange Act.
These statements can be identified
By the use of the word or phrase
“well positioned,”
or “would have”
in the statements

These forward-looking statements
Are subject to risks, uncertainties and other factors,
Domestically and internationally,
Including general economic conditions,
The cost of goods,
Competitive pressures,
Geopolitical events and conditions,
Levels of unemployment,
Levels of consumer disposable income,
Changes in laws and regulations,
Consumer credit availability,
Inflation, consumer spending patterns and debt levels,
Currency exchange fluctuations, trade restrictions,
Changes in tariff and freight rates,
Changes in the costs of gasoline, diesel fuel, other energy,
Transportation, utilities, labor and health care,
Accident costs, casualty and other insurance costs,
Interest rate fluctuations, financial and capital market conditions,
Developments in litigation to which the company is a party,
Weather conditions,
Damage to the company’s facilities from natural disasters,
Regulatory matters and other risks

The company discusses certain of these factors more fully
In its additional filings with the SEC,
Including its last annual report on Form 10-K filed with the SEC,
And this release should be read
In conjunction with that annual report on Form 10-K,
Together with all of the company’s other filings,
Including current reports on Form 8-K,
Made with the SEC through the date of this release 
The company urges you to consider
All of these risks, uncertainties and other factors
In evaluating the forward-looking statements
Contained in this release

The forward-looking statements
Made in this release
Are made only as of the date of this release,
And the company undertakes no obligation
To update them to reflect
Subsequent events
Or circumstances


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2 Responses to “Revisited: The poetry of financial disclaimers”

  1. fakename2 Says:

    I was with you all the way through the word “stiff” which always has such a positive meaning (drink, upper lip, etc., emphasis on the etc.) but parted company when we got to “informative”. I would have substituted “obscurational”, which I know is a word because I Googled it.
    On a philosophical note, I’d like to point out that it’s said that the path to contentment, if not happiness, is the ability to forgive yourself. Happy people have a superior ability to forgive themselves, and we already have a word for that: sociopathy.

  2. thekingoftexas Says:

    The conversion of corporation (corporational?) jargon to poetry may be a first—well done!

    Your reference to “the great poet Raymond Stevens” struck a chord with me—I sometimes use excerpts from that worthy’s poetry. My favorite is a work that includes the admonition, “Don’t look, Ethel!”

    I searched diligently online for a clear definition of obscurational—I found the word, but not in any dictionary or encyclopedia. Apparently it has not yet entered our English lexicon. However, adding “al” to create an adjective shows a certain measure of creativity (see “obfuscational” below), and “obscurational” may gain favor through its continued usage.

    I prefer obfuscation, a word defined as “the concealment of intended meaning in communication, making communication confusing, intentionally ambiguous, and more difficult to interpret.” The adjectival form of obfuscation would, of course, be obfuscational. I utilized the obfuscational technique in writing throughout many years of military and federal government service, and it always served me well.

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