Regular readers of this blog may have noticed that I don't particularly like the concept of "net income" when analysing a company's financials, and instead prefer to look at "change in equity" (excluding capital measures).
Bloomberg Magazine just ran an article in a similar vain, arguing that "net income" should be ignored, and investors should focus on "comprehensive income" instead (which is more or less the same as the change in equity excluding capital measures):
Apparently, the newly revised FASB rules now allow companies to keep "nontemporary loses" out of net income as well, thus widening the gap between the two concepts even further. This comes on top of gains and losses from retiree benefit plans, many derivative contracts and foreign currency fluctuations, to name just the most important items.
The article lists a few American companies where the gulf between 2008 net income and comprehensive income was particularly wide:
General Electric: +17.4 bn $ vs. -12.8 bn $
Citigroup: -27.7 bn $ vs. -48.2 bn $
MetLife: +3.2 bn $ vs. -12.1 bn $
IBM: +12.3 bn $ vs. -6.1 bn $
AT&T: +12.9 $ bn vs. -3.8 bn $
Boeing: +2.7 bn $ vs. -6.5 bn $
(For the last three, the major part of the discrepancy was due to funding problems on their defined-benefit pension plans, which had large equity exposure.)
With discrepancies as large as these, what meaning can "net income" possibly have? It's little better than "operating income", and it certainly doesn't tell you if a company was making money or not.