Warren Buffett had a few words in his most recent shareholder letter for managers who mislead their shareholders with massaged earning numbers.
Buffett suggested that shareholders should ignore certain expenses, but noted that "it has become common for managers to tell their owners to ignore certain expense items that are all too real." That is, in some cases the difference between the figures reached using generally accepted accounting principles and the adjusted non-GAAP numbers may be less about improving the numbers and more about artificially boosting earnings.
Over the past five years, the two S&P 500 sectors with the highest average difference between GAAP and non-GAPP measures were energy minerals, with an average difference of nearly $12 a share, and health technology, with a difference of $7.40 a share.
Here's all the data laid out in a scatter plot — companies on the blue line reported nearly identical GAAP and non-GAAP earnings on average over those five years, while companies above the line have adjusted their earnings to a higher level than under GAAP alone. Most companies with negative GAAP earnings have positive non-GAAP earnings (and are off the line), suggesting that companies with low earnings are more likely to adjust upward.