Thomson Reuters, one of several companies that track earnings, is, for the moment, going with the lower number ($4.54) and that lower number is having a material impact on the firm's widely followed estimates for the S&P 500 as a whole.
Overall earnings for the S&P 500, which had been rising, are now expected to be up 20.8 percent for the quarter, down from 21.7 percent yesterday.
That decline — 0.9 percentage points — may not seem like a lot, but it is a very large decline for the S&P 500 as a whole.
If the earnings number without the fine — $11.75 — was used, the earnings rate would be 22.4 percent.
This goes to the heart of an argument that has gone on for more than a decade: Should analysts use traditional "GAAP" (Generally Accepted Accounting Principles) numbers that include most charges, or should they use "Adjusted" (non-GAAP) earnings that strip out charges that will not typically be repeated?
Christine Short at Estimize, another company that tracks earnings estimates, uses non-GAAP numbers in her calculations. Her reasoning: "Every business runs differently, and every company should be able to remove charges that don't impact earnings going forward," she told me.
This is a compelling argument to a lot of investors. It's tougher to do a long-term comparison of earnings growth over several years when you have a huge charge in the middle that doesn't relate to the core business and distorts the rate of growth. This is one reason many pay more attention to, say, revenues, which for Alphabet came in up 25 percent. "That [revenue growth] makes sense over the history of Alphabet, and why we go with the non-GAAP EPS," she said.
Finally, she notes that charges typically don't impact investor behavior.
"Would a one-time charge prevent an investor from getting involved in company going forward?"
Unfortunately, if you are an old-fashioned investor, this is not necessarily a compelling argument.