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What is the origin/meaning of the term "color" in corporate earnings calls?

Some examples:

ChipMOS Technologies Ltd (IMOS) Q3 2021 Earnings Call Transcript:

S. J. will chair the meeting and review business highlights and provide color on the operating environment.

In terms of adding color on our business, our memory product benefited from healthy demand across all end markets with growth in IoT and consumer electronics, including gaming. Revenue was up about 3.5% in Q3 2021 compared to Q2 2021.

Could you provide more color about Q4 revenue and gross margin?

PepsiCo, inc (PEP) Q2 2021 Earnings Call Transcript:

I guess, I wanted to ask about PBNA hoping you could provide a little bit more color on that business and the drivers of the robust topline growth that you saw in the quarter.

3M (MMM) Q3 2021 Earnings Call Transcript:

Any color you could provide on the impact that those two things are having on margins, perhaps sizing that legal headwind? And do we expect that to bleed into next year as well?

I mean, I don't think I remember you guys being this far below CPI before, but these are strange times too, so I'm not sure it really matters. Just some color on that ramp would be helpful.

We've heard lots of specifics on material cost inflation. I'd like to hear some color on labor costs, labor shortages.

Monish, that's helpful. And could you give us a little more color on what's going on in your healthcare business in terms of margin?

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    See also Local color / color commentary
    – DjinTonic
    Dec 30, 2021 at 18:53
  • -1: I suggest that you ask this question on economics.SE or Personal Finance & Money.SE or Quantitative Finance.SE Dec 30, 2021 at 18:57
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    I'd be willing to bet that if I did, someone would downvote and suggest that I ask it in English.SE
    – Jason S
    Dec 30, 2021 at 19:15

1 Answer 1

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I don't think the use of color in your examples has to do with finance, per se, but rather the word is being used in its sense of interesting and elucidating details, examples, anecdotes, etc., and perhaps even visual aids.

color (n.)

Features that lend a particularly interesting quality to something; vivid, evocative detail added to a story, description, etc. Cf. local colour n. at local adj. and n.

1988 New Scientist 29 Oct. 67/2 The sheer fascination of Hazen's story takes you through tedious minutiae and irrelevant ‘colour’ to the final denouement.

2010 Lima (Ohio) News (Nexis) 25 Mar. It certainly adds color to the story and we writer types do love our color. (OED)

I think we can gain some insight as to how this meaning arose by looking at the first citation for this sense in the OED:

1733 A. Pope Ess. Man ii. 112 Lights and Shades, whose well-accorded Strife Gives all the Strength and Colour of our Life.

(Figuratively) Richness of expression; detail or flavour that is likely to generate interest or enjoyment.

There is a great deal of colour in his writing.

a bit of local color

Could you give me some color with regards to which products made up the mix of revenue for this quarter? Wiktionary


Adding color

Just because the stereotypical financial presentation is boring doesn't mean yours has to be dull. Yes, the data is dry. But you can use quips, quotes, and anecdotes to make it more interesting....

According to Les, the best place to add color is when you're discussing your company's products and markets. "People like to hear customer stories," says Les. Malcolm Kusher; Presentations for Dummies (2004)

Accounts by witnesses and others can add color and detail to crime, fire, and accident stories. W. Richard Whitaker et al., MediaWriting: Print, Broadcast, and Public Relations (2019)

Possibilities for adding "color" to any talk: anecdotes or stories (make these relevant to your topic!); historical information, including images autobiographical details (again, make them relevant quotations from from literary and/or scientific sources (use sparingly); cartoon (always check to see whether permission is needed); demonstration (use of props, drawing on blackboard, or simply using hands); multimedia (images that move, use of sound, video clips, etc.). Scott Montgomery; The Chicago Guide to Communicating Science (2003)


To add color (to a story) should not be confused with the meaning of the verb color as used in, e.g., to color (a story).

color (v.)

Transitive. To portray in a false light; to put an unfair or untrue interpretation on (words, facts, evidence, etc.); to misrepresent, falsify. (OED)

Of course we also have the color of money, but that's another story. :-)

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    Color is more, uh, colorful :-). Seriously, I think it is usually material that is peripheral and perhaps not essential to understanding the basics--maybe more "fun and entertaining"-- if such meetings can be. Detail could mean just more and finer-grained explanation rather than a different kind of material. This is similar to "color commentary" in sports: background, interesting tidbits of info, "factoids," the human-interest angles, etc..
    – DjinTonic
    Dec 30, 2021 at 19:40
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    Asking for “color,” with its implication of being possibly peripheral, is also a way to be courteous about requesting additional information rather than implicitly accusing the management of providing inadequate information. Corporate earnings calls are likely to have become common only when conference calls became acceptably inexpensive, easy, and reliable. Perhaps only in the cell-phone era, so that participants need not be at a particular location.
    – Xanne
    Dec 30, 2021 at 21:03
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    @JasonS - I guess they're trying to impress. Dec 31, 2021 at 3:02
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    Detail would be figures broken down for every region and week, color would be some sort of specially-selected data point or anecdote selected to indicate a wider trend or make a point.The difference between (color) "We sell a lot of champagne around Valentine's Day" and (detail) "We sell 1000 cases in January, 2500 cases in February, 1200 cases in March, 1100 cases in April, 1400 cases in May, 1600 cases in June..."
    – Stuart F
    Dec 31, 2021 at 14:13
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    @JasonS I’ve noticed that management types never use a clear, typical word when an unusual, trendy word is available instead. Dec 31, 2021 at 15:40

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