We Think AmerisourceBergen’s (NYSE:ABC) Statutory Profit Might Understate Its Earnings Potential

As a general rule, we think profitable companies are less risky than companies that lose money. Having said that, sometimes statutory profit levels are not a good guide to ongoing profitability, because some short term one-off factor has impacted profit levels. In this article, we’ll look at how useful this year’s statutory profit is, when analysing AmerisourceBergen (NYSE:ABC).

We like the fact that AmerisourceBergen made a profit of US$855.4m on its revenue of US$179.6b, in the last year. While it managed to grow its revenue over the last three years, its profit has moved in the other direction, as you can see in the chart below.

See our latest analysis for AmerisourceBergen

NYSE:ABC Income Statement, January 9th 2020
NYSE:ABC Income Statement, January 9th 2020

Of course, when it comes to statutory profit, the devil is often in the detail, and we can get a better sense for a company by diving deeper into the financial statements. So today we’ll look at what AmerisourceBergen’s cashflow and unusual items tell us about the quality of its earnings. That might leave you wondering what analysts are forecasting in terms of future profitability. Luckily, you can click here to see an interactive graph depicting future profitability, based on their estimates.

A Closer Look At AmerisourceBergen’s Earnings

Many investors haven’t heard of the accrual ratio from cashflow, but it is actually a useful measure of how well a company’s profit is backed up by free cash flow (FCF) during a given period. In plain english, this ratio subtracts FCF from net profit, and divides that number by the company’s average operating assets over that period. You could think of the accrual ratio from cashflow as the ‘non-FCF profit ratio’.

That means a negative accrual ratio is a good thing, because it shows that the company is bringing in more free cash flow than its profit would suggest. That is not intended to imply we should worry about a positive accrual ratio, but it’s worth noting where the accrual ratio is rather high. Notably, there is some academic evidence that suggests that a high accrual ratio is a bad sign for near-term profits, generally speaking.

AmerisourceBergen has an accrual ratio of -0.25 for the year to September 2019. That implies it has very good cash conversion, and that its earnings in the last year actually significantly understate its free cash flow. In fact, it had free cash flow of US$2.0b in the last year, which was a lot more than its statutory profit of US$855.4m. AmerisourceBergen’s free cash flow improved over the last year, which is generally good to see.

However, that’s not all there is to consider. We can see that unusual items have impacted its statutory profit, and therefore the accrual ratio.

The Impact Of Unusual Items On Profit

AmerisourceBergen’s profit was reduced by unusual items worth US$741m in the last twelve months, and this helped it produce high cash conversion, as reflected by its unusual items. This is what you’d expect to see where a company has a non-cash charge reducing paper profits. While deductions due to unusual items are disappointing in the first instance, there is a silver lining. We looked at thousands of listed companies and found that unusual items are very often one-off in nature. And that’s hardly a surprise given these line items are considered unusual. Assuming those unusual expenses don’t come up again, we’d therefore expect AmerisourceBergen to produce a higher profit next year, all else being equal.

Our Take On AmerisourceBergen’s Profit Performance

In conclusion, both AmerisourceBergen’s accrual ratio and its unusual items suggest that its statutory earnings are probably reasonably conservative. Based on these factors, we think AmerisourceBergen’s underlying earnings potential is as good as, or probably even better, than the statutory profit makes it seem! Ultimately, this article has formed an opinion based on historical data. However, it can also be great to think about what analysts are forecasting for the future. Luckily, you can check out what analysts are forecsting by clicking here.

After our examination into the nature of AmerisourceBergen’s profit, we’ve come away optimistic for the company. But there are plenty of other ways to inform your opinion of a company. Some people consider a high return on equity to be a good sign of a quality business. So you may wish to see this free collection of companies boasting high return on equity, or this list of stocks that insiders are buying.

If you spot an error that warrants correction, please contact the editor at editorial-team@simplywallst.com. This article by Simply Wall St is general in nature. It does not constitute a recommendation to buy or sell any stock, and does not take account of your objectives, or your financial situation. Simply Wall St has no position in the stocks mentioned.

We aim to bring you long-term focused research analysis driven by fundamental data. Note that our analysis may not factor in the latest price-sensitive company announcements or qualitative material. Thank you for reading.