Shareholders Shouldn’t Be Too Comfortable With Sigma Healthcare's (ASX:SIG) Strong Earnings

By
Simply Wall St
Published
March 29, 2021
ASX:SIG
Source: Shutterstock

Even though Sigma Healthcare Limited (ASX:SIG) posted strong earnings recently, the stock hasn't reacted in a large way. We decided to have a deeper look, and we believe that investors might be worried about several concerning factors that we found.

View our latest analysis for Sigma Healthcare

earnings-and-revenue-history
ASX:SIG Earnings and Revenue History March 29th 2021

Examining Cashflow Against Sigma Healthcare's Earnings

As finance nerds would already know, the accrual ratio from cashflow is a key measure for assessing how well a company's free cash flow (FCF) matches its profit. 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'.

As a result, a negative accrual ratio is a positive for the company, and a positive accrual ratio is a negative. While having an accrual ratio above zero is of little concern, we do think it's worth noting when a company has a relatively high accrual ratio. Notably, there is some academic evidence that suggests that a high accrual ratio is a bad sign for near-term profits, generally speaking.

Over the twelve months to January 2021, Sigma Healthcare recorded an accrual ratio of 0.21. We can therefore deduce that its free cash flow fell well short of covering its statutory profit. In the last twelve months it actually had negative free cash flow, with an outflow of AU$65m despite its profit of AU$59.8m, mentioned above. It's worth noting that Sigma Healthcare generated positive FCF of AU$145m a year ago, so at least they've done it in the past. However, we can see that a recent tax benefit, along with unusual items, have impacted its statutory profit, and therefore its accrual ratio. The good news for shareholders is that Sigma Healthcare's accrual ratio was much better last year, so this year's poor reading might simply be a case of a short term mismatch between profit and FCF. As a result, some shareholders may be looking for stronger cash conversion in the current year.

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.

The Impact Of Unusual Items On Profit

Given the accrual ratio, it's not overly surprising that Sigma Healthcare's profit was boosted by unusual items worth AU$29m in the last twelve months. We can't deny that higher profits generally leave us optimistic, but we'd prefer it if the profit were to be sustainable. When we analysed the vast majority of listed companies worldwide, we found that significant unusual items are often not repeated. And that's as you'd expect, given these boosts are described as 'unusual'. Sigma Healthcare had a rather significant contribution from unusual items relative to its profit to January 2021. All else being equal, this would likely have the effect of making the statutory profit a poor guide to underlying earnings power.

An Unusual Tax Situation

In addition to the notable accrual ratio, we can see that Sigma Healthcare received a tax benefit of AU$9.5m. This is meaningful because companies usually pay tax rather than receive tax benefits. The receipt of a tax benefit is obviously a good thing, on its own. And given that it lost money last year, it seems possible that the benefit is evidence that it now expects to find value in its past tax losses. However, the devil in the detail is that these kind of benefits only impact in the year they are booked, and are often one-off in nature. In the likely event the tax benefit is not repeated, we'd expect to see its statutory profit levels drop, at least in the absence of strong growth. While we think it's good that the company has booked a tax benefit, it does mean that there's every chance the statutory profit will come in a lot higher than it would be if the income was adjusted for one-off factors.

Our Take On Sigma Healthcare's Profit Performance

Summing up, Sigma Healthcare's tax benefit and unusual items boosted its statutory profit leading to poor cash conversion, as reflected by its accrual ratio. On reflection, the above-mentioned factors give us the strong impression that Sigma Healthcare'sunderlying earnings power is not as good as it might seem, based on the statutory profit numbers. In light of this, if you'd like to do more analysis on the company, it's vital to be informed of the risks involved. At Simply Wall St, we found 1 warning sign for Sigma Healthcare and we think they deserve your attention.

In this article we've looked at a number of factors that can impair the utility of profit numbers, and we've come away cautious. 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.

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