We're Not Counting On Fe (ASX:FEL) To Sustain Its Statutory Profitability

By
Simply Wall St
Published
January 14, 2021

Statistically speaking, it is less risky to invest in profitable companies than in unprofitable ones. That said, the current statutory profit is not always a good guide to a company's underlying profitability. In this article, we'll look at how useful this year's statutory profit is, when analysing Fe (ASX:FEL).

We like the fact that Fe made a profit of AU$5.91m on its revenue of AU$1.44m, in the last year. Even though revenue has remained steady over the last three years, you can see in the chart below that the company has moved from loss-making to profitable.

See our latest analysis for Fe

ASX:FEL Earnings and Revenue History January 15th 2021

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 Fe's cashflow and unusual items tell us about the quality of its earnings, as well as touching on how its recent share issues are impacting shareholders. Note: we always recommend investors check balance sheet strength. Click here to be taken to our balance sheet analysis of Fe.

Examining Cashflow Against Fe'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. This ratio tells us how much of a company's profit is not backed by free cashflow.

Therefore, it's actually considered a good thing when a company has a negative accrual ratio, but a bad thing if its accrual ratio is positive. While it's not a problem to have a positive accrual ratio, indicating a certain level of non-cash profits, a high accrual ratio is arguably a bad thing, because it indicates paper profits are not matched by cash flow. That's because some academic studies have suggested that high accruals ratios tend to lead to lower profit or less profit growth.

Fe has an accrual ratio of 3.43 for the year to June 2020. Ergo, its free cash flow is significantly weaker than its profit. As a general rule, that bodes poorly for future profitability. Indeed, in the last twelve months it reported free cash flow of AU$489k, which is significantly less than its profit of AU$5.91m. Notably, Fe had negative free cash flow last year, so the AU$489k it produced this year was a welcome improvement. However, that's not the end of the story. We must also consider the impact of unusual items on statutory profit (and thus the accrual ratio), as well as note the ramifications of the company issuing new shares. One positive for Fe shareholders is that it's accrual ratio was significantly better last year, providing reason to believe that it may return to stronger cash conversion in the future. Shareholders should look for improved cashflow relative to profit in the current year, if that is indeed the case.

In order to understand the potential for per share returns, it is essential to consider how much a company is diluting shareholders. Fe expanded the number of shares on issue by 12% over the last year. As a result, its net income is now split between a greater number of shares. To talk about net income, without noticing earnings per share, is to be distracted by the big numbers while ignoring the smaller numbers that talk to per share value. You can see a chart of Fe's EPS by clicking here.

How Is Dilution Impacting Fe's Earnings Per Share? (EPS)

Three years ago, Fe lost money. Zooming in to the last year, we still can't talk about growth rates coherently, since it made a loss last year. But mathematics aside, it is always good to see when a formerly unprofitable business come good (though we accept profit would have been higher if dilution had not been required). So you can see that the dilution has had a bit of an impact on shareholders. Therefore, the dilution is having a noteworthy influence on shareholder returns. And so, you can see quite clearly that dilution is influencing shareholder earnings.

In the long term, if Fe's earnings per share can increase, then the share price should too. However, if its profit increases while its earnings per share stay flat (or even fall) then shareholders might not see much benefit. For that reason, you could say that EPS is more important that net income in the long run, assuming the goal is to assess whether a company's share price might grow.

The Impact Of Unusual Items On Profit

Given the accrual ratio, it's not overly surprising that Fe's profit was boosted by unusual items worth AU$7.1m in the last twelve months. While we like to see profit increases, we tend to be a little more cautious when unusual items have made a big contribution. When we crunched the numbers on thousands of publicly listed companies, we found that a boost from unusual items in a given year is often not repeated the next year. And, after all, that's exactly what the accounting terminology implies. Fe had a rather significant contribution from unusual items relative to its profit to June 2020. As a result, we can surmise that the unusual items are making its statutory profit significantly stronger than it would otherwise be.

Our Take On Fe's Profit Performance

Fe didn't back up its earnings with free cashflow, but this isn't too surprising given profits were inflated by unusual items. Meanwhile, the new shares issued mean that shareholders now own less of the company, unless they tipped in more cash themselves. For all the reasons mentioned above, we think that, at a glance, Fe's statutory profits could be considered to be low quality, because they are likely to give investors an overly positive impression of the company. If you want to do dive deeper into Fe, you'd also look into what risks it is currently facing. Every company has risks, and we've spotted 5 warning signs for Fe (of which 1 is a bit concerning!) you should know about.

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. For example, many people consider a high return on equity as an indication of favorable business economics, while others like to 'follow the money' and search out stocks that insiders are buying. 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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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. We aim to bring you long-term focused analysis driven by fundamental data. Note that our analysis may not factor in the latest price-sensitive company announcements or qualitative material. Simply Wall St has no position in any stocks mentioned.
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