Even though GWR Group Limited (ASX:GWR) posted strong earnings recently, the stock hasn't reacted in a large way. We looked deeper into the numbers and found that shareholders might be concerned with some underlying weaknesses.
Zooming In On GWR Group'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. To get the accrual ratio we first subtract FCF from profit for a period, and then divide that number by the average operating assets for the period. The ratio shows us how much a company's profit exceeds its FCF.
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. 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. That's because some academic studies have suggested that high accruals ratios tend to lead to lower profit or less profit growth.
For the year to December 2021, GWR Group had an accrual ratio of 1.94. Statistically speaking, that's a real negative for future earnings. And indeed, during the period the company didn't produce any free cash flow whatsoever. In the last twelve months it actually had negative free cash flow, with an outflow of AU$6.2m despite its profit of AU$9.45m, mentioned above. Coming off the back of negative free cash flow last year, we imagine some shareholders might wonder if its cash burn of AU$6.2m, this year, indicates high risk. 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.
Note: we always recommend investors check balance sheet strength. Click here to be taken to our balance sheet analysis of GWR Group.
To understand the value of a company's earnings growth, it is imperative to consider any dilution of shareholders' interests. In fact, GWR Group increased the number of shares on issue by 6.1% over the last twelve months by issuing new shares. As a result, its net income is now split between a greater number of shares. To celebrate net income while ignoring dilution is like rejoicing because you have a single slice of a larger pizza, but ignoring the fact that the pizza is now cut into many more slices. You can see a chart of GWR Group's EPS by clicking here.
A Look At The Impact Of GWR Group's Dilution on Its Earnings Per Share (EPS).
Three years ago, GWR Group lost money. Zooming in to the last year, we still can't talk about growth rates coherently, since it made a loss last year. What we do know is that while it's great to see a profit over the last twelve months, that profit would have been better, on a per share basis, if the company hadn't needed to issue shares. And so, you can see quite clearly that dilution is influencing shareholder earnings.
If GWR Group's EPS can grow over time then that drastically improves the chances of the share price moving in the same direction. But on the other hand, we'd be far less excited to learn profit (but not EPS) was improving. 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.
How Do Unusual Items Influence Profit?
The fact that the company had unusual items boosting profit by AU$6.2m, in the last year, probably goes some way to explain why its accrual ratio was so weak. While it's always nice to have higher profit, a large contribution from unusual items sometimes dampens our enthusiasm. 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. Which is hardly surprising, given the name. We can see that GWR Group's positive unusual items were quite significant relative to its profit in the year to December 2021. 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 GWR Group's Profit Performance
In conclusion, GWR Group's weak accrual ratio suggested its statutory earnings have been inflated by the unusual items. The dilution means the results are weaker when viewed from a per-share perspective. For all the reasons mentioned above, we think that, at a glance, GWR Group's statutory profits could be considered to be low quality, because they are likely to give investors an overly positive impression of the company. So if you'd like to dive deeper into this stock, it's crucial to consider any risks it's facing. Every company has risks, and we've spotted 4 warning signs for GWR Group (of which 1 is a bit unpleasant!) 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 is always more to discover if you are capable of focussing your mind on minutiae. 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. While it might take a little research on your behalf, you may find this free collection of companies boasting high return on equity, or this list of stocks that insiders are buying to be useful.
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This article by Simply Wall St is general in nature. We provide commentary based on historical data and analyst forecasts only using an unbiased methodology and our articles are not intended to be financial advice. 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.