The healthy profit announcement from Metals X Limited (ASX:MLX ) didn't seem to impress investors. We did some digging and found some worrying factors that they might be paying attention to.
A Closer Look At Metals X'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. The accrual ratio subtracts the FCF from the profit for a given period, and divides the result by the average operating assets of the company over that time. 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. To quote a 2014 paper by Lewellen and Resutek, "firms with higher accruals tend to be less profitable in the future".
Over the twelve months to June 2021, Metals X recorded an accrual ratio of 0.36. 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$13m despite its profit of AU$24.0m, 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$13m, this year, indicates high risk. Having said that, there is more to the story. We can see that unusual items have impacted its statutory profit, and therefore the accrual ratio. The good news for shareholders is that Metals X'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
The fact that the company had unusual items boosting profit by AU$14m, 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. We ran the numbers on most publicly listed companies worldwide, and it's very common for unusual items to be once-off in nature. And, after all, that's exactly what the accounting terminology implies. We can see that Metals X's positive unusual items were quite significant relative to its profit in the year to June 2021. All else being equal, this would likely have the effect of making the statutory profit a poor guide to underlying earnings power.
Our Take On Metals X's Profit Performance
Metals X had a weak accrual ratio, but its profit did receive a boost from unusual items. For the reasons mentioned above, we think that a perfunctory glance at Metals X's statutory profits might make it look better than it really is on an underlying level. 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. Case in point: We've spotted 2 warning signs for Metals X you should be mindful of and 1 of them doesn't sit too well with us.
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. 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.
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