We Think WSP Global's (TSE:WSP) Statutory Profit Might Understate Its Earnings Potential

By
Simply Wall St
Published
January 20, 2021
TSX:WSP

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 WSP Global (TSE:WSP).

It's good to see that over the last twelve months WSP Global made a profit of CA$247.6m on revenue of CA$8.76b. In the chart below, you can see that its profit and revenue have both grown over the last three years, although its profit has slipped in the last twelve months.

See our latest analysis for WSP Global

earnings-and-revenue-history
TSX:WSP Earnings and Revenue History January 20th 2021

Importantly, statutory profits are not always the best tool for understanding a company's true earnings power, so it's well worth examining profits in a little more detail. So today we'll look at what WSP Global'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. 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.

Examining Cashflow Against WSP Global's Earnings

In high finance, the key ratio used to measure how well a company converts reported profits into free cash flow (FCF) is the accrual ratio (from cashflow). 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'.

As a result, a negative accrual ratio is a positive for the company, and a positive accrual ratio is a negative. 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.

Over the twelve months to September 2020, WSP Global recorded an accrual ratio of -0.18. That implies it has very good cash conversion, and that its earnings in the last year actually significantly understate its free cash flow. Indeed, in the last twelve months it reported free cash flow of CA$1.0b, well over the CA$247.6m it reported in profit. WSP Global shareholders are no doubt pleased that free cash flow improved over the last twelve months. However, that's not the end of the story. We can look at how unusual items in the profit and loss statement impacted its accrual ratio, as well as explore how dilution is impacting shareholders negatively.

In order to understand the potential for per share returns, it is essential to consider how much a company is diluting shareholders. In fact, WSP Global increased the number of shares on issue by 7.2% over the last twelve months by issuing new shares. Therefore, each share now receives a smaller portion of profit. Per share metrics like EPS help us understand how much actual shareholders are benefitting from the company's profits, while the net income level gives us a better view of the company's absolute size. You can see a chart of WSP Global's EPS by clicking here.

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

WSP Global has improved its profit over the last three years, with an annualized gain of 3.7% in that time. But on the other hand, earnings per share actually fell by 1.7% per year. Net income was down 14% over the last twelve months. Unfortunately for shareholders, though, the earnings per share result was even worse, declining 17%. 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 WSP Global's earnings per share can increase, then the share price should too. But on the other hand, we'd be far less excited to learn profit (but not EPS) was improving. For the ordinary retail shareholder, EPS is a great measure to check your hypothetical "share" of the company's profit.

How Do Unusual Items Influence Profit?

WSP Global's profit was reduced by unusual items worth CA$112m in the last twelve months, and this helped it produce high cash conversion, as reflected by its unusual items. In a scenario where those unusual items included non-cash charges, we'd expect to see a strong accrual ratio, which is exactly what has happened in this case. It's never great to see unusual items costing the company profits, but on the upside, things might improve sooner rather than later. When we analysed the vast majority of listed companies worldwide, we found that significant unusual items are often not repeated. And, after all, that's exactly what the accounting terminology implies. Assuming those unusual expenses don't come up again, we'd therefore expect WSP Global to produce a higher profit next year, all else being equal.

Our Take On WSP Global's Profit Performance

Summing up, WSP Global's accrual ratio and its unusual items suggest that its statutory earnings were temporarily depressed (and could bounce back), while the dilution is a negative for shareholders. Looking at all these factors, we'd say that WSP Global's underlying earnings power is at least as good as the statutory numbers would make it seem. With this in mind, we wouldn't consider investing in a stock unless we had a thorough understanding of the risks. In terms of investment risks, we've identified 3 warning signs with WSP Global, and understanding these bad boys should be part of your investment process.

After our examination into the nature of WSP Global's profit, we've come away optimistic for the company. But there is always more to discover if you are capable of focussing your mind on minutiae. 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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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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