Southern Energy Corp. (CVE:SOU) recently released a strong earnings report, and the market responded by raising the share price. However, we think that shareholders should be aware of some other factors beyond the profit numbers.
A Closer Look At Southern Energy's Earnings
One key financial ratio used to measure how well a company converts its profit to free cash flow (FCF) is the accrual ratio. 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.
As a result, a negative accrual ratio is a positive for the company, and a positive accrual ratio is a negative. 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. To quote a 2014 paper by Lewellen and Resutek, "firms with higher accruals tend to be less profitable in the future".
For the year to December 2021, Southern Energy had an accrual ratio of 0.46. Ergo, its free cash flow is significantly weaker than its profit. Statistically speaking, that's a real negative for future earnings. Indeed, in the last twelve months it reported free cash flow of US$345k, which is significantly less than its profit of US$10.1m. Southern Energy shareholders will no doubt be hoping that its free cash flow bounces back next year, since it was down over the last twelve months. Having said that, there is more to consider. 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. The good news for shareholders is that Southern Energy'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.
To understand the value of a company's earnings growth, it is imperative to consider any dilution of shareholders' interests. In fact, Southern Energy increased the number of shares on issue by 183% over the last twelve months by issuing new shares. That means its earnings are split among 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 Southern Energy's EPS by clicking here.
How Is Dilution Impacting Southern Energy's Earnings Per Share? (EPS)
Southern Energy was losing money three years ago. 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). And so, you can see quite clearly that dilution is having a rather significant impact on shareholders.
In the long term, if Southern Energy'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 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?
The fact that the company had unusual items boosting profit by US$5.3m, 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. Which is hardly surprising, given the name. Southern Energy had a rather significant contribution from unusual items relative to its profit 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 Southern Energy's Profit Performance
Southern Energy 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. On reflection, the above-mentioned factors give us the strong impression that Southern Energy'sunderlying earnings power is not as good as it might seem, based on the statutory profit numbers. So while earnings quality is important, it's equally important to consider the risks facing Southern Energy at this point in time. Be aware that Southern Energy is showing 5 warning signs in our investment analysis and 3 of those don't sit too well with us...
Our examination of Southern Energy has focussed on certain factors that can make its earnings look better than they are. And, on that basis, we are somewhat skeptical. 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. 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. 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.