Shareholders Shouldn’t Be Too Comfortable With va-Q-tec's (ETR:VQT) Strong Earnings

By
Simply Wall St
Published
November 16, 2021
XTRA:VQT
Source: Shutterstock

After announcing healthy earnings, va-Q-tec AG's (ETR:VQT) stock rose over the last week. However, we think that shareholders should be aware of some other factors beyond the profit numbers.

Check out our latest analysis for va-Q-tec

earnings-and-revenue-history
XTRA:VQT Earnings and Revenue History November 17th 2021

Zooming In On va-Q-tec'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. 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.

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. 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. Notably, there is some academic evidence that suggests that a high accrual ratio is a bad sign for near-term profits, generally speaking.

For the year to September 2021, va-Q-tec had an accrual ratio of 0.28. Therefore, we know that it's free cashflow was significantly lower than its statutory profit, raising questions about how useful that profit figure really is. Even though it reported a profit of €1.34m, a look at free cash flow indicates it actually burnt through €20m in the last year. It's worth noting that va-Q-tec generated positive FCF of €254k a year ago, so at least they've done it in the past. Having said that, there is more to the story. The accrual ratio is reflecting the impact of unusual items on statutory profit, at least in part. One positive for va-Q-tec 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.

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

Given the accrual ratio, it's not overly surprising that va-Q-tec's profit was boosted by unusual items worth €3.6m in the last twelve months. While it's always nice to have higher profit, a large contribution from unusual items sometimes dampens our enthusiasm. 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. va-Q-tec had a rather significant contribution from unusual items relative to its profit to September 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 va-Q-tec's Profit Performance

Summing up, va-Q-tec received a nice boost to profit from unusual items, but could not match its paper profit with free cash flow. Considering all this we'd argue va-Q-tec's profits probably give an overly generous impression of its sustainable level of profitability. So if you'd like to dive deeper into this stock, it's crucial to consider any risks it's facing. For example - va-Q-tec has 2 warning signs we think you should be aware of.

Our examination of va-Q-tec 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 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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