Here's Why Hays's (LON:HAS) Statutory Earnings Are Arguably Too Conservative

By
Simply Wall St
Published
December 20, 2020

It might be old fashioned, but we really like to invest in companies that make a profit, each and every year. That said, the current statutory profit is not always a good guide to a company's underlying profitability. In this article, we'll look at how useful this year's statutory profit is, when analysing Hays (LON:HAS).

We like the fact that Hays made a profit of UK£47.5m on its revenue of UK£5.93b, in the last year. The chart below shows how it has grown revenue over the last three years, but that profit has declined.

See our latest analysis for Hays

LSE:HAS Earnings and Revenue History December 20th 2020

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 this article aims to better understand Hays' underlying earnings power by taking a look at how dilution, and unusual items are impacting it, and considering how well those paper profits are being converted into cash flow. 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.

Zooming In On Hays' 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. 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. 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. 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".

For the year to June 2020, Hays had an accrual ratio of -0.60. That indicates that its free cash flow quite significantly exceeded its statutory profit. In fact, it had free cash flow of UK£328m in the last year, which was a lot more than its statutory profit of UK£47.5m. Hays shareholders are no doubt pleased that free cash flow improved over the last twelve months. Having said that, there is more to consider. 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. Hays expanded the number of shares on issue by 14% over the last year. Therefore, each share now receives a smaller portion of profit. 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. Check out Hays' historical EPS growth by clicking on this link.

A Look At The Impact Of Hays' Dilution on Its Earnings Per Share (EPS).

Hays' net profit dropped by 66% per year over the last three years. Even looking at the last year, profit was still down 71%. Like a sack of potatoes thrown from a delivery truck, EPS fell harder, down 72% in the same period. 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.

If Hays' EPS can grow over time then that drastically improves the chances of the share price moving in the same direction. However, if its profit increases while its earnings per share stay flat (or even fall) then shareholders might not see much benefit. 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.

The Impact Of Unusual Items On Profit

Hays' profit was reduced by unusual items worth UK£40m in the last twelve months, and this helped it produce high cash conversion, as reflected by its unusual items. This is what you'd expect to see where a company has a non-cash charge reducing paper profits. It's never great to see unusual items costing the company profits, but on the upside, things might improve sooner rather than later. We looked at thousands of listed companies and found that unusual items are very often one-off in nature. And that's hardly a surprise given these line items are considered unusual. If Hays doesn't see those unusual expenses repeat, then all else being equal we'd expect its profit to increase over the coming year.

Our Take On Hays' Profit Performance

In conclusion, both Hays' accrual ratio and its unusual items suggest that its statutory earnings are probably reasonably conservative, but the dilution means that per-share performance is weaker than the statutory profit numbers imply. Looking at all these factors, we'd say that Hays' underlying earnings power is at least as good as the statutory numbers would make it seem. Keep in mind, when it comes to analysing a stock it's worth noting the risks involved. You'd be interested to know, that we found 4 warning signs for Hays and you'll want to know about them.

After our examination into the nature of Hays' profit, we've come away optimistic for the company. 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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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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