Prosafe's (OB:PRS) Robust Earnings Are Not All Good News For Shareholders

By
Simply Wall St
Published
February 20, 2022
OB:PRS
Source: Shutterstock

We didn't see Prosafe SE's (OB:PRS) stock surge when it reported robust earnings recently. We looked deeper into the numbers and found that shareholders might be concerned with some underlying weaknesses.

Check out our latest analysis for Prosafe

earnings-and-revenue-history
OB:PRS Earnings and Revenue History February 20th 2022

A Closer Look At Prosafe'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. 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. 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. Notably, there is some academic evidence that suggests that a high accrual ratio is a bad sign for near-term profits, generally speaking.

Over the twelve months to December 2021, Prosafe recorded an accrual ratio of 2.31. That means it didn't generate anywhere near enough free cash flow to match its profit. Statistically speaking, that's a real negative for future earnings. To wit, it produced free cash flow of US$6.1m during the period, falling well short of its reported profit of US$927.9m. Given that Prosafe had negative free cash flow in the prior corresponding period, the trailing twelve month resul of US$6.1m would seem to be a step in the right direction. However, that's not the end of the story. 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 Prosafe'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.

Note: we always recommend investors check balance sheet strength. Click here to be taken to our balance sheet analysis of Prosafe.

One essential aspect of assessing earnings quality is to look at how much a company is diluting shareholders. In fact, Prosafe increased the number of shares on issue by 10,570% over the last twelve months by issuing new shares. 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. You can see a chart of Prosafe's EPS by clicking here.

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

Three years ago, Prosafe lost money. 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). Therefore, one can observe that the dilution is having a fairly profound effect on shareholder returns.

In the long term, if Prosafe'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.

The Impact Of Unusual Items On Profit

Given the accrual ratio, it's not overly surprising that Prosafe's profit was boosted by unusual items worth US$989m 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 crunched the numbers on thousands of publicly listed companies, we found that a boost from unusual items in a given year is often not repeated the next year. Which is hardly surprising, given the name. We can see that Prosafe's positive unusual items were quite significant relative to its profit in the year 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 Prosafe's Profit Performance

In conclusion, Prosafe's weak accrual ratio suggested its statutory earnings have been inflated by the unusual items. Meanwhile, the new shares issued mean that shareholders now own less of the company, unless they tipped in more cash themselves. For all the reasons mentioned above, we think that, at a glance, Prosafe's statutory profits could be considered to be low quality, because they are likely to give investors an overly positive impression of the company. With this in mind, we wouldn't consider investing in a stock unless we had a thorough understanding of the risks. To that end, you should learn about the 5 warning signs we've spotted with Prosafe (including 3 which shouldn't be ignored).

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 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. 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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