Why VAALCO Energy's (NYSE:EGY) Earnings Are Weaker Than They Seem

By
Simply Wall St
Published
August 17, 2021
NYSE:EGY
Source: Shutterstock

Even though VAALCO Energy, Inc. (NYSE:EGY) posted strong earnings recently, the stock hasn't reacted in a large way. We think that investors might be worried about the foundations the earnings are built on.

Check out our latest analysis for VAALCO Energy

earnings-and-revenue-history
NYSE:EGY Earnings and Revenue History August 18th 2021

Examining Cashflow Against VAALCO Energy'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). 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. You could think of the accrual ratio from cashflow as the 'non-FCF profit ratio'.

Therefore, it's actually considered a good thing when a company has a negative accrual ratio, but a bad thing if its accrual ratio is positive. 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 June 2021, VAALCO Energy had an accrual ratio of 0.91. As a general rule, that bodes poorly for future profitability. And indeed, during the period the company didn't produce any free cash flow whatsoever. Over the last year it actually had negative free cash flow of US$11m, in contrast to the aforementioned profit of US$19.6m. We saw that FCF was US$848k a year ago though, so VAALCO Energy has at least been able to generate positive FCF in the past. Having said that, there is more to the story. We can see that unusual items have impacted its statutory profit, and therefore the accrual ratio. One positive for VAALCO Energy 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.

How Do Unusual Items Influence Profit?

Given the accrual ratio, it's not overly surprising that VAALCO Energy's profit was boosted by unusual items worth US$6.6m 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 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. And that's as you'd expect, given these boosts are described as 'unusual'. We can see that VAALCO Energy's positive unusual items were quite significant relative to its profit in the year to June 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 VAALCO Energy's Profit Performance

VAALCO Energy had a weak accrual ratio, but its profit did receive a boost from unusual items. For the reasons mentioned above, we think that a perfunctory glance at VAALCO Energy's statutory profits might make it look better than it really is on an underlying level. Keep in mind, when it comes to analysing a stock it's worth noting the risks involved. For instance, we've identified 3 warning signs for VAALCO Energy (2 are a bit concerning) you should be familiar with.

Our examination of VAALCO 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 are plenty of other ways to inform your opinion of a company. Some people consider a high return on equity to be a good sign of a quality business. 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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