Many investors consider it preferable to invest in profitable companies over unprofitable ones, because profitability suggests a business is sustainable. That said, the current statutory profit is not always a good guide to a company's underlying profitability. Today we'll focus on whether this year's statutory profits are a good guide to understanding Universal Health Services (NYSE:UHS).
We like the fact that Universal Health Services made a profit of US$877.8m on its revenue of US$11.4b, in the last year. One positive is that it has grown both its profit and its revenue, over the last few years.
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 today we'll look at what Universal Health Services' cashflow tells us about the quality of its earnings. 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.
A Closer Look At Universal Health Services' 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. In plain english, this ratio subtracts FCF from net profit, and divides that number by the company's average operating assets over that 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. 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 September 2020, Universal Health Services had an accrual ratio of -0.11. That indicates that its free cash flow was a fair bit more than its statutory profit. Indeed, in the last twelve months it reported free cash flow of US$1.8b, well over the US$877.8m it reported in profit. Universal Health Services' free cash flow improved over the last year, which is generally good to see.
Our Take On Universal Health Services' Profit Performance
Universal Health Services' accrual ratio is solid, and indicates strong free cash flow, as we discussed, above. Based on this observation, we consider it likely that Universal Health Services' statutory profit actually understates its earnings potential! And on top of that, its earnings per share have grown at 39% per year over the last three years. Of course, we've only just scratched the surface when it comes to analysing its earnings; one could also consider margins, forecast growth, and return on investment, among other factors. 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 1 warning sign for Universal Health Services and you'll want to know about this.
This note has only looked at a single factor that sheds light on the nature of Universal Health Services' profit. 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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