Here's Why Herbalife Nutrition's (NYSE:HLF) Statutory Earnings Are Arguably Too Conservative

By
Simply Wall St
Published
January 08, 2021

Statistically speaking, it is less risky to invest in profitable companies than in unprofitable ones. That said, the current statutory profit is not always a good guide to a company's underlying profitability. This article will consider whether Herbalife Nutrition's (NYSE:HLF) statutory profits are a good guide to its underlying earnings.

While Herbalife Nutrition was able to generate revenue of US$5.35b in the last twelve months, we think its profit result of US$355.5m was more important. As you can see in the chart below, its profit has declined over the last three years, even though its revenue has increased.

See our latest analysis for Herbalife Nutrition

NYSE:HLF Earnings and Revenue History January 8th 2021

Of course, it is only sensible to look beyond the statutory profits and question how well those numbers represent the sustainable earnings power of the business. As a result, we think it's well worth considering what Herbalife Nutrition's cashflow (when compared to its earnings) can tell us about the nature of its statutory profit. 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 Herbalife Nutrition's Earnings

As finance nerds would already know, the accrual ratio from cashflow is a key measure for assessing how well a company's free cash flow (FCF) matches its profit. In plain english, this ratio subtracts FCF from net profit, and divides that number by the company's average operating assets over that period. This ratio tells us how much of a company's profit is not backed by free cashflow.

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. 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".

Herbalife Nutrition has an accrual ratio of -0.39 for the year to September 2020. Therefore, its statutory earnings were very significantly less than its free cashflow. To wit, it produced free cash flow of US$571m during the period, dwarfing its reported profit of US$355.5m. Herbalife Nutrition's free cash flow improved over the last year, which is generally good to see.

Our Take On Herbalife Nutrition's Profit Performance

As we discussed above, Herbalife Nutrition's accrual ratio indicates strong conversion of profit to free cash flow, which is a positive for the company. Based on this observation, we consider it possible that Herbalife Nutrition's statutory profit actually understates its earnings potential! And the EPS is up 14% annually, over the last three years. At the end of the day, it's essential to consider more than just the factors above, if you want to understand the company properly. With this in mind, we wouldn't consider investing in a stock unless we had a thorough understanding of the risks. You'd be interested to know, that we found 2 warning signs for Herbalife Nutrition and you'll want to know about them.

Today we've zoomed in on a single data point to better understand the nature of Herbalife Nutrition's 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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