Here's Why Kaiser Aluminum's (NASDAQ:KALU) Statutory Earnings Are Arguably Too Conservative

By
Simply Wall St
Published
February 22, 2021
NasdaqGS:KALU

As a general rule, we think profitable companies are less risky than companies that lose money. Having said that, sometimes statutory profit levels are not a good guide to ongoing profitability, because some short term one-off factor has impacted profit levels. In this article, we'll look at how useful this year's statutory profit is, when analysing Kaiser Aluminum (NASDAQ:KALU).

We like the fact that Kaiser Aluminum made a profit of US$12.3m on its revenue of US$1.27b, in the last year. Below, you can see that both its revenue and its profit have fallen over the last three years.

See our latest analysis for Kaiser Aluminum

earnings-and-revenue-history
NasdaqGS:KALU Earnings and Revenue History February 22nd 2021

Of course, when it comes to statutory profit, the devil is often in the detail, and we can get a better sense for a company by diving deeper into the financial statements. As a result, today we're going to take a closer look at Kaiser Aluminum's cashflow, and unusual items, with a view to understanding what these might tell us about 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 Kaiser Aluminum'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. 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. 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. That's because some academic studies have suggested that high accruals ratios tend to lead to lower profit or less profit growth.

Over the twelve months to September 2020, Kaiser Aluminum recorded an accrual ratio of -0.18. That implies it has very good cash conversion, and that its earnings in the last year actually significantly understate its free cash flow. In fact, it had free cash flow of US$172m in the last year, which was a lot more than its statutory profit of US$12.3m. Kaiser Aluminum shareholders are no doubt pleased that free cash flow improved over the last twelve months. However, that's not all there is to consider. The accrual ratio is reflecting the impact of unusual items on statutory profit, at least in part.

How Do Unusual Items Influence Profit?

Kaiser Aluminum's profit was reduced by unusual items worth US$55m in the last twelve months, and this helped it produce high cash conversion, as reflected by its unusual items. In a scenario where those unusual items included non-cash charges, we'd expect to see a strong accrual ratio, which is exactly what has happened in this case. While deductions due to unusual items are disappointing in the first instance, there is a silver lining. 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. In the twelve months to September 2020, Kaiser Aluminum had a big unusual items expense. All else being equal, this would likely have the effect of making the statutory profit look worse than its underlying earnings power.

Our Take On Kaiser Aluminum's Profit Performance

Considering both Kaiser Aluminum's accrual ratio and its unusual items, we think its statutory earnings are unlikely to exaggerate the company's underlying earnings power. Based on these factors, we think Kaiser Aluminum's underlying earnings potential is as good as, or probably even better, than the statutory profit makes it seem! So if you'd like to dive deeper into this stock, it's crucial to consider any risks it's facing. Every company has risks, and we've spotted 6 warning signs for Kaiser Aluminum (of which 1 is a bit concerning!) you should know about.

Our examination of Kaiser Aluminum has focussed on certain factors that can make its earnings look better than they are. And it has passed with flying colours. 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. 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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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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