Stagwell's (NASDAQ:STGW) Sluggish Earnings Might Be Just The Beginning Of Its Problems

By
Simply Wall St
Published
March 15, 2022
NasdaqGS:STGW
Source: Shutterstock

Stagwell Inc.'s (NASDAQ:STGW) recent weak earnings report didn't cause a big stock movement. We think that investors are worried about some weaknesses underlying the earnings.

View our latest analysis for Stagwell

earnings-and-revenue-history
NasdaqGS:STGW Earnings and Revenue History March 15th 2022

A Closer Look At Stagwell'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. 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. 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 December 2021, Stagwell had an accrual ratio of -0.10. That indicates that its free cash flow was a fair bit more than its statutory profit. To wit, it produced free cash flow of US$148m during the period, dwarfing its reported profit of US$21.0m. Stagwell 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.

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

The Impact Of Unusual Items On Profit

While the accrual ratio might bode well, we also note that Stagwell's profit was boosted by unusual items worth US$34m in the last twelve months. We can't deny that higher profits generally leave us optimistic, but we'd prefer it if the profit were to be sustainable. When we analysed the vast majority of listed companies worldwide, we found that significant unusual items are often not repeated. Which is hardly surprising, given the name. Stagwell had a rather significant contribution from unusual items relative to its profit to December 2021. All else being equal, this would likely have the effect of making the statutory profit a poor guide to underlying earnings power.

Our Take On Stagwell's Profit Performance

Stagwell's profits got a boost from unusual items, which indicates they might not be sustained and yet its accrual ratio still indicated solid cash conversion, which is promising. Based on these factors, we think it's very unlikely that Stagwell's statutory profits make it seem much weaker than it is. So while earnings quality is important, it's equally important to consider the risks facing Stagwell at this point in time. Be aware that Stagwell is showing 3 warning signs in our investment analysis and 1 of those is significant...

Our examination of Stagwell has focussed on certain factors that can make its earnings look better than they are. But there is always more to discover if you are capable of focussing your mind on minutiae. 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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