Should You Rely On Amazon.com's (NASDAQ:AMZN) Earnings Growth?

By
Simply Wall St
Published
December 03, 2020
NasdaqGS:AMZN

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. In this article, we'll look at how useful this year's statutory profit is, when analysing Amazon.com (NASDAQ:AMZN).

It's good to see that over the last twelve months Amazon.com made a profit of US$17.4b on revenue of US$347.9b. In the chart below, you can see that its profit and revenue have both grown over the last three years.

Check out our latest analysis for Amazon.com

earnings-and-revenue-history
NasdaqGS:AMZN Earnings and Revenue History December 3rd 2020

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. Today, we'll discuss Amazon.com's free cashflow relative to its earnings, and consider what that tells us about the company. 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 Amazon.com'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. 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. Notably, there is some academic evidence that suggests that a high accrual ratio is a bad sign for near-term profits, generally speaking.

Over the twelve months to September 2020, Amazon.com recorded an accrual ratio of -0.17. Therefore, its statutory earnings were very significantly less than its free cashflow. Indeed, in the last twelve months it reported free cash flow of US$25b, well over the US$17.4b it reported in profit. Amazon.com shareholders are no doubt pleased that free cash flow improved over the last twelve months.

Our Take On Amazon.com's Profit Performance

As we discussed above, Amazon.com's accrual ratio indicates strong conversion of profit to free cash flow, which is a positive for the company. Because of this, we think Amazon.com's underlying earnings potential is as good as, or possibly even better, than the statutory profit makes it seem! And on top of that, its earnings per share have grown at an extremely impressive rate 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. If you want to do dive deeper into Amazon.com, you'd also look into what risks it is currently facing. In terms of investment risks, we've identified 1 warning sign with Amazon.com, and understanding it should be part of your investment process.

Today we've zoomed in on a single data point to better understand the nature of Amazon.com's profit. 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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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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