Burlington Stores, Inc.'s (NYSE:BURL) robust earnings report didn't manage to move the market for its stock. We did some digging, and we found some concerning factors in the details.
Zooming In On Burlington Stores' 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. To get the accrual ratio we first subtract FCF from profit for a period, and then divide that number by the average operating assets for the 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. 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 May 2021, Burlington Stores recorded an accrual ratio of -0.13. Therefore, its statutory earnings were quite a lot less than its free cashflow. Indeed, in the last twelve months it reported free cash flow of US$432m, well over the US$288.3m it reported in profit. Burlington Stores shareholders are no doubt pleased that free cash flow improved over the last twelve months. Having said that, there is more to the story. We can see that unusual items have impacted its statutory profit, and therefore the accrual ratio.
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.
The Impact Of Unusual Items On Profit
Surprisingly, given Burlington Stores' accrual ratio implied strong cash conversion, its paper profit was actually boosted by US$250m in unusual items. While it's always nice to have higher profit, a large contribution from unusual items sometimes dampens our enthusiasm. When we analysed the vast majority of listed companies worldwide, we found that significant unusual items are often not repeated. And that's as you'd expect, given these boosts are described as 'unusual'. Burlington Stores had a rather significant contribution from unusual items relative to its profit to May 2021. As a result, we can surmise that the unusual items are making its statutory profit significantly stronger than it would otherwise be.
Our Take On Burlington Stores' Profit Performance
Burlington Stores' 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 Burlington Stores' statutory profits make it seem much weaker than it is. With this in mind, we wouldn't consider investing in a stock unless we had a thorough understanding of the risks. For instance, we've identified 3 warning signs for Burlington Stores (1 is potentially serious) you should be familiar with.
In this article we've looked at a number of factors that can impair the utility of profit numbers, as a guide to a business. 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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