Patriot Transportation Holding, Inc.'s (NASDAQ:PATI) robust recent earnings didn't do much to move the stock. We believe that shareholders have noticed some concerning factors beyond the statutory profit numbers.
Zooming In On Patriot Transportation Holding'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. You could think of the accrual ratio from cashflow as the 'non-FCF profit ratio'.
As a result, a negative accrual ratio is a positive for the company, and a positive accrual ratio is a negative. 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. That's because some academic studies have suggested that high accruals ratios tend to lead to lower profit or less profit growth.
For the year to March 2021, Patriot Transportation Holding had an accrual ratio of -0.14. Therefore, its statutory earnings were very significantly less than its free cashflow. In fact, it had free cash flow of US$5.6m in the last year, which was a lot more than its statutory profit of US$1.38m. Patriot Transportation Holding's free cash flow improved over the last year, which is generally good to see. 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.
Note: we always recommend investors check balance sheet strength. Click here to be taken to our balance sheet analysis of Patriot Transportation Holding.
How Do Unusual Items Influence Profit?
While the accrual ratio might bode well, we also note that Patriot Transportation Holding's profit was boosted by unusual items worth US$1.6m in the last twelve months. While it's always nice to have higher profit, a large contribution from unusual items sometimes dampens our enthusiasm. When we crunched the numbers on thousands of publicly listed companies, we found that a boost from unusual items in a given year is often not repeated the next year. And, after all, that's exactly what the accounting terminology implies. Patriot Transportation Holding had a rather significant contribution from unusual items relative to its profit to March 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 Patriot Transportation Holding's Profit Performance
Patriot Transportation Holding'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. Having considered these factors, we don't think Patriot Transportation Holding's statutory profits give an overly harsh view of the business. In light of this, if you'd like to do more analysis on the company, it's vital to be informed of the risks involved. Case in point: We've spotted 3 warning signs for Patriot Transportation Holding you should be mindful of and 1 of them is significant.
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 is always more to discover if you are capable of focussing your mind on minutiae. 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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