The Georgia Tech Financial Analysis Lab conducts unbiased research on issues of financial reporting and analysis. Unbiased information is vital to effective investment decision-making. Accordingly, we think that independent research organizations, such as our own, have an important role to play in providing information to market participants.
Because our lab is housed within a university, all of our research reports have an educational quality, as they are designed to impart knowledge and understanding to those who read them. Our focus is on issues that we believe will be of interest to a large segment of stock market participants. Depending on the issue, we may focus our attention on individual companies, groups of companies, or on large segments of the market at large.
A recurring theme in our work is the identification of reporting practices that give investors a misleading signal, whether positive or negative, of corporate earning power. We define earning power as the ability to generate a sustainable stream of earnings that is backed by cash flow. Accordingly, our research may look into reporting practices that affect either earnings or cash flow, or both. At times our research may look at stock prices generally, though from a fundamental and not technical point of view.
Cash Flow Trends and Their Fundamental Drivers: Comprehensive Review
Quarter 3, 2014
Free Cash Margin Index:
2.43%, 3.96% (Mar. 2001, Dec. 2008)
4.01% (Sep. 2014)
7.18% (Mar. 2010)
In Q3 2014, median free cash margin increased slightly to 4.01% for the twelve months ended September 2014, from 3.97% for the twelve months ended June 2014, but down from 4.68% in September 2013. The metric is now at the low end of its historical range for stability between 4.00% and 5.00%. A decrease in the overall cash cycle, driven by a decrease in receivables days and an increase in payables days, was the primary driver of the increase.
Although modest, the growth in revenues within the sample suggests the economy continues to move in the right direction. Median revenues within our sample increased to $774.50 million, up from $739.70 million for the twelve months ended June 2014. Median revenues are at 98.2% of their peak of $788.50 million during the period ending December 2012. The slight rise in free cash margin would have been more substantial but for inventory investments, the primary drag on free cash margin comparative to the twelve months ended June 2014. Inventory is up slightly since last quarter and is now at 22.52 revenue days, although it is down from a year prior of 23.74 revenue days. Inventory investment coupled with stable gross margin percentage can signal an improving economy, but the changes may be too slight to be conclusive in this case. Capital expenditures to revenue held steady from the previous quarter at 3.47%, off from one year ago at 3.50% and 94.8% of its five year high of 3.66%. Weak capital expenditures do not signal a strengthening U.S. economy but rather management uncertainty, especially in light of the current low interest rate environment. Companies have continued to resist using the Fed’s easy money policies to invest for growth. Overall, accounting data for the twelve months ending with the third quarter of 2014 does not imply a strong and strengthening economy.
Looking at individual industries for the reporting period ending September 2014, free cash margin was stable in twenty-two industries, higher in nine, and lower in thirteen.
Data for this research were provided by Cash Flow Analytics, LLC., www.cashflowanalytics.com.
Charles Mulford is a principal in Cash Flow Analytics, LLC.
Earnings Quality: Reports on Individual Companies
In these reports we examine one or more dimensions of earnings quality: the cash flow support of earnings, the sustainability of earnings, or the quality of the balance sheet.