Nicholas YeeBy Nicholas Yee
Director of Research, Gradient Analytics LLC (a Sabrient Systems company)

Over the past five years, Gradient Analytics has observed a shift from companies making acquisitions for strategic purposes to companies acquiring mainly for short-term financial gains. This stems at least in part from investors and a sell-side community that have become complacent in accepting managements’ accounting statements at face value without looking “under the hood.” To be sure, the complexity of acquisition accounting and the opaqueness of financial performance analytics is daunting. Therefore, it is incumbent upon earnings quality analysts to try to understand whether a company’s senior management may have other motives fueling an acquisition platform (aka “roll-up”) strategy.

Where previously we might have screened for deteriorating free cash flow and accruals to identify poor earnings quality trends, we now find that some managers have been circumventing cash from operating activities (CFOA) and moving working capital into investing activities on the cash flow statement through acquisitions. Why is this important, you ask? Should analysts always lump the cash paid for an acquisition into free-cash-flow calculations? Not necessarily; there is no hard and fast rule here to put into an automated screener in this situation. Rather, our analysts must perform a deep dive to determine whether the company is a “serial acquirer.” Is this a one-time acquisition that integrates seamlessly into the parent company, or is this just one of a series of mediocre acquisitions used to aesthetically grow the top-line and obfuscate traditional performance metrics?  Read on.... Read more about Acquisition accounting gimmickry

smartindale / Tag: forensic accounting, earnings quality, acquisition, 10-K, 10-Q, GAAP, non-GAAP, roll-up, cash flow / 0 Comments

Byron MacleodBy Byron Macleod, CFA
Associate Director of Research, Gradient Analytics LLC (a Sabrient Systems company)

Given that Gradient Analytics’ research is primarily focused on forensic accounting, this common client question falls into our sweet spot. However, the link between earnings quality concerns and share price underperformance can be difficult to assess for two reasons:

   1.  Investors and sell-side analysts tend to focus their attention on the income statement, but there is not always a predictable correlation between the highlighted balance sheet trends and the income statement impact.
   2.  Because management has a huge amount of discretion over how accounting entries are handled (including when to recognize built-up expenses, impairments, non-cash gains, etc.), earnings quality concerns often have ambiguous timing.

Thus, investors often are left wondering just how and when eroding earnings quality in their portfolio holdings – whether long or short – will ultimately impact their fund’s performance.

Nevertheless, to illustrate how such red flags may indeed lead to notable share price decline, I will describe three real-life examples. For compliance reasons, I won’t disclose their names, but will simply refer to them as Company A, B, and C. Read on.... Read more about “How will earnings quality issues impact the company’s share price?"

Brent MillerBy Brent Miller, CFA
President & COO, Gradient Analytics (a Sabrient Systems company)

“Change is the law of life. And those who look only to the past or present are certain to miss the future.” – JFK

When evaluating the earnings quality of a given company, a forensic accounting firm like Gradient Analytics focuses on key indicators that may indicate that a company has taken liberties to cosmetically enhance its financial performance via aggressive revenue recognition and/or the understatement of expenses. Signals that a firm may be engaging in financial gamesmanship include:

  1. Divergence between reported earnings and free cash flow (i.e., an increase in accruals)
  2. Overstatement of assets
  3. Understatement of liabilities
  4. Negative or decelerating organic revenue growth
  5. Persistently widening gap between GAAP and non-GAAP EPS

In this article, I discuss a new amendment to the accounting standards that seeks to reduce inconsistencies and improve standardization of revenue recognition practices.  Read more... Read more about New Accounting Standard Changing Software & Telecom Industries