GameStop's As-Reported Financials Distort The Firm's Economic Reality

| About: GameStop Corp. (GME)

Summary

GME’s 2015 Adjusted Return on Assets is twice the cost of capital at 13%, higher than the traditional 9% ROA reported by most financial databases.

One culprit behind this major distortion is the GAAP accounting for GME’s $2.0bn goodwill, which leads to a significant distortion of the firm’s economic reality.

In addition, GME’s Adjusted Cash from Operations is $980mn versus the firm’s as-reported cash flow from operations of only $632mn.

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Performance and Valuation Prime™ Chart

The PVP chart above reflects the real, economic performance and valuation measures of GameStop Corp. (NYSE:GME) after making many major adjustments to the as-reported financials. The four panels explain the company's corporate performance and valuation levels over the past 10 years plus best estimates for forecast years based on quarterly financials and consensus estimates.

The apostrophe after ROA', Asset', V/A', and V/E' is the symbol for "prime" which means "adjusted." These calculations have been modified with comprehensive adjustments to remove as-reported earnings, asset, liability, and cash flow statement inconsistencies and distortions. To better understand the PVP chart and the following discussion, please refer to our guide here.

The problem with Generally Accepted Accounting Principles (GAAP) is that they create inconsistencies when comparing one company to another, and when comparing a company to itself from year to year. By making adjustments, we aim to remove the financial statement distortions and miscategorizations of GAAP. Some of these can be automated through consistently applied formulas; however, many must be made manually. Manual adjustments that cannot be automated include mergers and acquisitions accounting, special charges, business impairments, and others. The practice of creating consistent, apples-to-apples comparable measures of financial performance is often considered either tedious or overly complex by even seasoned financial analysts.

Under GAAP, the as-reported financial statements and financial ratios of GME do not reflect economic reality. The traditional ROA computation understates the company's profitability by incorrectly including certain items. The distortion of both profitability measures and valuation metrics are driven by the inclusion of goodwill ($2.0bn) which inflates the company's assets, and the incorrect expensing of operating leases ($304mn) which deflates the company's earnings.

After adjusting for these issues and a host of other GAAP-based miscategorizations, Valens calculates GME's Adjusted Return on Assets as 13% in 2015. In contrast, most financial databases show a traditional ROA of only 9%. The profitability of GME's operations is therefore not what traditional metrics suggest.

Adjusted Return on Assets - ROA'

The top panel of the chart shows Adjusted ROA (aka. ROA', or ROA Prime.) This measure is comparable from year to year and across peers as it "cleans up" the aforementioned GAAP accounting issues to provide consistent analysis.

As was discussed earlier, GameStop's adjusted ROA is 13% in 2015, which is a third higher than the traditional ROA of the firm. The spread between GME's Adjusted ROA and its traditional ROA is driven by an understatement in the company's Adjusted Earnings from Operations (the numerator, Earnings'), and an overstatement of their Adjusted Total Operating Assets (the denominator, Asset'). Earnings are understated because the traditional calculation of net income does not recognize operating leases as part of the company's operating investments. The incorrect deduction of these items makes it near-impossible to objectively compare the firm to its peers and even to its own historical performance. Our adjustments resolve the accounting issues between the expensing and capitalization of certain expenses.

In addition, by adjusting for the firm's $2.0bn goodwill, the returns that GME earns from the operational activities of their acquisitions can be identified. This adjustment provides better investment analysis because it separates the firm's profitability into: 1) organic Adjusted ROA, which indicates how well management executes for the business, and 2) acquisitive Adjusted ROA, which shows how well management does when they acquire a business. GME therefore appears to be more profitable than what traditional metrics might suggest. That is a major difference in context and concept for evaluating the firm's situation.

Growth in Adjusted Business Assets - A'

In the second panel of the chart, Asset' growth stands for "Asset Prime Growth" (or Adjusted Asset Growth) and is the real annual growth rate of the cleaned-up and properly adjusted asset base of the company. This metric shows the management team's propensity to reinvest or divest over time. When viewed in context of the Adjusted ROA, the growth rate explains a lot about management's intended strategies and even performance incentives.

GME's Adjusted Asset growth peaked at 39% in 2007 and slowed thereafter. Adjusted Asset growth fell from 2008 levels of 13% to a low of 5% in 2009 before ramping up to 22% levels in 2010. Beginning in 2011, Adjusted Asset growth stabilized at 3%-6% levels going forward, except in 2014 when the firm experienced a slight 1% shrinkage in Adjusted Assets.

Valuation Relative to Adjusted Assets - V/A'

The third panel shows the Adjusted Value to Assets ratio (V/A'), a "cleaned-up" Price-to-Book metric that compares the Adjusted Enterprise Value (V') of the company to its Adjusted Asset level (A'). The Adjusted Enterprise Value is the market capitalization of the company plus the total debt of the company, including off-balance sheet debt, while the Adjusted Asset level reflects the total operating assets of the firm, necessarily adjusted for problematic accounting standards for reporting of the balance sheet. The Adjusted Asset level is the same as the denominator of the Adjusted Return on Assets calculation and the Adjusted Asset growth panel.

Given that GME is producing a 13% Adjusted ROA, the current Adjusted Value to Assets ratio of 1.7x suggests a fair valuation, considering that a 13% Adjusted ROA merits an Adjusted Value to Assets ratio of 2.0x. This indicates that even though traditional P/B metrics may imply that the firm is undervalued, the company appears more fairly valued when adjusting for distortions.

Valuation Relative to Adjusted Earnings - V/E'

In the fourth panel, we have another perspective of valuation to help triangulate the market's embedded expectations for company performance. We always want to know what is "priced in" to the stock price. In this case, Valens evaluates the Adjusted Enterprise Value (V') of the firm relative to their expected Adjusted Earnings (E') for the next year. Adjusted Earnings are earnings resulting from the company's core business operations, regardless of how it is financed, and adjusted to its current dollar value. This is adjusted to eliminate accounting distortions and shenanigans, and enhance comparability across different companies, industries and geographies, to determine potential mispricings. The Adjusted Enterprise Value (V') numerator is the same as that in the Adjusted Value to Assets ratio.

GameStop's as-reported Forward P/E is at 7.2x compared to Valens' Adjusted Value to Earnings ratio of 13.1x. Based on the traditional metrics, GME's equity appears materially undervalued by the market (considering long-term P/E averages of 15.0x-17.0x). However, after considering adjustments to as-reported financials, although the firm still appears slightly undervalued, this mispricing is much more limited.

Conclusion

As-reported financial statement information and financial ratios, which make up most of the publicly available financial databases, do not consider the extent to which distortions, miscategorizations, and misclassifications cause as-reported financial statements to depart from economic reality. Even the venerable "statement of cash flaws" - pun intended - is horribly distorted, as many items in the statement of cash flows are actually non-cash related. What is deemed cash flow from operations, investing, and financing activities are inconsistently booked from company to company and even just from year-to-year at an individual company. The distortions are material and directionally changing, and the mis-measurements that result are decision-changing issues.

A far better picture of the economic reality of GameStop Corp. can be seen once those distortions are removed. The firm is generating returns greater than what most financial databases report and has valuations that are supported by adjusted metrics. With that context of corporate performance and market valuation, we have a far better means for evaluating GME's prospects for the future of its stock.

Our Chief Investment Strategist, Joel Litman, chairs the Valens Equities and Credit Research Committees, which are responsible for this article along with the lead analyst, Cheska Pablico. Professor Litman is regarded around the world for his expertise in forensic accounting and "forensic fundamental" analysis, particularly in corporate performance and valuation.

Disclosure: I/we have no positions in any stocks mentioned, and no plans to initiate any positions within the next 72 hours.

I wrote this article myself, and it expresses my own opinions. I am not receiving compensation for it (other than from Seeking Alpha). I have no business relationship with any company whose stock is mentioned in this article.