Included in Alcoa’s (NYSE:AA) press release this week was the statement its cash flows would have been even higher had it not been for the ending of its sales of accounts receivables.
What Alcoa didn’t state is that such sales enhanced its prior quarters, with the amount of additional sales, above the prior period (adjusted for normalized growth) to be subtracted from cash flow from operations. Alcoa’s prior periods cash flows, using traditional methods have benefited from such sales. In our analysis we back out such favorable impact to arrive at a normalized free cash flow and operating cash flows.
The sale of receivables is part of the analysis of all asset sales.
For entities needing to raise cash, asset sales are always considered in addition to external financing. The least costly capital raise will always be considered first, especially if the financial turbulence is expected to be short-term and the cost of debt and equity are high.
The continual sale of inventory for below market prices, or accounts receivable factoring, normally provide an unmistakable warning that should raise a flag for students of cash flow and risk, as the realization price reflects a cost which would not normally be acceptable to a well-financed organization. Asset sales are often a de-facto partial liquidation. Continuing asset sales that take place for lower than balance sheet values are indeed telltale signs.
To improve operating cash flows, companies often sell operating divisions, as they rebalance their portfolio of companies in search of the highest return opportunities. Small asset sales and balance sheet management typically constitute good business practice, and add to free cash flow and reduced cost of capital. Managers committed to weeding out poorly performing business units can significantly enhance their company’s market valuation.
Significance, in accounting parlance, relates to size and whether the failure to report an event as a separate line item would mask a change in earnings or trend. The analyst should determine if the company under analysis has indeed sold assets during any particular reporting period due to weakness in its borrowing capacity, or an attempt to bolster disappointing operation cash flow. Both Enron and Delphi Corp, prior to their bankruptcies, were selling inventory with the understanding they would be repurchased at a later period, a clever way to raise cash but a telling sign of liquidity shortfall.
The securitization of assets for sale into a Special Purpose Entity, as was invoked by Enron, may not, by itself, represent a reason to sell a security or dismiss the purchase of one, especially in light of otherwise undervaluation by the marketplace. In fact, many companies have raised cash via the securitization of accounts receivable, redeploying those funds back into a business which resulted in high rates of growth in cash flows. When viewed under the light of other metrics, asset sales could form part of a mosaic, indicative of a financial risk urging avoidance of the particular security, or to place a higher discount rate on its free cash flow, accounting for the new, higher level of uncertainty.
Entities which have substantial accounts receivables, like retailers, often discount these future cash receipts for immediate cash, as Macy’s did during 2006. The figure below reveals the impact on its average collection period resulting from that sale. Of course, average collection period and similar credit metrics, such as cash conversion cycle, will be distorted by the sale of receivables.
Selling receivables boosts current period operating cash flow and thus must be normalized by the analyst in evaluating historical and prospective cash flows. To do so, one would compute the past 4 years average accounts receivable to sales and apply that to the current year, as if the financing did not occur. At that point, the analyst can evaluate the Operating and Power cash flows for that year, including the sales of receivables.
More importantly, since the upcoming year(s) cash collections will be lower, an updated cash flow projection must reflect the new expected collections, with emphasis on the ability of the entity to retire or recast upcoming debt and other obligations coming due. Macy’s has, according to its “Financing” footnote, $2.6 bn. in principal payments due over the coming 3 years. Since prospective cash flows will be diminished by the present value of the change in future collections, fair value could shift, depending on how the cash from the sale is deployed. In its statement of cash flows, seen is the drop in cash flows from operations, with management reacting to by cutting budgets company wide.
CONSOLIDATED STATEMENTS OF CASH FLOWS
|Cash flows from continuing operating activities:|
|Net income (loss)||$||(4,803||)||$||893||$||995|
|Adjustments to reconcile net income (loss) to net cash provided by continuing operating activities:|
|(Income) loss from discontinued operations||–||16||(7||)|
|Gains on the sale of accounts receivable||–||–||(191||)|
|Stock-based compensation expense||43||60||91|
|Division consolidation costs and store closing related costs||187||–||–|
|Asset impairment charges||211||–||–|
|Goodwill impairment charges||5,382||–||–|
|May integration costs||–||219||628|
|Depreciation and amortization||1,278||1,304||1,265|
|Amortization of financing costs and premium on acquired debt||(27||)||(31||)||(49||)|
|Gain on early debt extinguishment||–||–||(54||)|
|Changes in assets and liabilities:|
|Proceeds from sale of proprietary accounts receivable||–||–||1,860|
|Decrease in receivables||12||28||207|
|(Increase) decrease in merchandise inventories||291||256||(51||)|
|(Increase) decrease in supplies and prepaid expenses||(7||)||33||(41||)|
|Decrease in other assets not separately identified||1||3||25|
|Decrease in merchandise accounts payable||(90||)||(132||)||(462||)|
|Decrease in accounts payable and accrued liabilities not separately identified||(227||)||(396||)||(410||)|
|Increase (decrease) in current income taxes||(146||)||14||(139||)|
|Decrease in deferred income taxes||(291||)||(2||)||(18||)|
|Increase (decrease) in other liabilities not separately identified||65||(34||)||43|
|Net cash provided by continuing operating activities||1,879||2,231||3,692|
|Cash flows from continuing investing activities:|
|Purchase of property and equipment||(761||)||(994||)||(1,317||)|
|Proceeds from hurricane insurance claims||68||23||17|
|Disposition of property and equipment||38||227||679|
|Proceeds from the disposition of After Hours Formalwear||–||66||–|
|Proceeds from the disposition of Lord & Taylor||–||–||1,047|
|Proceeds from the disposition of David’s Bridal and Priscilla of Boston||–||–||740|
|Repurchase of accounts receivable||–||–||(1,141||)|
|Proceeds from the sale of repurchased accounts receivable||–||–||1,323|
|Net cash provided (used) by continuing investing activities||(791||)||(789||)||1,273|
Source: Macy’s 2008 10K
In many cases, it is less expensive to borrow funds with the creditor taking a security interest in accounts receivables and inventory. This would be a loan, not a factoring agreement where the accounts receivable are sold. In a factoring arrangement, the cost to the firm is typically higher.
When receivables are financed through borrowings, it is shown as a finance activity, even though the actions are basically identical to its sale. Also, by factoring, the firm keeps the loan off of its balance sheet. Another issue to consider is whether the receivables being sold were done so on a non-recourse basis, so that if they are ultimately uncollectable, Macy’s has no further legal obligation. A moral obligation, may exist, however, and must be considered.
The figure below shows Macy’s average collection and payables period for 2003-2009 fiscal years. When Macy’s sold about $ 4.1 bn. of their in-house receivables during 2005-2006, it dropped their collection period, but of course, the company paid a price for the immediate cash. They did reduce total debt by about $ 1.5 bn. but unfortunately they also succumbed to shareholder pressure and expended $2.5 bn. on the repurchase of shares, hopeful the buyback would boost the stock price, which it did not, since their cash flows were weak.
To Macy’s, which had substantially increased its leverage resulting from its $ 5.2 bn. purchase of May Department Stores the year earlier, the cash resulting from the sale of receivables might have ultimately staved off bankruptcy two years later when its business fell due to the recession and loss of market share to competitors, the latter not a atypical byproduct of a large business combination. For sure, management wished the $ 2.5 bn. stock buyback never took place. The $2.5 bn. outflow robbed Macy’s of needed financial flexibility by eliminating a large cushion when its business turned down.
While the sale of receivables does indeed provide immediate cash, it is important to consider why the action was taken, especially for companies that operate on tight margins. For such entities, the sale may eliminate profits those sales initially produced. For them, if the cash is not used to pay down trade payables or other business related obligations, the analyst must question where such cash will eventually come. Because Macy’s wasted funds from the sale on share buybacks, they cut their purchases of PPE in half over the next two years. It is difficult to imagine a large sale of accounts receivable to buy back shares is ever a good idea.
Macy’s-Days to Pay vs. Collections Period
For additional information on this type analysis, pre-order- “Security Valuation and Risk Analysis” out this fall from McGraw-Hill.
Disclosure: No positions
Kenneth S. Hackel, C.F.A.
CT Capital LLC
Disclosure: No positions