Revenue growth is slowing (2% vs. 11% in 2008). Margins are getting pinched. Cost-containment measures are readily apparent. Financial reporting remains far from conservative. Profits for 2009 were inflated by a series of income-accelerating items. Without these non-operational gains, net income would come in nearly 70% below reported levels.
Recurring restructuring charges, liberal use of discretionary expense accruals and weak revenue deferrals round out a list of earnings management concerns. Providing guidance in pro forma terms aggravates matters. Key takeaways can be summarized as follows:
- Normalizing expense capitalization, valuation allowances (as a percentage of asset balance), NOL utilization, restructuring reserves, one-time gains and deferred revenue would pull EPS down to 56 cents for the year (vs. $1.83 as reported).
- Return on equity falls to 5.4% (vs. 17.3% as reported) in sustainable operating terms.
- Cash flow is up only 1% for the year and highly uncorrelated with net income.
- Expense accruals jumped to $982 million (27% of current liabilities) from $785 million (17.4%) in 2008; usage conservative in absolute terms; direction of change worth noting; magnifies cash flow deceleration. .
- Consensus estimate for 2010 falls by 23% when measured on a fully expensed basis (GAAP estimate = $1.28 per share, pro forma = $1.67 per share).
- Pro forma estimates overstate profitability and understate valuation multiples.