Don't Let It Happen, Celgene

Many investors, especially during earnings season, seem to focus on the income statement. How much revenue was there? How much net income was there? Yet that focus can be dangerous, because the balance sheet actually tells us a lot about how the company is doing, and what it's likely to be doing in the not-too-distant future. Today, I'll focus on two balance sheet line items, accounts receivable (A/R) and inventories, and how they relate to sales.

In Thornton O'Glove's book Quality of Earnings, he calls the analysis of A/R and inventory growth relative to sales the "best method" to get ahead of Wall Street analysts:

One of these simple ploys -- the best method I have ever discovered to predict future downwards earnings revisions by Wall Street security analysts -- is a careful analysis of accounts receivables and inventories. Learn how to interpret these ... a larger than average accounts receivable situation, and/or a bloated inventory. When I see these, bells go off in my head.

If A/R goes up significantly faster than sales, then the company could be stuffing the channel, pulling sales in from the future. It can only do so for so long before customers get fed up and stop buying for a while. Then the company ends up missing revenue and earnings, and the stock price gets whacked.

Similarly, if inventory is rising significantly faster than sales, that could mean demand is slowing down, and a big inventory writedown might be coming. Alternately, sales will be hurt when the company uses large markdowns just to clear out inventory.

Note that I'm not talking about normal business-cycle stuff. Many retailers build up inventory prior to the holiday season in order to meet expected demand. That's normal. Instead, I'm looking for a big disconnect between the growth of sales and the growth of A/R or inventory. That's a potential sign of a risky investment, and it makes me dig a bit deeper to see what's going on.

Let's apply this to Celgene (Nasdaq: CELG  ) , the biotech company. Here's what the company has reported for the last four-quarter period, and for the last two year-over-year periods. I've also included a couple of others for comparison's sake. 

Metric

Celgene

Amgen (Nasdaq: AMGN  )

Genzyme (Nasdaq: GENZ  )

Revenue growth, TTM

26.3%

2.5%

(8.9%)

A/R growth, TTM

35.0%

1.2%

(21.8%)

Inventory growth, TTM

31.2%

2.5%

1.3%

       

Revenue growth, year ago

36.5%

(0.6%)

10.4%

A/R growth, year ago

25.6%

(6.4%)

6.8%

Inventory growth, year ago

(6.6%)

(3.4%)

24.2%

       

Revenue growth, 2 years ago

54.9%

(0.9%)

22.7%

A/R growth, 2 years ago

93.3%

7.8%

29.0%

Inventory growth, 2 years ago

70.9%

(3.3%)

9.5%

Source: Capital IQ, a division of Standard & Poor's; TTM = trailing 12 months.

Over the past few years, Celgene has done somewhat well, with the exception of A/R growth a couple of years ago. It's still a bit too high for my tastes, but I'd give the company a bit of time to see whether it can get that growth back under control. Genzyme got a bit ahead on inventory growth, but seems to have largely regained the reins there. Of course, it has other troubles. Meanwhile, Amgen has done quite well, except for the A/R growth two years ago. It quickly got on top of that, however, the following year. No yellow flags from this measure there.

Pay attention to the balance sheet, plug a few numbers into a simple spreadsheet, and according to O'Glove, you can get ahead of Wall Street. This easy analysis, along with a bit of thought, gives you the potential to save yourself the heartache of seeing your investment get sharply cut when a company reports a "surprisingly" disappointing quarter.

The warning signs are often there ahead of time. This tool helps you see them.

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  • Report this Comment On September 02, 2010, at 8:03 AM, RRGY2K wrote:

    How do you compare a company with 26% growth to a company who's growth has flatlined? Probably by studying the dynamics of the product cycle and not by making a critical bellwether out of Accounts Receivable. AR always rises when you have fast growth, not because you're stuffing the channel but because the channel is expanding.

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