Don't Let It Happen, Crocs

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 Crocs (Nasdaq: CROX  ) , the shoe 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

Crocs

Deckers Outdoor (Nasdaq: DECK  )

Columbia Sportswear (Nasdaq: COLM  )

Revenue growth, TTM

11.9%

17.9%

4.5%

A/R growth, TTM

40.2%

29.5%

(0.9%)

Inventory growth, TTM

1.7%

(17.3%)

5.8%

       

Revenue growth, year ago

(29.9%)

44%

(7.3%)

A/R growth, year ago

(47.7%)

15.3%

(15%)

Inventory growth, year ago

(49.3%)

29.1%

7.5%

       

Revenue growth, 2 years ago

52.8%

54.3%

2.6%

A/R growth, 2 years ago

9.2%

81.1%

(6.3%)

Inventory growth, 2 years ago

85.6%

70.3%

(11.9%)

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

All in all, not too bad for these three companies. About the only thing I would point out as a possible yellow flag is the excess growth in A/R for Crocs over the past year. That could be an issue with selling in a recession, but investors should still keep an eye on it going forward. Make sure that the company does collect on what it's owed, rather than writing off those debts as uncollectable. Cash is still king.

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.

Try any of our Foolish newsletter services free for 30 days. Try any of our Foolish newsletter services free for 30 days. True to its name, The Motley Fool is made up of a motley assortment of writers and analysts, each with a unique perspective; sometimes we agree, sometimes we disagree, but we all believe in the power of learning from each other through our Foolish community.

Fool analyst Jim Mueller doesn't have a position in any company mentioned. He works with the Fool's Stock Advisor newsletter service. The Motley Fool is investors writing for investors.


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  • Report this Comment On September 07, 2010, at 5:08 PM, gambatteimasu wrote:

    Nice article! Informative, relevant, will take into consideration. Thanks.

    gambatte imasu

    long DECK

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