Is Oshkosh Going to Bomb?

There's no foolproof way to know the future for Oshkosh (NYSE: OSK  ) or any other company. However, certain clues may help you see potential stumbles before they happen -- and before your stock craters as a result. Rest assured: Even if you're not monitoring these metrics, short-sellers are.

A cloudy crystal ball
I often use accounts receivable (AR) and days sales outstanding (DSO) to judge a company's current health and future prospects. It's an important step in separating the pretenders from the market's best stocks. Alone, AR -- the amount of money owed the company -- and DSO -- days worth of sales owed to the company -- don't tell you much. However, by considering the trends in AR and DSO, you can sometimes get a window onto the future.

Sometimes, problems with AR or DSO simply indicate a change in the business (like an acquisition), or lax collections. However, AR that grows more quickly than revenue, or ballooning DSO, can also suggest a desperate company that's trying to boost sales by giving its customers overly generous payment terms. Alternately, it can indicate that the company sprinted to book a load of sales at the end of the quarter, like used-car dealers on the 29th of the month. (Sometimes, companies do both.)

Why might an upstanding firm like Oshkosh do this? For the same reason any other company might: to make the numbers. Investors don't like revenue shortfalls, and employees don't like reporting them to their superiors.

Is Oshkosh sending any potential warning signs? Take a look at the chart below, which plots revenue growth against AR growth, and DSO:

Source: Capital IQ, a division of Standard & Poor's. Data is current as of last fully reported fiscal quarter. FQ = fiscal quarter.

The standard way to calculate DSO uses average accounts receivable. I prefer to look at end-of-quarter (EOQ) receivables, but I've plotted both above.

Watching the trends
When that red line (AR growth) crosses above the green line (revenue growth), I know I need to consult the filings. Similarly, a spike in the blue bars (DSO) indicates a trend worth worrying about. As another reality check, it's reasonable to consider what a normal DSO figure might look like in this space.

Company

LFQ Revenue

DSO

 Oshkosh

$2,105

38

 Navistar International (NYSE: NAV  )

$3,221

25

 Cummins (NYSE: CMI  )

$3,401

57

 Federal Signal (NYSE: FSS  )

$182

60

Source: Capital IQ, a division of Standard & Poor's. DSO calculated from average AR. Data is current as of last fully reported fiscal quarter. LFQ = last fiscal quarter. Dollar figures in millions.

Differences in business models can generate variations in DSO, so don't consider this the final word -- just a way to add some context to the numbers. But let's get back to our original question: Will Oshkosh miss its numbers in the next quarter or two?

Investors should watch the top line carefully during the next quarter or two. For the last fully reported fiscal quarter, Oshkosh's year-over-year revenue grew 43%, and its AR grew 57.8%. That's a yellow flag. End-of-quarter DSO increased 10.3% over the prior-year quarter. It was up 25.5% versus the prior quarter. That also demands a good explanation. Still, I'm no fortuneteller, and these are just numbers. Investors putting their money on the line always need to dig into the filings for the root causes and draw their own conclusions.

What now?
I use this kind of analysis to figure out which investments I need to watch more closely as I hunt the market's best returns. However, some investors actively seek out companies on the wrong side of AR trends in order to sell them short, profiting when they eventually fall. Which way would you play this one? Let us know in the comments below, or keep up with the stocks mentioned in this article by tracking them in our free watchlist service, My Watchlist.

Seth Jayson had no position in any company mentioned here at the time of publication. You can view his stock holdings here. He is co-advisor of Motley Fool Hidden Gems, which provides new small-cap ideas every month, backed by a real-money portfolio. Try any of our Foolish newsletter services free for 30 days. We Fools may not all hold the same opinions, but we all believe that considering a diverse range of insights makes us better investors. The Motley Fool has a disclosure policy.


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  • Report this Comment On December 01, 2010, at 12:19 PM, jrusso9722 wrote:

    REVOLUTION: I believe it! Oshkosh's ProPulse will revolutionize the American Motor Truck, and Military Truck industries. Military will be first to order this diesel-electric drive. It simplifies ops and maintenance, saving much money. Commercial trucks will introduce this technology too. I would offer, get this stock now, and hold it.

  • Report this Comment On December 08, 2010, at 7:08 AM, BobMichigan wrote:

    Sorry Russ, you have it all wrong. It's not a company's products that are important, it's all this other crap.

    That's why the "seers who see all" valued TRW, who provides airbags, ABS and brake parts to just about every car company on the planet, at $1.50 durring the GM bankruptcy, and rated it sell all the time it went to $45.

    Don't listen to your common sense.

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