Thursday, 3 April 2014

Retailers Accounting 101 (A Conceptual Overview)

Investing in Retail:  Understanding the Cash Conversion Cycle (CCC)

One of the best ways to distinguish excellent retailers from average or below average ones is to look at their cash conversion cycles.

The CCC tells us how quickly a firm sells its goods (inventory), how fast it collects payments for the goods (receivables), and how long it can hold on to the goods itself before it has to pay suppliers (payables).

Naturally, a retailer wants to sell its products as fast as possible (high inventory turns), collect payments from customers as fast as possible (high receivables turns), but pay suppliers as slowly as possible (low payables turns).

The best case scenario for a retailer is to sell its goods and collect from customers before it even has to pay the supplier.

Wal-mart is one of the best in the business at this:  70% of its sales are rung up and paid for before the firm even pays its suppliers.


Looking at the components of a retailer's cash cycle tells us a great deal.

A retailer with increasing days in inventory (and decreasing inventory turns) is likely stocking its shelves with merchandise that is out of favour.

This leads to excess inventory, clearance sales, and usually declining sales and stock prices.

Days in receivables is the least important part of the CCC for retailers because most stores either collect cash directly from customers at the time of the sale or sell off their credit card receivables to banks and other finance companies for a price.

Retailers don't really control this part of the cycle too much.

However, some stores, have brought attention to the receivables line because they've opted to offer customers credit and manage the receivables themselves.  

The credit card business is a profitable way to make a buck, but it is also very complicated, and it is a completely different business from retail.

Be wary of retailers that try to boost profits by taking on risk in their credit card business because it is generally not something they  are good at.

If days in inventory and days in receivables illustrate how well a retailer interacts with customers, days payable outstanding shows how well a retailer negotiates with suppliers.

It is also a great gauge for the strength of a retailer.

Wide-moat retailers such as Wal-Mart, Home Depot, and Walgreen optimize credit terms with suppliers because they are one of the few (if not the only) games in town.

The fortunes of many consumer product firms depend on sales to Wal-Mart, so the king of retail has a huge advantage when ordering inventory:  It can push for low prices and extended payment terms.

Extending payment terms to their suppliers allow the retailers to hold on to its cash longer and to reduce short-term borrowing needs; effectively increasing the retailers' operating cash flows .

Additional Notes:
In retail and consumer services, most economic moats for the sector are extremely narrow, if they exist at all.

Therefore, not surprisingly, you don't find a ton of great long-term stock ideas in retail and consumer services.

The only way a retailer can earn a wide economic moat is by doing something that keeps consumers shopping at its stores rather than at competitors'.

It can do this by offering unique products or low prices.

Although you can do well buying high quality specialty and clothing retailers when the industry sees one of its periodic sell-offs, very few of these kinds of firms make great long-term holdings.

1 comment:

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