Check this to find out whether Ralph Lauren is going to bomb


There’s no foolproof way to know the future for Ralph Lauren (NYSE: RL) or any other company. However, certain clues may help you see potential stumbles before they happen — and before your stock craters as a result.

A cloudy crystal ball
In this series, we use accounts receivable and days sales outstanding 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 — the number of 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 Ralph Lauren 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 Ralph Lauren sending any potential warning signs? Take a look at the chart below, which plots revenue growth against AR growth, and DSO:

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Source: S&P Capital IQ. 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 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 indicates a trend worth worrying about. Ralph Lauren’s latest average DSO stands at 27.7 days, and the end-of-quarter figure is 30.7 days. Differences in business models can generate variations in DSO, and business needs can require occasional fluctuations, but all things being equal, I like to see this figure stay steady. So, let’s get back to our original question: Based on DSO and sales, does Ralph Lauren look like it might miss its numbers in the next quarter or two?

The raw numbers suggest potential trouble ahead. For the last fully reported fiscal quarter, Ralph Lauren’s year-over-year revenue grew 13.7%, and its AR grew 23.6%. That looks OK, but end-of-quarter DSO increased 8.7% over the prior-year quarter. It was up 38.3% versus the prior quarter. That 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.

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The Motley Fools purpose is to help the world invest, better. Take Stock is The Motley Fool’s free investing newsletter. Packed with stock ideas and investing advice, it is essential reading for anyone looking to build and grow their wealth in the years ahead. Click here now to request your free subscription, whilst it’s still available. This article contains general investment advice only (under AFSL 400691). Authorised by Bruce Jackson.

A version of this article, written by Seth Jayson, originally appeared on fool.com

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